Pasta Portal: Meet Cavatappi

Let’s talk about cavatappi. You might see this squirrely, clownish pasta and immediately write it off as too unusual to be of much use. Personally, I become delighted every time I see these squiggly tubes.

Sure, they can appear a bit childish, like they could be part of some new SpaghettiO’s campaign. “Wacky Cavatappi!” I imagine the box exclaiming in a colorful font. But, cavatappi is more than just a fun shape. It’s a practical, pasta that deserves to be in your pantry.

Cavatappi is a tubular, ridged, corkscrew-shaped semolina pasta made without eggs. So, if you see it in a store, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be vegan. But, what do you do with it? Well, it’s a short pasta, and short pastas are best with thick sauces or ragu. As a general rule, longer pasta does best with lighter sauce. So if you’re craving oil and garlic, it’s probably best to stay away from cavatappi. Cavatappi has ridges along its loopy, helical structure, and that’s great for picking up bits of chunky sauce. Bolognese, vegetable ragu, or a thicker marinara do cavatappi justice. Conversely, it won’t be great in a brothy sauce like linguini and clams. Cavatappi probably won’t get along with anything too soupy, and I would even suggest that it’s not ideal for simpler dishes like cacio e pepe or carbonara.

Still, cavatappi is pretty versatile. Outside of traditional pasta dishes, it has great value. Cavatappi shines in a pasta salad, a welcome sight in a sea of elbow macs or fusilli deli salads. Those ridges help pick up tiny bits of vegetables, and the mayonnaise/oil/vinegar dressing clings to the spiral shape. Visually, its strangely appealing shape is an exciting substitute for shells in a mac n’ cheese if you’re looking to mix things up. Kids will have fun with cavatappi. It’s a gateway pasta; something children will see and try just based on its overall aesthetic. It’s in that family of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets and smiley face cookies. If Dr. Seuss had a children’s book about pasta, best believe cavatappi would be on the cover. Oh, the pasta you will eat! Tubes and screws, long and short noods. Pici, penne, orecchiette. Linguini, ditalini, bucatini, and happy cavatappi. Also, practically, it works just like an elbow or shell. If you eat with your eyes, then cavatappi welcomes you in with a jovial attitude.

Cavatappi also goes by other names: Serpentini, spirali, amori, and double elbows are all aliases of cavatappi. Perhaps the most popular one is cellentani. Barilla famously opts to label their corkscrew pasta cellentani and not cavatappi. The reason for this is that cellentani actually honors the famous Italian pop-singer Adriano Celentano, who is a hugely important Italian singer and stage performer. Adriano is lively; he got the nickname “il molleggiato” which literally translates to springy. Watch him perform and enjoy his bizarre, bouncy movements. The way he sings and dances is strangely charming and energetic, much like cavatappi. In a lot of ways, Adriano was the Elvis of Italy. Seriously, this dude rules. Go down an Adriano Celentano rabbit hole. You’ll thank me for it. He’s a dynamic singer, actor, and composer. The “man on springs” was so influential that the folks at Barilla wanted to honor Adriano by naming a pasta after him. Imagine being such an icon in Italy that someone names a pasta after you. A dream.

Cavatappi is sprightly and flexible, much like Adriano. It’s a versatile pasta that is as functional as it is entertaining, and it’s one of my favorites. Cavatappi doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s whimsical, and it offers something wholly unique in the encyclopedia of pasta. Moreover, it’s fun, and food should be fun. It’s also quite fitting that cavatappi is the shape of a helix, which resembles the structure of DNA. Pasta is ingrained in Italian culture like their genetic makeup, and both cavatappi and Adriano symbolize Italian people’s enthusiasm for life. So, I recommend nabbing a box of this semolina corkscrew pasta, picking a good ragu or meat sauce, and jamming out to “Prisencolinensinainciusol“. Alright?

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • OMG – i luv cavatappi – wegman’s uses them in their hot bar mac & cheese – great sauce grabbers and bite, plus they look fun on the plate (btw – love your site – big fan of gmm and mk)

    • they are such great sauce grabbers! love me some wacky cavatappi.

      Thanks so much!

  • Love these little guys, the texture is so good.

  • We need more entries to the Pasta Portal.
    – Is there really any difference between thin spaghetti and angel hair?
    – Do some manufacturers incorrectly label their pasta? I have two boxes of identical corkscrew pasta (except the brand), one labeled as rotini and the other as rotelle.
    – I also note for the record that Mythical Kitchen did not like cavatappi for macaroni & cheese. Good old elbow macaroni was greatly preferred. Scandalous!

    • Oooh. I’m actually gonna write some more pasta portals soon.

      And yes! I agree with MK. I prefer elbow. Shells. And even orecchiette to cavatappi for Mac and cheese.

      Orecchiette is next, by the way. It’s my favorite pasta!