Macaroni is a hollow extruded pasta product which comes in a variety of sizes and lengths. In some countries, people visualize elbow macaroni, a small bent version of this pasta product, when they think of macaroni. In other regions, members of the tubular pasta family may be collectively referred to as macaroni. This versatile and diverse pasta shape has a wide range of uses, from soups to casseroles, and it is very popular with young people in many parts of the world. Elbow macaroni has also been famously included in craft projects for young children, especially in the United States.
Most macaroni is commercially produced, since a tubular pasta shape is difficult to make at home. Some pasta machines for home use do come with extruder plates for making hollow shapes, but it can still be a nuisance. Before doing battle with a home extruder, cooks may want to think ahead to the cleaning process; extruders are notoriously difficult to clean properly, especially when they are used with sticky, dense doughs. The majority of macaroni is made with Durum wheat, a hard wheat which creates chewy, resilient pasta, and macaroni does not usually include egg.
The hollow shape of macaroni pasta makes it ideal for serving with a range of sauces. Tubular pasta can hold up to heavy sauces like dishes with meatballs, and it can also hold thinner, more watery sauces. Macaroni pasta is also used in baked dishes like casseroles; macaroni and cheese is a popular form of macaroni casserole in both the United States and Great Britain. Soups and stews can also employ macaroni pasta as a filler and to create additional texture.
In Italy, hollow pasta shapes are known generically as maccheroni. This name was obviously borrowed by English speakers and converted into “macaroni.” This large pasta family includes penne, bucatini, cannelloni, mostaccioli, ziti, and the famous elbow macaroni. Incidentally, the “macaroni” in the famous song “Yankee Doodle” refers to a foppish or modish style of dress, related to the concept of macaroni pasta as a trendy, exotic dish.
Many markets sell a wide range of macaroni products. In addition to being available in a plain form, macaroni pasta is sometimes flavored with various ingredients for special uses. It can also be made from rice flour, spelt flour, or other types of grain flours, for people who want to experiment with some pasta variations. If possible, try to obtain macaroni made with Durum wheat, since the pasta will hold up better through the cooking process.