HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


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.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

              1. "Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the only pasta shapes I knew were spaghetti, macaroni, lasagna, and PERHAPS linguini or fetuccini"

                As sort of noted already, the key words in this statement are "I knew".

                The "early 90s?" Oh, you mean when fusilli was referenced on "Seinfeld" on television?

                I am astounded that anyone could think that during the 1980s only 3 types of pasta were available in the U.S - eh, "PERHAPS" two others. We really are not that isolated of a society.

                I can only speak from my experience and the evidence provided by gold-painted farfalle on a 50 year old Christmas wreath to say that pasta shapes came to the US before your lifetime.

                12 Replies
                1. re: FrankJBN


                  Please note that I made allowances for geographically-related differences. Obviously, areas with a large Italian citizenry witnessed exotic shapes far earlier than areas--such as west Texas where I live--without the Italianate influence. Likewise, I dare say shoppers in my area were exposed to exotic peppers far earlier than people in Minnesota and Maine.

                  1. re: Perilagu Khan


                    So you mean when did pasta shapes appear in your neighborhood grocery?

                    My contention is that pasta shapes were available in each and every of the 50 states by the Reagan administration. Maybe not in every single store - I bet that if you looked in the local Wawa in my neighborhood today you would find no pasta other than spaghetti.

                    In my Irish -German neighborhood, even if they weren't being eaten, shapes such as farfalle were available by no later than the 60s, when I glued and spray-painted a Christmas wreath with the product.

                    In early1995, fusilli pasta was part of a joke on the number 1 TV show in the nation. I can't imagine that a vast part of the population was thinking "Now where did they ever get something like that? Must be a New York thing.".

                    1. re: FrankJBN

                      I'm interested in the diffusion of unusual pasta shapes throughout the US. And people providing that info--preferably with dates and locales but sans snark and condesenscion--clears this up for me.

                      PS--I suggested that exotic pastas had probably swept the fruited plain by the early 1990s so your reference to the Seinfeld (or whatever sitcom it was) joke is otiose.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        If you are really interested, I'd get the phone number off of some boxes of pasta and call the company and ask when they started marketing various pasta's -- who better than National or Regional makers to ask? THEY would know, or be able to find out, when they started 'test marketing' a shape, and when they went into full production or full distribution for each area of the country. Just explain why you are interested (MA/S-Ph/EdD research, etc.) and my bet is that their PR/Customer Service folks would be more than willing to help you with your research - if you are serious. Just remember that ALL grad school takes is money, time, and being tenacious enough to stick with, hunt down, and kill even the TINIEST most Minuscule and Obscure bits of information. this seems to fit into that category. And a LOT easier than trying to find out when what kind of Chili pepper was introduced to what region of the US -- a process which is still continuing as people discover that " 'hot' is a flavor and not a contest"(©).

                        1. re: East_Slope_Charlie

                          Thanks, but I already possess a Ph.D. Alas, my dissertation had little to do with the migration of strozzapreti from Brooklyn to Billings. ;)

                    2. re: Perilagu Khan

                      Khan, one of the jokes at my job is that no one ate bagels for breakfast widely pre-1985 unless in a metro Jewish community. Now they're everywhere. Food migration is awesome.

                      1. re: pinehurst

                        Yeah, pine, I remember when Lender's plain bagels in the plastic sack where the only bagels to be had in most spots throughout the US. My, how that has changed. Sadly, however, the deli/bagel scene still really blows in my neck of the woods.

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          I also remember when Lender's was the only bagel I had ever heard of (and when tv news anchors would somberly warn of injuries inflicted upon those who knew not how to cut this dangerous foodstuff). But as a Reagan baby, I can't remember a time when we didn't have shells, rotini or penne.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            I miss the actual Lenders bagel stores. They used to make the best blueberry bagel, and egg too! They all closed down in CT. Is it only a grocery store brand now?

                            1. re: melpy

                              for more than 20 years.
                              The H. Lender Bagel restaurants were owned by the Lender family. The Lender's brand of frozen bagels was sold to a major conglomerate in the 1970s.
                              The restauranhts ran their ciurse. The brothers were moree interested in their investment firm, and then moved to Florida.

                              In fact the first Lender restaurant was called the Bagel Board and was in front of their factory on RT 1 in West Haven. They had a few restaurants called. S. Kinder, and eventually got the right to use the Lender name for the H. Lender restaurants.

                          2. re: pinehurst

                            I never thought of bagels as a migrating food, like the potato and the hot pepper, but why not? I'm a native of Manhattan and went to grad school in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s. There was one joint that had pastrami (the Purple Pickle), and while I was in A2 The Bagel Factory opened. I remember particularly the salt bagels (not bad) and cinnamon-raisin bagels, indistinguishable from English muffins similarly abused. They confirmed my belief that the Midwest was not the place for me, but gastronomic Ann Arbor soon began to wake up and I was, eventually, sorry to leave, sort of.

                        2. re: FrankJBN

                          Frank, did you ever see the movie Goodfellas? In it, the character Henry Hill (based on real life) complains that when he was relocated via the Witness Protection program, he'd order pasta and he'd get Pennsylvania dutch egg noodles and ketchup (not the exact quote). I truly believe that ethnic geography matters. Same reason I didn't see a lot of lutefisk growing up.

                        3. All pasta is exotic in America. Thomas Jefferson brought pasta back from Europe, but it became popular beginning in the late 19th century when Italians immigrated in large numbers. All Italian forms would have been introduced then.

                          1. Mid- 80's at least in Florida, first time I ever heard of Gnocchi was around 1983

                            1. I'm so glad I grew up in Jersey City, NJ, just across the Hudson River from NYC. We had real bagels (never had a Lender's bagel until we moved to the 'burbs and shopped at mega supermarkets) and many different shapes of macaroni (as we called it) including ziti, penne, rigatoni, acini pepe, tubetinni, etc. in the 1960s and 1970s.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: mangiare24

                                I would not call "ziti, penne, rigatoni, acini pepe, tubetinni" exotic. I'd say they're pretty common and what OP was used to in the 70s and 80s.

                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  If you read the the first post, none of these are mentioned as being available when the op was growing up. I certainly dont think they are exotic; but compared to what was available to the op, they are.

                                  1. re: mangiare24

                                    ziti, mostaccioli (=penne in mainstream Italian), linguini (=linguine in mainstream Italian), farfalle (possibly called simply bowties), were available in the 60s and probably 50s. There was also a whole thing with spaghetti and numbers, some thicker, some thinner. Then there were vermicelli, which were thinner, but vermicelli in Italy are thicker or the same as spaghetti. I'm not sure when I became aware of perciatelli (=bucatini), but definitely not later than the 70s because I moved to Rome in 1979 and stopped noticing US pasta (until recently, for professional reasons). In the 50s and probably 60s, it was mostly Italian-Americans who bought different formats of pasta. My mother (Irish-American from suburbs of Philadelphia, very vanilla) recognized only spaghetti, possibly vermicelli, and elbows. I have a vague recollection of not much distinction being drawn between spaghetti & co. and German-tradition egg noodles. I certainly remember the brands from the 50s: La Rosa (maybe the first manufacturer in the US), Ronzoni (sono buoni), Buitoni (still around and really Italian, though not pronounced byoo-toni in Italy of course). Later there was Prince (Anthony!!!!).

                                    1. re: mbfant

                                      I grew up with American Beauty in the 70s. Still buy it occasionally.

                                      1. re: mbfant

                                        Perciatelli has been available at least since the 1950s in NY Italian communities. My mother would use it to make pasta con le sarde for my father, which I always understood to be the traditional pasta to use. Given that, it would certainly have been available before the 1940s when my father's mother died since it was a dish my father grew up on.

                                        1. re: roxlet

                                          yes, it is exactly the traditional pasta to use, but if you'd asked me I'd have said bucatini, same thing of course. Seems like the original question could be rephrased: not when did unusual shapes arrive but when did mainstream America start noticing.

                                          1. re: mbfant

                                            I would say that is the question exactly.

                                  2. re: mangiare24

                                    I'd go on to say that acini pepe were pretty standard and then all of a sudden, BAM, ORZOOOOOO! (love the stuff)

                                  3. PK...
                                    Methinks your living in gthe middle of the Texas wasteland gave rise to the lack of interesting ethnic (non-Hispanic) food items.
                                    Growing up in the 1950s, Local Brands in the NYC metropolitan area, such as LaRosa, mad and sold a great many pasta shapes. It was called Macaroni back then. Italo-Americans always chos the shape of pasta that ws appropriate with a particular sauce. We are certainly not of Italian heritage, but my mother always had at least 10 or more shapes in the pantry. After all, you'd never serve spaghetti with clam sauce, it had to be linguine. Ziti and Rigatoni were kept with and without the lines. Those with lines helped a thinner sauce coat and stick to the pasta.

                                    Even nationally marketed brands such as Buitoni were available in the 'Wagon Wheel' shape. A favorite with little boys enamored with all the westerns on TV on the 3 networks.

                                    There also was ethnic crossover. The Italian pasta brands packed 'farfalle' known as butterflies which are served wth cream sauce. In Yiddish this shape is Varnishkes and served with Kasha(buckwheat groats) sauteed with onions.

                                    1. Having spent 22 years in NJ in the early part of our marriage, I remember seeing all those 'exotic' shapes in the stores. And with wonderful Italian neighbors on all sides I learned lots about what many of them were used for, deliciously. Thank you, Pomaros, Falangos & Yulos & Ro Roski!!
                                      After a move to DE 22 years ago, I couldn't find some of my favorites then. They are all over the place now that we are eating low carb and no longer eat pasta!! Wouldn't ya just know it???

                                      1. Growing up in 1970s Southern California, I remember all kinds of shapes--penne for sure. Besides, "pasta" as you say (I say noodles since I don't remember anyone calling it pasta until the 80s some time, and by then I felt I had no reason to change the word I used) is not just Italian. There are the noodles of chicken noodle soup, home-made egg noodles in strips, späzle, nockerl (basically gnocchi in German), glass noodles, rice noodles and other noodles. The Italians are just the most famous for it, and have a cuisine that seems to depend on noodles the most. Noodles have been present in many shapes for a long time.

                                        1. We had penne, shells and fusilli growing up in the 60s...

                                          1. There seems to be another resurgence lately too. This place popped up nearby that showcases unconventional housemade pasta shapes: http://superbasnackbar.com/

                                            Looks tasty!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Grubwithus

                                              Wow..... I want to live next door to that place so I can go every day...

                                            2. I think it depends on where you were and where you shopped. Growing up I only remember spaghetti and macaroni, but when I lived in an area with more Italian-Americans in the mid 70s the local grocery stores carried half an aisle full of different shapes. It was the first time I saw manicotti and fusilli.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: tardigrade

                                                Yeah, I think that probably sums it up pretty accurately.

                                                1. re: tardigrade

                                                  Manicotti (which are cannelloni), a name which nobody I have ever asked has ever seen in Italy, makes me think that many shapes that may seem relatively new have been around for generations under different names. Mostaccioli, which I remember from NY supermarkets decades ago, are known to mainstream Italy as penne. I used to see perciatelli, never bucatini, though they're the same.

                                                  A thought: there was a New Yorker cartoon, very funny, with two pasta shapes talking to each other on the telephone. One was named Fusilli, and I forget the other. The date of that cartoon may well be the approximate answer to the original question as it probably marks the moment when affluent pasta buyers were scurrying around looking for new shapes.

                                                  1. re: mbfant

                                                    The cartoon you refer to was Charles Barsotti's 1994 New Yorker cartoon of a rigatoni on the phone to a friend, exclaiming, "Fusilli, you crazy bastard!" Mario Batali used it as an ispiration for one of his dishes called Fusilli Alla Crazy Bastard.

                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                      That was it. I even have it on note cards. Somewhere.

                                                  2. We ended up watching Breaking Away (1979) tonight, and there's a point where the father, who is supposed to represent the blue collar Midwesterner, goes off on a rant about his Italian-loving son keeps wanting to eat all kind of foreign food like linguine and fettuccini, and why couldn't they just have good American food like french fries instead?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: beachmouse

                                                      One of my favorite moments in the history of cinema! The father's rant on "-ini food" (I believe zucchini were included). Now I eat -ini food every day.

                                                      1. re: beachmouse

                                                        Great call! And a great movie. It bolsters my contention that the "ini" foods had not completely penetrated the entirety of the US by the late 70s, too.

                                                      2. I have to ask -- and be honest! -- was "the only pasta shapes [you] knew" the only pasta shapes that were in the store, or the only pasta shapes that were served at your house?

                                                        I grew up in a podunk town of 3000 people in northern Indiana (with such a homogenous mixture of WASP that it was EYE-tal-yun food -- we moved when I was 13...my first new friend was Italian and cured me of that affectation quickly! ) and I distinctly remember wagon wheels and ziti and fusilli in the early 70s -- and my mom never bought anything but vermicelli to serve with spaghetti sauce.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                          As a wee nipper riding in the shopping cart while mom made her selections, I didn't notice what pastas were actually available. All I paid attention to was what she put on my plate. So it's possible that more pasta types were available than what we actually consumed.

                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                            My fiancé knows it drives me nuts so he says it that way. Apparently that is what my mother's waspy Long Island relatives would call my father, as in " oh look, the EYEtalian is here".
                                                            He retaliates but referring to the woman as Aunt... Although they weren't far in age.

                                                          2. What, you don't remember the Texas-shaped pasta that American Beauty put out in 1986 for the sesquicentennial?

                                                            My memory is that that once-ubiquitous poster with the numbered pasta shapes began appearing in bookstores in the mid-80s, and it wasn't long after that that the Food Emporium at 82nd and Slide Road (my god, I loved that store...first baguette I ever had, although I'm sure I would now find them pathetic) started carrying first imported and then domestic shapes.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                              Food Emporium--lordamercy, I'd forgotten all about that place. I don't even remember when it went outta bidniss.

                                                            2. When you think of it, though, it is certain that all those exotic pasta shapes have made an immense contribution to children's art and crafts projects over the years.

                                                              1. I grew up in northern NJ in the 70s and lots were available there. I suspect the widespread availability of exotic pasta shapes coincided with the explosion of choices in pasta sauces that occured in the 1980s. Interesting TED talk on that subject here: http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_glad...

                                                                1. Grew up in northern NJ, and remember seeing different shapes of pasta in the supermarkets; Mom just didn't buy anything but elbow macaroni, spaghetti, and ziti. I don't remember buying farfalle, radiatore, wagon wheels, etc., until after I moved out on my own in the early 80s. But they *were* there in the 60s and 70s. As others have said, I think it depends on the area of the country you lived in. Heavy Italian heritage population where I grew up (plus being close to NYC) so various Italian markets would have shapes I'd never seen before.

                                                                  1. In NJ in the 1960s, I remember spaghetti, rigatoni, angel hair/capellini (my favorite), shells, lasagne, pastina, linguine, and regular elbow macaroni. Beginning in 1980, first in Portland, OR, and then in Washington, DC, I made my own pasta much of the time, and that added fettucine, lasagne, and different stuffed pastas.

                                                                    I didn't discover my favorite boxed pasta, cavatappi, until I moved here to Pittsburgh in 1999.