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A noodle by any other name...

The readers of this column have come to expect an occasional discussion of the important and interesting foods we eat here in America.

Foreign readers, for that matter, also eagerly anticipate discussions about American foods.

That is why, if you've been reading long enough, you've read about the merits of peanut butter, eggs (the American Egg Institute wrote and told me how much they enjoyed the egg column), tomatoes (not a word from the ketchup folks), sauerkraut, navy bean soup and vegetarian diets (for others, not me).

The subject of food came to mind again just the other day when I was helping stack a bag of groceries and I found a box of penne rigate.

"What the heck is penne rigate?" I asked the writer who has written about foods. Then I turned the box over and there was a little window on the other side. I saw that it was nothing but a box of little hollow one-inch tubes of pasta with the ends cut at sharp angles.

Here's what I understand about pasta: it is a traditional Italian food, usually made from durum (North Dakota-grown durum is best), eggs and water, then cut into various shapes and combined with sauce and eaten.

If that seems too simple, apparently it is. The shapes, basically are strands, tubes and ribbons.

If that also seems too simple, apparently it is.

The various shapes of pasta are given names that, mostly in Italian, describe the shape.

So our penne rigate means the pasta is in the shape of quills or feathers with grooves. This shape is considered ideal with chunky sauces consisting of chunky meat or chunky vegetables or cream- or oil-based sauces.

The point of having a variety of shapes is to accommodate a variety of sauces.

Upon investigation, I found 14 different shapes of pasta in our cupboard, just waiting for action.

In addition to the penne rigate, we had lasagna (from lasum, Latin for pot) mostaccioli (same as penne rigate without the grooves), spaghetti, lo mein noodles (just like spaghetti), manicotti (small muffs to stuff with cheese), dilatini (little thimbles), then a variety of speak-for-themselves American shapes -- small shells, medium shells, jumbo shells, rings, large rings, elbow macaroni and finally, the favorite of almost all kids, macaroni and cheese.

Obviously, we like pasta at our house.

What was missing? Just plain noodles. Curiously, the Italians didn't name noodles, the Germans did. The word noodle comes from the German word nudel, which means pasta with egg. Perfect for noodle soup.

The point of this exercise is to simplify what the Italians have attempted to complicate for the purpose of mystifying, probably to raise the price of the pasta we eat by attaching those exotic names.

Nobody goes out and orders just plain noodles or macaroni, they'd rather pay twice as much for Rigatoni alla Carbonara than for my favorite, spaghetti with meatballs, just as you'd pay many times more for a Maserati than a Ford.

Our grandson, Taylor, has boiled the whole pasta issue down to its essence. He calls all pasta noodles. And, of course, he's right.

Any way you shape it, cut it, slice it, groove it or curl it, it's good and it's noodles.