11 Unusual Pasta Shapes from Italy

Depending on where you look, there are 350-500 pasta shapes that can be found in Italy. Yes, really. This is, for instance, the pasta aisle in a small grocery store in Milan.

Italians are very particular about pairing pasta with sauces, despite the many shapes of pasta available. Certain shapes work best with certain sauces.

You can find many articles about pairing pasta shapes with the correct sauces. I enjoy two of them: Chowhound, and BBC Good Food.

Instead of trying to recreate the wheel (with “wheel” in this instance being the fine and often very long online lists of all the pasta shapes available in the country), I would rather concentrate on the more unusual pasta shapes that you might find in Italy.

You all know the basics of spaghetti . It’s not necessary for me to tell you. What about the “priest-strangler pasta?” Have you ever heard of this one? I didn’t think so.

You can find more pasta shapes in this PDF from Chowhound . It also includes cool pictures.

Weird Pasta Shapes from Italy


Creative Commons Photo by fugzu

Since you are likely to be interested, we’ll begin with the priest strangler. Although the origin of the pasta’s name, “priest stranglers”, is not clear, it does mean that the pasta is named. The most dangerous story is that the shape resembles the collar priests wear (sometimes called a “Priest Choker”) but the main story is that priests would eat so much pasta that they would choke. I have always thought that the pasta looked vaguely like rope. Strozzapreti is a flat pasta piece that’s rolled up and curled.


Creative Commons Photo by E. Michael Smith Chiefio

This is hands down my favorite pasta-related word. It feels amazing rolling off your tongue. The pasta’s tight weave and little ripples feel great on your tongue when you eat it. The name? Radiatore is Italian for “radiator” because they look like old-fashioned radiators made of metal (which you can still find in many Italian buildings).

Creste di Galli

Elcochan, public domain photo

These cute little pasta shapes look like elbow macaroni topped with a mohawk. The mohawk is reminiscent of cock’s hair, which is what crested di galli refers to.


Public domain photo by rkit

The shape of the pasta will surprise you if you are fluent in Italian wine vocabulary. Cavatappi have a corkscrew shape because cavatappi is “corkscrew”.


Jim10701 took the creative commons photo

Although pasta with seashell-shaped shapes is very popular in Italy, it is not as common. In Italian, Lumache is “snails”.


Stilfehler – Creative Commons Photo

Gemelli pasta looks a bit like strozzapreti but the twist on the former is consistent and constant, creating the illusion that two pasta pieces are wrapped around each other. Why? Because gemelli means “twins.”


Benreis, creative commons photo

You may have heard the term “mezzaluna”, which refers to a round knife with two handles that is used in a rocking motion to finely chop vegetables. Mezzelune pasta is a circle of pasta dough filled with a mixture of flours and folded over to form a half moon shape.


Gyfis, creative commons photo

Tortellini are probably familiar to you. I include them on this list because they are unusual and because of the story behind their shape. This delicately curled, stuffed pasta is meant to look like the innkeeper of Lucrezia Bianca’s early-16th-century hotel room, as he viewed her navel through the keyhole.


Giuseppe Masili, creative commons photo

This tiny pasta was made to imitate the ears, which is its body part. Orecchie is an Italian word meaning “ears”, so orecchiette simply means “little ears”. You can sometimes still see the thumbprint of the person who made the indentation in the dough.


Creative Commons Photo by Liveon001

These may be known as “bow-tie” or “bow-tie” noodles, but they are farfalle in Italy which means “butterfly.”


Junior Libby took the public domain photo

This is another shape you may be familiar with, but you probably haven’t thought of the name. Penna is a modern Italian word meaning “pen”, but it used to mean “quill” once upon a while. The feather quill’s clipped ends can be used to dip it in ink. Yep.

What’s your favorite shape of pasta?

* Fun fact! Did you know that “spaghetti,” as a plural of the word, can also be used to refer to a single noodle? This means that if you drop one noodle on the ground, it would be called a “spaghetto.”

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