Pasta Shapes my Memories

April 25, 2013

Apparently, there are more than 250 pasta shapes available but I have no idea why.

I’m sure someone set themselves the task of sampling every single pasta shape and has probably written about it. Me? I’m happy to stick to the five or six I enjoy regularly because of my strong associations with them.

One of my favourites is maccheroni as it reminds me of the time my mother was hired for a cooking demonstration in a Sydney CBD department store in the late 1950s. Home-cooked pasta was unheard of among non-Italians and the store was keen to introduce it to shoppers. I was maybe four or five and remember going with her to the store with a family friend (my father was working). I helped her distribute the paper plates of pasta straight from pots of boiling water, topped with meat sauce (ragu) she’d prepared earlier. My mother spoke little English, so there was a translator on hand, but it didn’t seem to matter as the shoppers lapped it up. What concerns me, however, is the way I was allowed – as a young child – near the hot pots’n’pans and stove. Ah, those wacky days before OH&S took over.

I like mafaldine too, which also brings back memories from the early 1960s and I can picture the long curly pasta strands covered in homemade tomato sauce flying through the air. A landlady without a great food repertoire ran the boarding house next door. She fed the six 20-something men – recently migrated from Italy – the same dinner every night. After the fourth day in a row of pasta, the men rebelled and the meal – pot and all – was hurled by the woman from the kitchen window into the backyard in disgust. Their loss was the pet dog’s gain.

Occasionally I’ll still cook creste di gallo (roosters’ combs) just to hear my grandfather’s voice denouncing them to my grandmother as shaped “like old folks’ dentures”.

But usually I reach for spaghetti, despite my first school kid trauma of discovering a tuck shop spaghetti sandwich was not the same as mamma made at home: what WAS this gluggy, sweet, orange coloured baby food?

Spaghetti, or sometimes linguine, is the pasta of choice in many film scenes. You just can’t convey some messages with any other shape.  TheApartment_strainingSpaghetti

Think about the steamy kitchen sink scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment when Jack Lemmon prepares dinner for Shirley Maclaine and strains the pasta over a tennis racquet. “You’re pretty good with that racquet” she says. Lemmon replies “Wait till you see me serve the meatballs!”  

Or the spaghetti-eating scene with the two besotted dogs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

But the last word goes to Walter Matthau (Oscar) in Neil Simon’s 1967 bachelor fest The Odd Couple during a nasty fight when he throws Felix’s freshly cooked plate of spaghetti (or linguine)* and sauce against a kitchen wall, where it slides down, strand by strand. That image just wouldn’t be the same with bow-tie or shell-shaped pasta.

* Watch the ‘Odd Couple’ clip for the spaghetti v linguine tussle    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDXSXkYoM5Y

 Lose yourself in the definitive Guide to Pasta Shapes 



  1. Love the story of you helping your Mum in department store!

  2. I can remember it so clearly – lots of (mainly) middle-aged Oz women sampling this strange Italian food, and coming back for seconds! I felt so special and so grown up.

  3. Love your pasta recollections and film nostalgia. By the age of 8 i was familiar with at least 26 shapes of pasta … those that came in the tins of Heinz Alphabet Spaghetti in tomato sauce that we kids were served on toast when we came home for school lunches! In my mother’s defence, we are not Italian! Yet another fab post.

  4. Ah yes, I remember that some Aussie kids at my school used to eat the Alphabet pasta too. Does it still exist? And if so, does it come in any languages other than English?

  5. I enjoyed reading your post!
    To answer your first question, Orietta Zanini De Vita has written the Encyclopedia of Pasta, a really interesting book, which I recommend if you are interested in the intricacies of traditional Italian pasta.
    Thanks for adding the link to the clip from the Odd Couple. Speaking of movies, I talked about what is probably the most famous spaghetti scene in Italian cinema in this post: http://www.pulcetta.com/2011/06/maccherone.html

    • Thanks for the info – I’ll look up the Encyclopedia of Pasta – sounds great. And yes, that’s a lovely scene with Alberto Sordi eating his maccheroni.

  6. Love this post so much! Brought a big smile to my face! xx

    • Thanks very much – I smiled when I was writing it too. Ah, the past!

  7. Jeez, I was raised in Oklahoma and I only remember Cef Boyardee – pasta in a can. But I overcame that when my family moved to the east coast and have been expanding ever since. I love fusilli and farfalle for kind of creamy sauces like pesto of various sorts.

    My first visit here but I really enjoyed your post and am impressed that you remembered those movie scenes.


    • Thanks for visiting my blog and enjoying it. (Un)fortunately I have a great memory for food scenes in films and always happy to revisit them and add to my blog. Keep up the pasta discoveries!

  8. Excellent post, I had missed this! Love all these and, yes, ‘Now it’s garbage” from THE ODD COUPLE is wonderful.

    • Yes, I haven’t see the full film for ages … time for a revisit

      • While it is dated in places certainly, much of it holds up very well. Their chemistry is amazing. The scene with the ‘Pigeon sisters’ is hilarious, and I love the score.

      • Yes, it’s a beauty

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