If Italian pasta (pastasciutta) needed a second name, it would certainly be “maccheroni“.
The term Maccheroni (the term “macaroni” or “maccaroni” exists outside Italy and it is now used as part of the modern English vocabulary) nowadays refers to a specific Italian pasta shape.

It has to be said, though, that this specific pasta format refers to a variety of different (sometimes really different) local pasta shapes, throughout Italy. Reason for this confusion is to be traced to the older origins of the term “maccheroni” itself which in the past – as opposed to today – indicated a wider range of pasta formats, so much that it actually referred to Italian pasta in general. Today, the generic term “maccheroni” is used more outside Italy, where it could be assimilated to spaghetti and almost like a synonym of “pastasciutta”, where not of pasta in general. In Italy, instead, (as you have surely imagined by now) different names for the different shapes and formats are adopted… wonder why I created a site about Italian food traditions!  Perhaps “maccheroni” is the pasta shape with the most various peculiarities. In Italy as well, different regional dishes refer to “maccheroni” to name their typical pasta shape. To give you an example, when maccheroni are ridged (“rigati”) they are called “rigatoni” (longitudinal ridges) or “tortiglioni” (spiralled ridges), if the shape is curved and not straight, the name “sedani” or “sedanini” (depending on the size) is used.
The name itself is likely to derive from the Latin “maccare“, meaning squeeze, compress. Another hypothesis has it derive from the ancient Greek makaria, a dish comprised of a paste with barley four and broth. Still another possibility comes from the ancient Greek màkares (“the blessed”), a term indicating the defuncts, in that a special food was consumed  during the funerary banquets, the makarìa.

How Italian Maccheroni Look Like

The term “maccheroni” indicates a generic type of short pastasciutta (dry pasta), with a tube-like shape, empty inside so that sauces can be better captured, and of various sizes (on average, the length is 6 cm). Maccheroni are prepared using durum wheat semolina, water and salt. Many a time, additional ingredients like chili pepper, spinaches or sepia ink can be added to confer the typical colors red, green or black.
As reported in the previous section, the term maccheroni could also indicate some very local traditional pasta formats, less widespread: for example, in Abruzzo and Molise, the term maccheroni indicates a pasta which is more similar to spaghetti, but with a squared section instead of a round one. In Campania, the maccaronara irpina is prepared with big spaghetti-like homemade pasta. Moreover, in certain parts of Tuscany (mainly within the Arezzo province), maccheroni indicates tagliatelle, like in the typical recipe of the “maccheroni co’ l’ocio” which is prepared with tagliatelle and goose ragù, while in Lucca they correspond to the “straccetti” (“small rags”, squares of home made pasta). Still, in Calabria the term maccheroni (or filejia, in central-north Calabria) a home made pasta format, long like a half spaghetto (but with a very tiny hole in the middle) is meant (traditionally prepared with goat meat).


Some Curiosities

•    The Lazio region has listed “maccheroni” within its typical agrobusiness products.
•    The term “maccheroni” was already used by medieval italian authors like Boccaccio while the term “spaghetti” only appeared 500 years later (in 1824) in a playful poem by the Neapolitan comedian Antonio Viviani (Li maccaroni di Napoli).
•    It is right after the “maccheroni”, that a new literary genre was created in Italy in the 1500’s, called “latino maccheronico” (macaronic latin) which mixed the pomposity of classical latin (the language of the scholars and nobles) with vulgar terms and themes.
•    Still today, the term “maccheronico” (macaronic) indicates something which is vulgar or rough in form.
•    The Italian the expression “come il cacio sui maccheroni” (“like the cheese on the maccheroni”) indicates something that is particularly suitable or appropriate in accompaniment to something else.