Macaroni or "pasta secca" is dried elbow-shaped pasta. While its origins are unclear, many believe that Marco Polo brought it to Italy. Scholars have disproved this legend, however [source: Wright]. Other versions of macaroni lore credit the Arabs, Etruscans, Greeks or Romans with its invention. No matter who invented it, there's no denying it's been a resounding success - particularly here in the U.S.
How it got here isn't certain, but one story suggests that macaroni and cheese was introduced to the American public by Thomas Jefferson when he brought it back from Italy to Virginia [source: Wright]. Our love for this cheesy comfort food achieved a whole new level after Kraft Foods introduced the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in 1937, a boxed macaroni and cheese that appealed to busy housewives in the U.S. [source: Sennebogen]. Once food rationing was instituted during World War II, macaroni and cheese became a food staple and a quick substitute for a meat and potatoes dinner.
While mac and cheese can stand on its own and has withstood the test of time as a classic American dish, freshening up your favorite mac and cheese recipe is a cinch. You could add some panko breadcrumbs to the top or stir in a little cooked lobster, crab or shrimp. Or try experimenting with different cheeses, and other pasta shapes. For example, penne or farfalle combined with Brie, Gorgonzola, Gruyere and fontina might have a more adult feel.