Pasta Names and Shapes… Explained!

Farfalle, or "butterfly," pasta
Farfalle, or "butterfly," pasta

Orecchiette, an interestingly-shaped pasta from Puglia, gives away its shape with its Italian name…

Ever wanted to learn how to make your own delicious pasta from an expert Italian chef? We’d love to teach you in Rome with our ever-popular pasta-making class!

Bucatini, spaghetti, tortellini, rigatoni: There are hundreds of kinds of Italian pastas, and each one has its own, special name. That’s pretty confusing… but it’s also fun!

We’ve said many times before that Italian food is regional (in fact, there’s no such thing as “Italian food”). Pasta is a major part of that. Local kinds of pasta in Tuscany differ from those in Rome, Milan, or Puglia.

For us, though, one of the really fun things about Italian pasta—and the names of Italian pastas—are that each pasta name actually means something. Usually, in fact, the name gives away the shape of the pasta itself.

Want proof? Here are just some of our favorite pastas, and what their names mean in Italian!

Bucatini all’amatriciana, a popular dish in Rome

Bucatini: One of the most popular kinds of pasta in Rome, bucatini look like thick spaghetti—but they have a tiny hole in the middle. (Think of a Twizzler!). What does bucatini mean? “Little holes!”. (Buco means hole, while adding an –ino, or –ini for plural, means “small”).

Cannelloni: These big tubes of pasta (usually stuffed and popped in the oven) are named after, well, “big tubes.” (Adding -one, or –oni for plural, means “big”).

Farfalle, or “butterfly,” pasta

Farfalle: This pasta might have the prettiest name of them all… “butterflies”! Hence the shape—of a bow tie, or (more creatively) a butterfly.

Fettuccine: This flat, ribbon-shaped pasta is named after, you guessed it, “little ribbons.”

Fusilli pasta might just be named after… rifles!

Fusilli: This pasta is thought to come from the word “fucile,” or “rifle”. Makes sense because fusilli are spiral-shaped… as is the inside barrel of a gun.

Linguine: This flattened, long pasta is named after “little tongues” (tongues: lingue, and the -in makes them “small”).

Orecchiette: This pasta, unique to the region of Puglia, means “little ears.” Sure enough, it’s an ear-shaped pasta.

Penne: An easy one, penne means “pens.” Next time you have a bowl of penne, check it out: The end of each piece of penne is similar to the tip of a fountain pen.

Spaghetti: Spaghi are “twines”; an -ett makes them small, so these are “little twines.” Perfect, right?

Strozzapreti pasta

Strozzapreti: From central Italy, especially Emilia-Romagna, Umbria and Tuscany, this pasta might have the strangest name of them all: “priest-strangler.” No one’s exactly sure where the name comes from. Some think it’s because priests loved the pasta so much, they ate too quickly and choked.

Vermicelli: In Italy, this is a tubular pasta that’s a little thicker than spaghetti. The name means “little worms.” Sounds gross—but, of course, tastes great!

(Check out the video below to learn how to make carbonara, a classic Roman pasta, from scratch!).

What’s your favorite pasta—or pasta name? Tell us in the comments!



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