I don't think there is a staple in the Italian diet more important than macaroni. Now, many "Americans" call it "pasta". I don't think I even knew what pasta was until I got in college because I'd never called it that. The only time my mother ever said "pasta" when was she was making: pasta fagioli, pasta piselle, pasta cicci, etc. We, along with anyone I knew in my Italian neighborhood always called it macaroni. Many Italians call it macaroni. It IS macaroni. If you don't believe me, or you think I'm crazy, go look in your cupboard right now and take out your "pasta." Look on the box. I'll bet it says "macaroni product" somewhere on it.And, for goodness sake, don't call all macaroni "noodles!"
Here is a funny story about macaroni. I was being interviewed by a classmate in a college course. She asked me what my favorite food was and I told her macaroni. She looked at me kind of weird and I told her pasta. When she reported to the class on my favorite food, she said, "Emily's favorite food is pasta, especially macaroni." She thought macaroni was "elbows" only, that "elbow macaroni" was my favorite kind of pasta. Not so. I like gnocchi.
To many Americans not of Italian descent, there are only a few kinds of macaroni. Most people know spaghetti and elbows. That is pretty funny to many Italians, because we rarely eat spaghetti or elbows unless the spaghetti is broken up small (like in lentils) or we are making something like pasta fagioli. Much more common in an Italian household is ziti, rigatoni, cavatelli, fusilli, ravioli, etc. I don't EVER remember my mother making spaghetti. Why would we eat spaghetti when there are so many better shapes out there? And, other shapes hold the sauce better. Homemade macaroni is the best, and I make it when I have the time (not by machine, by hand).
Italians eat a lot of macaroni. So do others who like Italian food. Unless you're on the Atkins diet, you probably eat macaroni. I noticed that we eat more of it (and bigger portions) here in the United States than I saw the Italians eating it in Italy. I can eat it every day, and a lot of it. When I was in high school, I used to eat the leftovers for breakfast. I could easily eat a pound of gnocchi. My mother said I should be embarrassed to tell you that, but I'm not. When I was growing up, we ate macaroni at least twice a week, and always on Sunday.Mostly we ate ziti. She always made 2 or 3 pounds at a time-for us and in case there was company. And, the sauce was always a tomato sauce (homemade of course) with meatballs and sausage. My mother never made any of the fancy cream sauces or pesto back then (she does now after getting ideas from Molto Mario on the Food Network). While researching this topic, I counted the pounds of macaroni in my mother's house. SHE HAD 43 POUNDS OF MACARONI! I couldn't believe it. She had some in her cupboard, some on top of the counter in jars, some in the basement cupboard, and some in the freezer. She laughed when I told her I was reporting her. She said, "What can I say, I'm Italian."By the way, none of these were spaghetti or elbows.
Before we get into the shapes, let's talk a little about sauce. Most Italians can not eat macaroni with sauce out of a jar. It just isn't done. Many of us won't even order macaroni at most restaurants because we are afraid of the sauce. You just can't beat homemade sauce. And to take it a step further, home made sauce is even better in the summer when made with tomatoes and basil from gardens. In my family, we like to cook down the tomatoes and freeze them for the winter. I have a story about this, too. Before I got married, I went to my husband's house and his mother made macaroni with sauce from a jar (she is Italian, too!!!) and I lied and told her that I already ate. I just won't eat that stuff!
Macaroni is native to many cultures, not only Italians. After all, in its basic form it is just flour and water. Eggs, cheese, oil, potatoes, etc., are all added to make different types of pasta. Macaroni became famous and big business when the pasta machine was invented in Napoli in the eighteenth century. Check out the history of pasta at:http://www.professionalpasta.it/Dir_9/1_whoinv.htm
I have included some links for you to explore some of the different shapes of macaroni. Have a look and give some of these a try. I promise you'll like them!
The Cook's Thesaurus:http://www.foodsubs.com/PastaShapes.html
Fun macaroni facts from the Macaroni Fest in Victoria, Texas:http://www.ci.victoria.tx.us/macaroni_fest/fun_macaroni_facts.pdf