From Food & Health correspondent Jennifer Skiff
LEVERANO, Italy (CNN) -- Italian food is the top choice among ethnic cuisines, according to the National Restaurant Association. For most people, it's the pasta, from linguine to lasagna, that rates so high. And in Italy, of course, pasta is more than just a favorite dish -- it's a daily staple.
In the kitchen of the home of Count Alcibiade Zecca in Leverano, Italy, homemade pasta is still prepared daily. Made simply with durum wheat flour and water, the dough is rolled, cut and, in some cases, formed into the orecchiette (orr-a-kee-et-a), which means "little ears." A bowl-like indentation, made with the thumb, serves to collect the sauce. It is a favorite pasta shape in the Apulia Region of southern Italy.
Although pasta is traditionally served twice a day in Italy, freshly made pasta is often served only for special occasions.
At the Pedone pasta factory in Corigliano, Italy, dozens of different types of pasta are packaged and shipped throughout the world. Experts say pasta is nutritious, fresh or packaged.
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, is studying the merits of Mediterranean diets. "The thing that makes pasta so wonderful," she said, "is that it contains everything you need, except perhaps for vitamin C. It has proteins. It has vitamins and minerals. It has fiber. It has everything that we nutritionists are always telling everybody to eat."
Pasta has been the primary staple of the Italian diet for more than 2,000 years. Today, pasta is served as one of several courses during a meal. Members of the Saracino family sometimes eat pasta three times a day. A homemade favorite -- penne -- is served with a garlic sauce mixed with turnip greens.
"There have always been rumors that pasta didn't originate here in Italy but could have been introduced from as far away as China or as close as Greece. But southern Italians say the taste of true pasta can come only from the durum wheat grown here in the dry, rocky soil of the Salento," said Fred Plotkin, author of "The Authentic Pasta Book." "In China, they use rice flour to make a similar noodle but it's not the same thing. In southern Italy they use wheat. They use hard wheat to make flour and that's where it was born -- in Palermo, in Sicily and Naples in southern Italy."
And while pasta has been hanging around Italy for two millenniums, it's now enjoyed from Bangkok to Boston. So what was once just a staple in Italy has become one of the world's favorite foods.
Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.