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Aug 30, 2012 09:49 AM

When Did "Exotic" Pasta Shapes Begin Appearing in America?

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the only pasta shapes I knew were spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, and PERHAPS linguini or fetuccini. Nowadays even a Walmart on the Great Plains will stock fusilli, farfalle, rigatoni, penne and perhaps even gnocchi. So I'm wondering when the Great Pasta Invasion occurred. The early 90s?

PS--As ever, I'm sure this trend began much earlier in the urban corridor of the northeastern US.

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  1. I saw a nice bag of strozzapreti at Wegmans the other day. 8<D

    1. Probably 1/3 of those shapes are American invention, like Raddiatorre.

      5 Replies
      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        I bet most of those shapes really do exist in Italy, to include radiatore . For a definitive answer though, we need Maureen Fant to weigh in on this.

        1. re: mangiare24


          Yes, radiatori (plural of radiatore) are Italian, but not common. A number of machinery-inspired shapes appeared in the early 20th century with the dawn of industry, motor cars, etc. Ruote, wheels, are probably the most successful of this group (which included drills, propellers, and others). The appearance of machinery capable of making these fancy shapes clearly coincided with that of the machinery that inspired them.

          Strozzapreti are a different thing altogether, since they are a handmade shape, traditionally made in the home (as opposed to strictly industrial shapes like radiatori that require special dies). Even when packaged, they are artisanal or near-artisanal (or big industry imitating artisanal, I suppose). When that group went global is an interesting question, and I don't know the answer.

          1. re: mbfant

            Thank you Maureen. I appreciate the info.

        2. re: mrbigshotno.1

          There's a recent book, The Geometry of Pasta, that discusses the origins of a lot of the different shapes, including Radiatore (sometime between 1920 and 1940, in Italy, it claims). It also has appropriate recipes for each shape.

          1. re: tardigrade

            I really like that book. I got it for a few bucks when a local bookstore liquidated. The geometric illustrations are pretty cool.

        3. I don't think they're as recent as you think. My mother certainly served up rotelle and conchigliette, wagon wheels and little shells, a full generation earlier, and I don't think she thought they were even a little exotic. This is the suburban midwest in the fifties; she wasn't Italian, and served what she saw at the local supermarket. I'm guessing that pasta shapes like that were available in ordinary markets in the late '40's, maybe even much earlier than that.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PSZaas

            My Italian great-grandmother contributed a recipe to her church cookbook in the late thirties. When they printed it, it called for one box of "Musto Charlie" (mostaccioli). They must have sold it back then, but apparently didn't know how to spell it (or maybe read her writing)!

          2. I'm assuming that by "macaroni" you mean elbows. Shells were also pretty standard in my childhood in the 60s, and rigatoni and penne (known as ziti) were fairly common. I also remember wagon wheels (rotelle) as being an occasional "exotic" option. Linguini were also common, but I can remember when capellini were a novelty in the supermarket, probably late 70s or so. Rotini/fusilli became quite common around then as well.

            I can remember seeking out interesting shapes among imported pasta in the 70s and 80s, many of which are now pretty easy to find in the supermarkets here in Boston.

            1. I think the "recent" is relative, as you note...if you grew up in a heavily Italian American area (as I did), pastina, acini de pepe, fusilli, gnocchi, rigatoni, large shells for stuffing and lots more were available when I was growing up.

              What's "new" is the whole wheat pasta, gluten free pasta, etc etc.