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There was a time when spaghetti and macaroni and maybe lasagna were the only kinds of pasta known to most Americans. That changed in as the nation’s eaters discovered the depth and nuances of Italian food and learned to appreciate dozens of shapes of pasta as well as countless things to do with them. But there are certain pasta dishes – or, more to the point, noodle dishes – that are an enduring and ingrained part of American gastronomy more than Italian.
Foremost among this nation’s pasta dishes is mac & cheese, a staple in restaurant kitchens everywhere and an essential element on any soul food menu and in meat-and-3 lunchrooms throughout the South. In recent years, creative chefs have turned mac & cheese into a retro delicacy by making it with exotic cheeses, adding unusual spices, and enhancing it with everything from lamb to lobster.
Elbow noodles are fundamental in Midwestern cities that have a diner-counter tradition of chili-mac, which mixes them with ground beef. Macaroni also is an element of the vintage northeast dish known as American chop suey, a higgledy-piggledy melange with ground beef and tomato sauce.
Spaghetti noodles are the foundation (literally) of Cincinnati 5-way chili, as well as the unusual carb side-dish that accompanies much Memphis BBQ, in the form of BBQ spaghetti (noodles and sauce). Spaghetti also stars in a New Orleans favorite dish that owes its existence to the under-appreciated Italian influence in Creole cooking: spaghetti bordelaise. That’s basically spaghetti aglio e olio with butter added.
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