As everyone knows*, October is World Pasta Month, and in the USA, October 17 is National Pasta Day.
(*If you actually know this, please let me know how it is that you know this! I didn’t know it! Meaning I was exaggerating a bit when I said “everyone” does.)
The origins of pasta are unclear. According to the Interweb, a great many people buy in to the popular belief that Marco Polo “discovered” pasta in Asia and brought it to Italy. And many more people buy in to the popular belief that it’s hard to believe there’s such a thing as a “popular belief” about the origins of pasta.
At least we can be sure of a couple things: Pasta is the Italian word for “dough”; and Marco Polo is the Italian word for “a fun swimming pool game.”
The story goes that Thomas Jefferson introduced pasta to the Americas after first encountering it in Naples, Italy. At the time, he was the American Ambassador to France. There’s a page on The Library of Congress website that shows a drawing Jefferson made for a pasta machine — or as he called it, a “maccaroni maker.” (Lesser-known fact: He also returned from Italy with an early prototype of Super Mario Brothers.)
According to Nationalpastaday.com, “there are over 600 known pasta shapes.” I like the way that’s phrased — “known pasta shapes.” It hints of adventure! – perhaps there are exotic pasta shapes yet to be discovered, deep in the Amazon rain forest, on remote Pacific atolls, in the Tasmanian highlands!
In fact, I found another website stating that, “In different regions of different countries, pasta names change,” meaning “there are 1,300 different pasta names that you can find across the world.”
Ok, maybe that’s hyperbole. But regardless, what I like best about the existence of at least 600-plus pasta shapes is that I can fulfill the word count expected by Daily News editor Kevin Green just by listing all of them! But not today — I’ll save that for when I’m completely out of entertaining ideas. (You may challenge that I’ve never had any entertaining ideas, but that’s a whole ‘nutha topic.)
Still, there are some pasta names and meanings, or translations, that I can’t resist sharing right now:
First, fairly ordinary ones, such as Fusilli, meaning “little spindles,” and Tortellini - “little cakes.”
A little more comical are: Linguini - “little tongues”; Ravioli – “little turnips” (yuck, I hate turnips!); and Mostaccioli – “mustaches of the Mario Brothers.”
Then there are some frankly unappetizing names: Vermicelli - “little worms”; Gramigna - “infesting weed”; and Strozzapreti - “priest stranglers.”
Mafalde pasta is named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, born in 1902, and daughter of the Italian king Victor Immanuel III. During WWII, Germany’s Adenoid Hynkel (Dear Leader of the Third Blech) disliked her intensely, and, sadly, she met an untimely end in a concentration camp. I think it’s all well and good she had a pasta named for her. But I think it speaks even better of her that Adenoid called her “the blackest carrion in the Italian royal house.” All honor to Mafalda, I say.
A few final pasta-name factoids:
Papardelle is supposedly from the Tuscan word “papparsi,” meaning “to pig out.” Man, that’s what I do when pasta is on the table! And Pansotti means “big bellies.” And that’s what I get when I papparsi! Quanto appropriato, si?
Paccheri comes from a Neopolitan word “pacchario,” meaning “slap.” The name has been ascribed to a slapping sound they may make when eaten. Consider that the next time you’re pacchario-ing some paccheri that’s been pacchario’d down in front of ya!
Spaghetto is the singular word for spaghetti. But be careful not to drop an “i” before that “o,” or you’ll have something waaaaay different!
There’s a stuffed pasta called Occhi di lupo - “Eyes of the wolf.” And there’s Agnolotti, meaning “Lamb’s ear” - stuff-able semi-circular pockets.
CAUTION! — ONLY serve Agnolotti and Occhi di lupo together if you carefully drape the agnolotti over the lupo .... y’know, an eyes-of-the-wolf in lamb’s clothing kind of thing. This way the agnolotti will remain calm until you devour them.
Pasta was originally eaten by hand. Sure, sounds messy. But picture the messes caused by this factoid!: Pasta that is cooked properly should stick to the wall when it’s done. So now, next time you’re at a dinner party and the pasta is not well prepared, you know how to prove it!