When most people hear the word pasta, the first thing they think of is Italian food, with delicious red sauces and perhaps rich cheeses. Though pasta came from Italy and the Mediterranean, in reality it’s all about the noodle. The word pasta refers to semolina dough and the way it is rolled out, sliced, pressed and shaped. It comes in tubes, strings, spirals, and shells – all of which can be used many different ways.
While some of my favorite pasta dishes are Italian, I have to say my absolute favorite pasta is not. It’s Macaroni and Cheese. This dish uses round tubular macaroni pasta noodles, and as the name suggests, is covered in a creamy cheese sauce. My mother made it from scratch, using cheddar, milk, and garlic for the sauce, then baking the whole thing in the oven with a crust of sharp cheddar over the top. Sure, it’s not what you normally think of when it comes to pasta, but it’s my favorite use of the pasta noodle, because let’s face it – everything is better with cheese!
After that I would say that lasagna is my absolute favorite Italian pasta dish. Made with layers of soft, flat pasta sheets, and any combination of cheeses, meats, spices and sauces, it has to be one of the most versatile pasta dishes ever made. It can have ricotta and Italian sausage inside with a traditional red tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese on top. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for something creamier? How about a white garlic Alfredo sauce with mushrooms, spinach, and chicken inside? The possibilities are endless, and of course, it has cheese so you know I’m a fan!
Which reminds me of another one of my favorite pasta dishes. Stuffed shells. These large seashell shaped pieces of pasta are incredibly delicious when boiled then stuffed with a ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, and garlic mix. I like to place them in a glass baking dish and cover them with a zesty red tomato sauce and let the flavors all cook in together. These don’t even need cheese on top- they are so stuffed with the gooey goodness that they are perfect right out of the oven.
There are so many ways to cook pasta, I could go on and on, but when it comes down to it, my favorite way is always going to involve cheese. I love red sauce but even in my homemade spaghetti, I put a little Parmesan in the sauce as it simmers over low heat – just a touch. Maybe it’s just so I know it’s there more than for flavor. In the long run – the pasta dish that has cheese is always going to be my favorite pasta dish.