Nearly every country has its own unique version of this popular, inexpensive staple. In Germany and Hungary they have spaetzle. In Greeze, orzo. In Poland, they enjoy pocket-like pierogi. Ashkenazi Jewish families make kreplach dumplings. And in America, pasta is prepared and served similarly to the way it is found in Italy with the exception of all-American spaghetti and meatballs. In fact, when many of us think of pasta we think of Italian food, and most people believe that it originated there. While pasta is traditionally Italian, it actually has a very ancient history that makes it almost impossible to know who came up with the dish first.
The history of pasta is difficult to trace for several reasons. The word itself translates to “paste” in Italian. This is a reference to the dough, made from a combination of flour and water or eggs, all simple components that have been around for centuries. This makes it hard to differentiate pasta from other ancient dishes made from the same ingredients. In addition, since pasta has long been a food of the common people, it has not received as much attention as more extravagant foods… a pity, since it’s one of the most popular foods on the planet!
When we talk about pasta, we must first define the term. The word pasta is generally used to describe traditional Italian noodles, which differentiates it from other types of noodles around the world. Pasta is made from unleavened dough consisting of ground durum wheat and water or eggs. The use of durum wheat sets pasta apart from other forms of noodles. Durum wheat’s high gluten content and low moisture make it perfectly suited to pasta production. The durum wheat dough is pressed into sheets, cut into a variety of shapes, and cooked before serving.
While we do think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it is likely the ancestor of ancient Asian noodles. A common belief about pasta is that it was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century. In his book, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” there is a passage that briefly mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour (possibly a “breadfruit tree”). The Chinese used this plant to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal Polo mentioned was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as “lagana” (lasagna). Since Polo’s original text no longer exists, the book relies heavily on retellings by various authors and experts. This, combined with the fact that pasta was already gaining popularity in other areas of Italy during the 13th century, makes it very unlikely that Marco Polo was the first to introduce pasta to Italy.
Step aside taco shells and make room for pasta shells.
Copyright 2013, Christine’s Pantry. All rights reserved.
1 (8 oz. box) manicotti shells
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
1 (1.0 oz.) packet taco seasoning mix
1 (10 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13x9 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Cook manicotti shells according to package directions. Rinse with cold water. Drain well.
Meanwhile, in skillet, cook ground beef over medium heat. Cook until meat crumbles, and no longer pink. Season ground beef with salt and pepper. Add onions, stir and cook 3 minutes. Add water, taco seasoning mix and diced tomatoes with green chilies, stir well. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, until liquid has reduced. Turn heat off. Stir in 1 cup cheese, until cheese is melted.
Spoon meat mixture into each pasta shell. Top each filled shells with remaining beef mixture.
Cover, bake 25 to 30 minutes, until hot. Uncover, sprinkle remaining cheese. Bake another 5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Enjoy!