What’s your pasta?

What’s your pasta?

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What’s your pasta?

As the 2023 Giro d’Italia races towards Rome, we take a look at the origins of pasta – Italy’s staple food and the fuel of the cycle pros…

Pasta was first served in Italy as early as the 4th Century BC, having travelled from China’s Shang dynasty around 1700 BC in the form of flour noodles. After a stop-over in Ancient Greece in 1000 BC where it collected the Greek term laganon, (strips of dough made with flour and water known today as lasagne) it arrived in Etruscan Italy around the 4th century BC and was soon the dish of the day throughout the regions known today as Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany.

Later, thanks to the Renaissance, pasta was transformed from a humble staple into the passionate, culinary art it is today.
But if Il Bel Paese can’t claim to have invented dry pasta (pasta secca), Ancient Rome was at least the birthplace of fresh pasta (pasta fresca), made by adding water to semolina flour and intended for immediate consumption.

Most pastas take their name from the Italian description of their shape. And while the Italian names for the everyday nosh may sound exotic to the non-Italian ear, here’s the meaning of some familiar pasta favourites. Enjoy!

Italian Pasta name English Translation Shape
Bucatini Little holes Tubular spaghetti
Cannelloni Large little canes Large stuffed tube
Conchiglie Shells Sea shells
Capellini d’angelo Angel hair Finest round-rod strands
Farfalle Butterflies Bow-tie, butterfly shape
Fettucine Little ribbons Ribbons
Fusilli Rifles Corkscrew
Gomiti Elbow macaroni Bent macaroni
Maccheroni Macaroni
(Often used in Southern Italy as a general word for all pasta)
Short tubes
Gnocchi Knots (as in wood) Balls
Lasagne Cooking pot Wide flat pasta sheets
Linguine Little tongues Long ribbons
Orecchiette Little ears Ear shaped
Mezzelune Half moons Semi-circular parcels
Paccheri Slaps (with reference to the slapping sound they may make when eaten!) Large stuffed tube (shorter than cannelloni)
Pappardelle (From the Italian verb pappare – to devour) Wide long ribbons
Penne Pens, quills Tubes cut diagonally like a quill
Pipe Smoking pipes Ridged bent macaroni
Radiatori Radiators Shaped like radiators
Ravioli Little turnips Square parcels
Rigatoni Large ridged ones Large short ridged tubes
Rotelle Little wheels Cartwheels
Spaghetti Little twines Long round-rod strands
Spaghettini Thin little twines Thin spaghetti
Strozzapreti Priest-chokers Tubes rolled widthways
Tagliatelle (From the Italian verb tagliare – to cut) Ribbon (finer than fettucine)
Tortellini Little pies Ring-shaped parcels
Tortelloni Large little pies Large tortellini
Vermicelli Little worms Thicker than angel hair, finer than spaghettini

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