At present, there are over 350 different pasta shapes and nearly four times as many names! The etymology of pasta shape names has a fascinating history, one that often goes undiscussed.
The word “pasta” itself derives from the Italian word for the dough from which pasta shapes are made. The names themselves usually trace back to either their creation process or objects they resemble. “Spaghetti”, for example, derives from the Italian word spago, meaning string, resembling its long, straggly shape. The term “ravioli”, however, derives from the Italian riavvolgere – “to wrap”– in reference to the process of “wrapping” the dough around the filling before cutting into squares.
In spite of an abundance of choice, we’ve managed to pick out five of our favourite names for pasta shapes. Not only will this help all of you pasta-lovers brush up your pasta knowledge, it also provides some helpful trivia to share at your next dinner party!
Strozzapreti, literally translated as “priest-stranglers” or “priest-chokers”, there are a few theories surrounding this particular pasta shape’s name, although it certainly reflects the historic resentment of the Church in Emilia & Toscana, from which this pasta originates.
One theory is that the name made fun of corrupt priests, suggesting they were so greedy that they would literally choke themselves by stuffing their mouths with pasta.
Another theory is that wives would often make this pasta for priests as a way of paying off land debt. The husbands, aggrieved that the priests were feasting on their wives’ cooking, would secretly wish that they choked to death on it!
Our Strozzapreti Pasta with Pistachio Pesto & Pistachio Crumb.
Malloreddus “Fat little bulls”
Malloreddus, also known as gnochetti sardi -“Sardinian gnocchi” – is a staple in Sardinian cuisine. Literally translated as “fat little bulls” in Sardinian dialect, this pasta is traditionally made by rolling the dough onto a wicker basket, impressing its distinctive deep ridges.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these “fat little bulls” is the Sardinian tradition for newlywed brides to parade through the streets carrying a basket of these to her husband’s door. Once she arrives, the couple must then eat the malloreddus off the same plate to cement their new roles as husband and wife.
Malloreddus with Sausage Ragù, Pecorino Cream & Parmigiano Reggiano.
Mafalde “Named after princess Mafalda of Savoy”
Also known as “reginette” meaning “little queens” in Italian, mafalde were created to commemorate Princess Mafalda of Savoy, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Princess Mafalda sadly lived a tragic life, having been deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp after being considered a threat to the Third Reich and later killed by the Allied bombing of the camp’s ammunition factory in 1944. The ruffled edges of mafalde pasta is said to remind of the princess’ curls and remains an enduring commemoration of her tragic life.
Pasta Evangelists Mafalde Pasta with Beef Shin Ragú.
Orecchiette “Little ears”
Orecchiette literally translates to “little ears”, no doubt referring to its small ear-like shape.
Orecchiette are known as a pasta bianca or “white pasta” since they are made without eggs, created by rolling small pieces of dough with a knife and stretched with the base of the thumb.
As a historically poorer region of Italy, white pastas typically derive from the South, since many were unable to afford expensive ingredients such as eggs to use in their pasta dough. Thus, sfogline would have to innovate with the limited resources they had, using only flour and water to create this beautifully delicate shape.
Our delicious Orecchiette Pasta with Pistachio Pesto and a Pistachio Crumb.
Gnocchi “knot in the wood”
The word “gnocchi” most likely derives from the Italian word “nocchio” meaning, “knot in the wood”, hence the connection between Pinocchio, the famous protagonist of Carlo Collodi’s children’s novel. Another theory is that the name derives from the word “nocca”, meaning knuckle, in reference to its stubby, ridged shape.
Our Gnocchi Pasta with our famous Sundried Tomato Pesto.
Tortelloni originates from Modena, a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. The exact origin of the shape is widely disputed, but the most likely theory is that tortelloni were meant to replicate the shape of a turtle shell, which is famously displayed throughout Modena’s 17th-century architecture. Our preferred version of the story, however, is the popular legend that the innkeeper of a tavern in Bologna created it to resemble Venus’ belly button, having caught a glimpse of its splendour after spying on her and Jupitus through the keyhole of their bedroom.
Our Beef Tortelloni with Fresh Black Truffle Butter & Hazelnut Crumb is a must-try.
At Pasta Evangelists, we pay homage to the fascinating history of Italian cuisine, delivering fresh pasta, sauces, and garnishes across the UK. We hope that by reading this article, you've built up an appetite for some delicious pasta!
If so, allow us to tempt you with a special offer on our fresh pasta dishes. Order your first box today, and we'll treat you to an extra 50% off when you use BLOG50 at checkout. But first, visit our weekly menu to browse our hand-picked selection of pasta dishes.