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Last Updated April 2017

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Pasta

Pasta Glossary

Page 5:  Pasta Types With M, N & O


If you enjoy this Pasta Glossary, we have a food glossary for almost every category of food, including Italian favorites like cheese, espresso and olive oil. Plus, find reviews of our favorite brands of pasta and sauces, pasta recipes and informative articles about pasta in our Pasta Section.

Click on a letter to go to the appropriate glossary section.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

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Semolina-and-water pasta without eggs (see FDA definition of macaroni products below). Many macaronis are tube-shaped, but there are other forms including shells, twists and ribbons. Among the best-known tube shapes are: elbow (a short, curved tube), ditalini (tiny, very short tubes), mostaccioli (large, 2-inch-long tubes cut on the diagonal, with a ridged or plain surface), penne (large, straight tubes cut on the diagonal), rigatoni (short, grooved tubes) and ziti (long, thin tubes). Most macaronis almost double in size during cooking. The Italian spelling of the word is maccheroni. 


A secondary meaning for the word macaroni or maccheroni is a well-traveled young Englishman of the 18th and 19th centuries, who affected foreign customs and manners, i.e., a fop or dandy. In those times, it was typical for a young man to go on a “grand tour” of the Continent to finish his education, prior to settling down. Many young Brits came back enamored of Italy, speaking particularly of the macaroni in Italy—hence the word association. In the mid-eighteenth century, “macaroni” described an overblown hairstyle as well as the dandy wearing it. Later in the century, the popular song, Yankee Doodle Dandy, was written and sung by the British in derision of the American colonists, who adopted it in self-defense. The song is believed to have its origins in the French and Indian War (1756–1763). In contrast to the spit and polish of the British army, the colonials were a motley crew, some wearing buckskins and furs. Dr. Richard Schuckburg, a British Army surgeon reportedly wrote the tune. The colonials kept adding verses to it: Some 190 have been counted. “He stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” means that the man who came to town for a good time, riding on a little pony—not a horse—thought himself a stylish dandy, although the song ridicules this feather-sporting pony-rider for thinking himself so when he was instead quite a sight to behold. “Doodle” comes from a German word meaning “simpleton.”


As classified by the FDA, these are the class of food, including spaghetti and vermicelli, which is prepared by drying formed units of dough made from semolina, durum flour, farina, flour or any combination of two or more of these, with water and with or without one or more optional ingredients specified.  See also noodle products.


The Italian spelling of macaroni.



A torchio is a press, and these strips of pasta are pressed into attractive curls. A popular preparation is to serve them with “con pomodoro e rucola,” tomato and arugula. Make the sauce by combining 4 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 7 ounces of diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano tomatoes) and 7 ounces of arugula in a sauté pan. Cook slowly, mashing the ingredients together with a fork. The maccheroni al torchio shown at left are made by artisan pasta maker Rustichella d’Abruzzo, and can be purchased from


  Maccheroni al Torchio
Maccheroni al torchio. Photo courtesy

These are half-inch-long ridged Sardinian pastas that look a like like small worms. They also are known on the island of Sardinia as gnochetti sardi or gnocchi, though they are nothing like actual gnocchi (see gnocchi description). This cut is absolutely delicious, in part due to the wonderful chewy texture of the tightly-rolled shape, and in part due to the aesthetic of the beautiful rolled and ridged appearance. You can purchase it on


  Malloreddus Sarda
Malloreddus pasta looks like small worms. The kids should love them! Photo by Brian Van Sise | THE NIBBLE.


A stuffed, baked pasta manicotti (mah-nih-CUT-tee) means “muffs” or “sleeves” in Italian. The large, tube-shaped noodles are about four inches long, and one inch in diameter. One of the oldest forms of pasta, in ancient times the dough was cut into large rectangles, filled with flavorful stuffings, then rolled and baked in the oven (what today is known as cannelloni). Today, pre-shaped tubes are boiled, then stuffed with a meat, cheese or seafood mixture, covered with a sauce and baked.


A mixture of two pasta shapes, orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta, and cavaturi, a short rolled pasta (mah-rih-TAH-tee).  See also orecchiette maritate.

Manicotti, a popular stuffed tube pasta. Photo courtesy DairyMax.

The single form of the word is mezzaluna; the word means, literally, “half moon.” Mezzalune are crescent-shaped stuffed pasta. This shape of pillow pasta tends to be small. Typically, mezzaluna pasta uses egg pasta, which is rolled out and then cut with a small die into circular shapes. Any filling can be used. A dab of filling is placed on each circle and the circles are folded over and crimped to seal. The maker must ensure that it is not overloaded.

The word mezzaluna also refers to a hand chopping tool, with the blades in the shape of a half moon.

  Mezzaluna Pasta
Cheese-stuffed mezzalune with morel mushrooms in a sauce and garnish of fresh green peas. Photo courtesy The Pines | NYC.


Literally, “half rigatoni,” a shorter version of rigatoni, this cut is a versatile pasta shape, combining the heartiness of traditional rigatoni with a fun, smaller size (see photo at right).


Small, short tubed pasta, generally used in soups.

Mezzi rigatoni: half the length. Photo courtesy


Mostaccioli (must-a-CHO-lee), literally “small moustaches,” are a specialty of the Campania region of southern Italy, which includes the cities of Capri, Naples and Sorrento. Large, 2-inch-long tubular pasta, they are cut on the diagonal (slanted or angled ends), with a plain surface, similar to regular penne. Both are designed for chunky tomato, meat and cream sauces.


See gnudi.

Mostaccioli, small moustaches. Photo courtesy


From the German word “nudel” meaning paste with egg. In America, the term refers to egg noodles as well as Asian forms of pasta. Noodles can be made of wheat,  rice, soybean, potato, or other flours like oat; sweet potato or arrowroot starch; bean curd skin and tofu; and mung bean threads. Italian pasta (the word means “paste,” referring to the paste of flour and water from which it is made) is always made from durum wheat flour. Dumplings, including Polish pierogi and Italian gnocchi, and German spaetzle, are also considered forms of pasta.

Mostaccioli, small moustaches. Photo courtesy

According to the FDA, the class of food which is prepared by drying formed units of dough made with semolina, durum flour, farina flour (or any combination of two or more of these) with liquid eggs, frozen eggs, dried eggs, egg yolks, frozen yolks, dried yolks (or any combination of two or more of these), with or without water and with or without one or more of the optional ingredients specified. By law, egg noodle products must contain 5.5% egg solids by weight.

Novelty PastaPasta made in shapes reflecting everyday items, cultural icons, logos, etc. Shapes are available that celebrate seasons (leaves, sun, pumpkins), holidays (Santa, ghosts, hearts), hobbies (pets, sports equipment), flora and fauna. For inspiration, read our review of Pasta Shoppe novelty pastas (shown in photo at left and at the top of the page).


Literally, “eyes of the wolf,” large, square-cut penne-like pasta (OH-key dee LOO-poe). Generally, this cut is paired with tomato or cream sauces.



Literally “little ears,” the Italian, word for ear is orecchio. Orecchiette are one of the three traditional cuts from the Puglia region (along with cavatelli and cavaturi). Orecchiette (oh-reh-KYEH-tay) work well with chunky meat and vegetable sauces.

  Orecchiette Pasta
Orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta, combined above with sausage chunks. Photo courtesy Alfresco Pasta.


Literally “married” orecchiette, a Pugliese blend of the round orecchiette and the long, thin casarecci, which consummate their “marriage” in the pot when cooked together.



Orzo, the Italian word for barley, is a small, 1/3-inch long pasta shaped like a grain of barley or rice; it is made from semolina. In addition to plain semolina orzo, varieties are available flavored with black bean, red chile and sweet potato, among other varieties. Orzo is frequently used as a substitute for rice and can be combined with rice to make pilafs. It is a versatile ingredient and can be used like rice or barley in soups, salads, sides, etc.
  Orzo Pasta
Orzo, rice-shaped pasta, here with btoccolini and red bell peppers. Photo courtesy Melissa’s.

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