Stories, anecdotes, and much more about pasta and its recipes

A thousand and one stories about pasta

Thanks to its widespread consumption over hundreds of years, anecdotes, stories, and fun facts about pasta abound. Pasta is in fact an expression of the history and culture of the region it was originally created and consumed in. Over the centuries, pasta has come to be a very identifying food for the inhabitants of the region that eats its particular forms. For this reason, many surprising connections can be seen between pasta and every element of culture in Gragnano, Campania and in general the south of Italy.

This ‘identification’ with pasta can be seen by the frequent presence of pasta in Italian cinema and theater. You certainly remember the extraordinary stories of Eduardo De Filippo, where Neapolitan cuisine and especially pasta are always present. You may recall Alberto Sordi’s fun role in “Un americano a Roma (An American in Rome)” where he talks to his spaghetti, or the great Totò, who in Miseria e Nobiltà (Misery and Nobility) celebrates the end of a famine by eating pasta with his hands while standing on top of a table.

The shapes of pasta and pasta recipes are all surrounded by stories that helped give each type of pasta and recipe its name.

Did you know that zite (or ziti) get their name from ‘auntie’ women who, long ago, stayed home to prepare pasta with Neapolitan ragu instead of going to mass and looking for a husband? The ‘aunts’ broke long circular tube pasta into pieces, giving life to penne (also called ziti or ziti tagliati).

Mafaldine, or reginette, have a nobler story associated with their name, as they were created in honor of Queen Mafalda di Savoia. Tripolini come from the dedication of pasta makers to the conquerors after the conquest of Tripoli.

Paccheri get their name from a Greek term meaning slap. The width of the pasta is so much greater in comparison to other pasta shapes that it does in fact remind one of a hand or a slap. It’s also very interesting to note that in certain popular expressions the term ‘pacchero’ is actually used to mean a slap: “stare sotto al pacchero (be under the slap)”, for example, means to be under the command of someone else.

A dish called ‘La genovese’ is a typical Neapolitan recipe, regardless of its name. It is said that the dish was created for the first time in the 15th century (or in the 17th century depending on who tells the story) by Genoese cooks in a Neapolitan tavern. The dish is a type of ragu, but the sauce in the dish is used with pasta, and the meat is eaten as a second course.