Nothing says "pantry" like dried pasta, and the shelves of The Perfect Pantry hold every imaginable shape and size. Welcome to Italian Pasta Week, Day Three, Short and Stubby.
When I was growing up, in a non-Italian household in a non-Italian neighborhood, there was macaroni and cheese, and lasagna (which seemed to be mac-and-cheese made with bigger noodles, piled up in a pan), and there was spaghetti with meatballs and sauce made from a packet of Spatini.
It wasn't until the 1980s that the term pasta became ubiquitous, and when it did, we tossed aside the beautiful, lyrical names of the more than 500 distinctive shapes of Italian semolina noodles. It was all pasta, all the time.
Lest we forget, even the tiniest Short and Stubby pastas have lovely, poetic names: ditalini (little thimbles), annelini (little rings), acini de pepe (little beads), stelline (little stars). Most often, these very small pastas are used in soup, sometimes in combination with beans or vegetables. Orzo, shaped like grains of rice, is the exception; it's popular for cold salads and stuffings.
To end Italian Pasta Week, here are some fun facts about pasta:
- World Pasta Day is October 25.
- The first American pasta factory was opened in Brooklyn, New York, in 1848, by a Frenchman named Antoine Zerega, who apparently kept a horse in his basement to power the pasta machine!
- Spaghetti is by far the most popular pasta dish, followed by lasagna and mac-and-cheese.
- More than 75% of Americans say they eat pasta at least once a week.
- The National Pasta Museum, located in Rome near the Trevi Fountain, has an entire room devoted to pasta in art.
- The World Directory of Pasta Shapes and Names tells you where to buy the dies to cut each shape, and even suggests sauce pairings.
You will remind me, and rightly so, that we haven't touched on whole wheat pastas (we will; I've got plenty in the cupboard), stuffed pastas like ravioli and tortellini, or pastas — I mean noodles — made with grains other than semolina. I've showed you some of my stash of rice noodles here, here and here, and soba, lo mein, wonton skins and egg noodles wait patiently in the pantry for their few minutes of fame.
For now, dear readers, mangia! Eat!
Curried chicken orzo salad
Inspired by a recipe in Pasta: The Little Guides, this lovely salad with an Indian flair makes use of leftover cooked chicken or shrimp. A rotisserie chicken from the market would work well here. Serves 4-6.
8 oz orzo or other short and stubby pasta, cooked according to package directions, drained, rinsed under cold water and drained again
1 cup cooked chicken (or shrimp, or tofu)
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 Tbsp chutney
1/2 tsp curry powder, mild or hot
1/3 cup roasted, lightly salted peanuts
Placed cooked pasta, chicken, apricots, celery, green pepper and scallions in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, chutney and curry powder, and mix well. Add the dressing to the pasta bowl, and stir to combine. Place in a serving bowl, and top with peanuts.
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