Say hello to Farfalline, Farfalle's tiny counterpart!
In the garden of Italian pasta shapes, you’ll find snails (lumache), worms (vermicelli), and butterflies (farfalle). The latter are a common find here in the U.S., though you’ll often see it colloquially called bowtie instead of its more botanically minded Italian name. But have you ever seen its baby sister, farfalline? Less than an inch in length, these miniature bows are one of the more whimsical shapes in the pasta canon. They tend to have rounded edges instead of the squared corners you see on its full-size counterpart, but farfalline retains the iconic serrated edge that makes farfalle so fun to eat.
Farfalle originated in northern Italy in the 16th century, making it one of the oldest documented pasta shapes. A favorite in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, it was invented as a way to use up dough scraps leftover from making stuffed pasta—just cut the dough pieces into rectangles and pinch in the center! It’s often served with cream sauces, as are more typical of northern Italy. It quickly spread across the country and is now a staple all over Italy. As with many pasta shapes, it has a number of aliases: depending on where you’re eating it, farfalle may be called strichetti (from the word for pinch), fiochetti (bows), or nocchette (knots).
Like many pastas, farfalle has a spectrum of sizes that range from the very large (farfalloni) to the very small (farfalline). Teeny-tiny pasta shapes such as farfalline are collectively known as pastina in Italy, and they’re a beloved comfort food for small children and grownups alike. Well-known pastina varieties include rice-shaped orzo or risoni, the tiny rings of annellini or ditalini, and the whimsically star-shaped stelline. But there’s a whole world of miniaturized pastas to appeal to palates of every size and shape, including tiny shell-shaped lumachette or conchigliette and square quadretti.
Most of these adorable miniatures were created as pasta making became an industrial process, making the consistent production of these tiny shapes in large quantities more manageable. Imagine punching out hundreds of tiny star shapes by hand to add up to just one bowl of pasta! Pre-industrialization, thrifty home cooks made pastina to use up leftover pasta dough, but they generally just rolled it into small balls or grated it into small shreds known as grattine.
Farfalline and the other pastina types are most commonly used in soups, as their small shape cooks quickly in hot broth and they’re easy to pick up with a spoon. For kids and invalids, they’re often tossed with butter, egg, and cheese for a nourishingly simple meal that can appeal to even the pickiest of palates. And, of course, they’re a hit in baked casseroles! Try farfalline in a classic mac and cheese or Giada’s baked chicken and pastina recipe.