Pasta Names Explained

In this atypical post, we will go over some of the most common pasta cuts, and describe the origins of their names. We will use the following template:

Italian Name (Literal Translation)
[sounds like]2
root word3
– main use(s) –4
(1) A photo* of pasta samples; the sizes are relative to each other.
(2) Approximately how the pasta names sound; the accent goes on the syllable in bold.
(3) The root word that inspired their shapes; usually the actual pasta name includes a modifier that hints to the cut size:

  • -ini/-ine – small;
  • -oni/-one – large;
  • -etti/-ette – cute little.

(4) The main use(s) of each pasta type:

  • dry – boiled in salty water, drained and served with a sauce (e.g.: penne, rotini);
  • baked – possibly lightly boiled, then baked in the oven with filling and sauces (e.g.: cannelloni);
  • broth – added to a soup or a broth (e.g.: tubetti, or cut spaghetti).

Bucatini (Little Hollowed Ones) Cannelloni (Big Cute Hoses)
from ‘bucato’ = holed, hollowed
– dry –
from ‘canna’ = hose
– baked –
Conchiglie (Shells) Farfalle (Butterflies)
from ‘conchiglia’ = shell
– dry, broth –
from ‘farfalla’ = butterfly
– dry –
Fettuccine (Small Ribbons) Filini (Little Threads)
from ‘fettuccia’ = ribbon, tape
– dry, broth (cut) –
from ‘filo’ = thread, wire
– broth –
Fusilli (Little Spindles) Linguine (Small Tongues)
from ‘fuso’ = spindle
– dry –
from ‘lingua’ = tongue
– dry –
Mezze Penne Rigate (Striped Half Quills) Orecchiette (Cute Little Ears)
[met-zay pen-aye ree-gah-tay]
from ‘penna’ = quill
– dry –
from ‘orecchio’ = ear
– dry –
Pennette Integrali (Small Whole-Wheat Quills) Rigatoni (Large Striped Ones)
[pen-ette-aye in-tay-gral-ee]
from ‘penna’ = quill
– dry –
from ‘rigato’ = striped
– dry –
Rotini (Small Twirled Ones) Spaghettoni (Big Cute Twines)
from ‘roteare’ = to twirl
– dry –
from ‘spago’ = twine, string
– dry, broth (cut) –
Tortiglioni (Big Twisted Ones) Tubetti (Cute Little Tubes)
from ‘ritorto’ = twisted
– dry –
from ‘tubo’ = tube
– broth –
* All photos Β© Quatro Fromaggio. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “Pasta Names Explained”

  1. Thanks Manu, always very generous πŸ™‚

    I'm glad you find it useful, as it's definitely one of my goals πŸ™‚

    It was for me a lot of fun (and a bit of a learning experience) photographing pasta for the last couple of months. Now I own a lot of different pasta types!

  2. Hi Paolo! I came here from Manu's site. This is a very informative post! I LOVE your blog! It's kind of funny how we take Italian food and transform to something different. I wish you do the same thing for Italian restaurants in Japan. Italian restaurants everywhere in the city and we LOVE Italian food (I should say Japanized Italian food?). Though I have to say Italian restaurants in my neighborhood in Japan serves pretty good quality Italian food (in another word, close to authentic) than local Italian places in my US neighborhood… I am following you via facebook!

  3. Nami, thank you for your feedback! I'm very interested in knowing how Italian food is represented in the rest of the world. From what it seems, North America might have the worst πŸ™‚

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