There are few foods more closely associated with their home county than pasta and Italy. On average, Italians eat over 60 pounds of pasta per year! While the Italians might get the credit for the ubiquitous carb, it’s devoured around the world and even has earned its own holiday here in the U.S.  That’s right, get out your marinara sauce folks, National Pasta Day is October 17!  Join us as we take a moment to noodle over the origins, evolution and variation of this delicious dish.

The beginnings of pasta are difficult to determine, as it is a natural cousin of Asian noodles, which have been around in some form for thousands of years. A common myth is that Marco Polo brought the food from China around the 13th century, but early versions of pasta had been around long before that. The first pasta may have actually been baked, not boiled as we most commonly enjoy it today.

The two basic versions of this noodle dish are dried pasta, the hard-shell product we are most familiar with on grocery shelves, and fresh pasta, which is typically made the day of and is much softer.  While you might think of spaghetti noodles at first, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, from shells (conchiglie), corkscrews (cavatappi) and spirals (fusilli),  to bow-ties (farfalle), wagon wheels (rotelle) and alphabet letters.  In fact, there are more than 350 variations of pasta in Italy alone, so we’ve selected a few of our favorite dishes for you to keep in mind next time you scan a restaurant menu.

Spaghetti with meatballs: A meal many of us would consider an Italian classic, it was actually first eaten by Italian immigrants in New York in the 1920s, and is rarely served inside Italy. (They’re definitely missing out – spaghetti, marinara, and those wonderfully round meatballs were just made to go together.)

Baked Lasagna: It’s easy to forget that underneath that wonderful mess of sauce, vegetables, cheese, and meat there is the flat lasagna pasta that holds it all together. Garfield isn’t the only one who calls this dish his favorite!

Fettuccini Alfredo: Rich, creamy, and often paired with grilled chicken, fettuccini alfredo makes for a hearty meal on a cold winter night. We’re glad Chef Alfredo’s “secret” recipe didn’t say secret for long!

Penne alla Vodka: No, this isn’t pasta with a drink on the side. Rather, the vodka is combined with cream, tomatoes, onions, and commonly bacon or sausage to create a heavy sauce that is deliciously soaked up by the penne pasta.

Cannelloni: One might say this is a cousin to lasagna, but the tubular pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese, and various types of meats and vegetables (we recommend spinach, crab, and shrimp) give this dish a different texture and taste.  It can be covered with a tomato or cream sauce.

Pasta Primavera: For someone looking a bit on the lighter side, pasta primavera allows
vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, onions, squash, and even broccoli to take center stage alongside the typically used smaller size pasta. Tossing these ingredients in olive oil, garlic, herbs, and spices ensures that this dish is not lacking flavor in any way.

There are hundreds of other ways to enjoy pasta, which even appears at times in desserts like cannelloni and chocolate lasagna.  What are your favorite pasta dishes?  Tell us in the comments section below!