Pasta is a cheap meal, and sales are shooting through the roof rising 22% in 2008 after years of tepid growth, according to Nielsen Co. Much of the increase is due to commodities related price hikes. But the trend still means that pasta is claiming a larger portion of the average grocery basket. When pasta sales begin to slow you'll know times are getting better. One way to track the trend is by watching financial results at American Italian Pasta Co. (ticker: AIPC), which is North America's largest pasta producer. The stock has soared from $5 to $26 in the past 12 months while just about everything else got hammered. Revenue surged 43% to $569 million in 2008 after declining or growing only modestly the previous three years. When this counter cyclical pasta packer hits a rough patch it could signal better times for the rest of us.