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Home » Italian Culture » Is it Illegal to Break Pasta in Italy? + Quick Guide to Italian Pasta Etiquette

Is it Illegal to Break Pasta in Italy? + Quick Guide to Italian Pasta Etiquette

Last updated on June 22nd, 2024

Is it illegal to break pasta in Italy? No. Do Italians do it? No. Are there any exceptions? Just one. 

You may come from a household where pasta was broken before being popped into boiling water to cook. I have sharp memories of my mother doing this with spaghetti when we were kids. 

In Italy, however, generally speaking, Italians don’t break pasta before cooking it, although there is one exception when this does happen. 

In this article I will go through the basic pasta ‘rules’ in Italy, how it’s cooked, eaten, and the DO’s and DON’Ts of pasta 101. 

The One Exception to Breaking Pasta

white plate with pasta e fagioli and a spoon on the side of the plate

Most regions in Italy have their version of pasta e fagioli or pasta with beans. It may be made with chickpeas, white beans or borlotti beans, sometimes with greens, sometimes not, but there is always pasta added at the end.

Often, handmade pasta is cut up into irregular shapes and added but when that isn’t a possibility, Italians will simply break up thin pasta such as spaghetti and add it. They also do this when they are bulking up a vegetable soup by adding broken up pasta to the soup and cooking it for the allotted time just before serving. 

How to Cook Pasta Like an Italian

close up of molisana pasta brand indicating cooking time
Always check the cook time on the package and check pasta 1 minute before indicated time

Whether you are cooking fresh pasta, fresh pasta or pasta secca, dried pasta, the general technique will be the same no matter what. Check out How To Cook Pasta Like an Italian – Step-by-Step for a comprehensive guide to cooking pasta.

  1. Fill a very large pot with at least 6 quarts of water for 1 lb of pasta, cover and let come to a rolling boil
  2. Salt the water with 2 tablespoons of rock salt
  3. Add the pasta and stir immediately. Keep the water at a rolling boil, increasing the heat if need be
  4. Keep stirring every 2-3 minutes to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom or together
  5. Check pasta 1 minute before the indicated cooking time (found on the package)
  6. Save a cup full of pasta water for thinning out sauces
  7. Drain well in a colander. Do not rinse the pasta
  8. Toss with your sauce and serve hot

Check out our Favorite Italian Pasta Brands.

Italians Cook Pasta ‘Al Dente’

Close up of spaghetti boiling in a pot of water.
Spaghetti cooking al dente

Most likely you have heard this term before but what exactly does this mean?

Al dente means ‘to the tooth’ in Italian and refers to the ideal cooking time and consistency of pasta which is neither soggy nor very hard in the middle. It’s just firm on the inside with a slight bite. Read all about what al dente means and how to cook your pasta al dente on our expanded article here.

Tip: Bite or cut into the pasta to look for a small, slightly less ‘hydrated’ inner core of the pasta. Taste it. Is it chewy and springy? If the answer is yes then the pasta is ready to be drained!

Italians Don’t Put Parmesan Cheese on Seafood Pasta

close up of spaghetti cooked with various seafood such as clams and mussels garnished with parsley

There is no better way to stick out as a tourist than by asking for cheese with your seafood pasta. In Italy, parmesan cheese is never served with seafood pasta such as pasta alle vongole (pasta with clams) for two reasons.

The first is because seafood has a delicate flavor and parmesan is a complex one that can overpower and take over the taste of the seafood.

The second reason is a practical one: Italians use local ingredients and cow’s aren’t typically reared on the seaside so historically, the fresh parmesan cheese would not have been a local ingredient for fishermen.   

The one and only exception to this (which not even all Italians agree upon) is pasta con pomodoro e tonno, pasta with stewed tomatoes and canned tuna

Other Pasta Dishes You Shouldn’t Put Cheese on

Fresh Italian pasta on a white kitchen towel.
Handmade pici from Tuscany

For no particular reason I have found there are some dishes Italians will never put cheese on.

  • Pici all’aglione – handmade thick spaghetti with tomato and garlic sauce
  • Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – with garlic, oil and chili flakes

Italians Don’t Twirl Pasta With a Fork and Spoon

top view of a white plate with pasta with tomato sauce with a pair of hands twirling pasta with a fork on a spoon

Italians twirl long pasta like spaghetti and linguine around their fork but they will never use a spoon to help them along.

The trick is to just nap 2 or 3 strands of spaghetti from the side of the plate, pull them away from the mass of spaghetti, and start twirling, lifting up the fork and starting over if you get too many strands stirling onto the fork. Don’t start in the middle of your plate, you will end up twirling the whole plate of spaghetti around your fork!

Helpful Tip: Don’t waste the delicious sauce left on your plate! Learn how and when to fare la scarpetta!

Italians Don’t Cut Their Pasta

top view of a white plate with pasta with tomato sauce with a pair of hands cutting pasta with a knife and fork

The only time Italians will cut their pasta is if they are eating large ravioli or tortelli 9large, stuffed pastas in different shapes). They will most likely use the side of their fork to cut it up. It’s rare to see an Italian using a knife when eating pasta.

Italians Don’t Slurp Their Pasta

You should never slurp the ends of the pasta into your mouth when dining in Italy. Firstly, it’s considered rude and secondly, it makes a loud noise which no one wants to hear. 

Wind the pasta tightly on your fork to keep it from slipping off. It does happen (it still does to me) but try and keep less spaghetti on your fork and chances are, it will stay put.

Where to Eat Amazing Pasta in Italy

Hand holding a shallow white bowl filled with tortellini in brodo, on top of a wooden table.
Tortellini in brodo

Be sure to read Famous Italian Pasta Dishes – by Region and Famous Italian Pasta Dishes – by Region for even more suggestions! Below you will find the most famous of them all:

  • Penne alla Valdostana: a short pasta smothered in a creamy, velvety sauce made from butter, cream, fontina cheese and ham (Aosta Valley)
  • Orecchiette con cime di rape: handmade durum wheat pasta shaped like little ears tossed in a simple sauce made with oil, garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes and turnip greens (Puglia)
  • Tortellini in brodo: small pasta dumplings filled with prosciutto, mortadella, pork loin, parmesan and just a hint of nutmeg, sealed and simmered in either beef or chicken broth (Emilia-Romagna)
  • Lasagne alla bolognese: a baked pasta made with rich meat sauce, bechamel sauce and homemade sheets of egg pasta (Emilia-Romagna but all over Italy as well)
  • Carbonara: pasta (most commonly spaghetti) tossed with a rich sauce made from egg, parmesan and bacon (Rome)
  • Cacio e pepe: pasta served in a sauce made from pecorino cheese and plenty of freshly ground black pepper (Rome)
  • Tajarin al tartufo: thin ribbon egg pasta served in a rich truffle butter sauce (Piedmont)
  • Pasta alla norma: A sicilian classic served in a tomato and fried eggplant sauce (Sicily)
  • Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale: wide, handmade egg pasta topped with a meat sauce made from wild boar (Tuscany)
  • Tortelli di zucca: handmade stuffed pasta with a slightly sweet pumpkin filling served in butter and sage (Lombardy)
  • Bigoli in salsa: whole wheat spaghetti served with a silky anchovy and anchovy sauce (Venice)
top view close up of a white plate with carbonara spaghetti topped with cheese on a marble background
Carbonara (Rome, Lazio)

Italian Pasta FAQ

What does molto al dente mean?

Molto al dente refers to slightly undercooked pasta. It does have its place and time in the kitchen, such as when you are making a baked pasta.

Is bread served with pasta in Italy?

It’s always served with every Italian meal but if you are eating pasta you should not be also eating the bread at the same time. It’s reserved for the second course. You can, however, use a crust to get every last bit of pasta sauce left on your plate. 

Do children ever eat pasta with spoons in Italy?

Yes, small children progress from the spoon to the fork, even with pasta.

Is it considered rude to have a few strands of pasta hanging down from your fork after twirling it?

No, it’s hard to get the spaghetti to perfectly end on the fork where it won’t drop off. You just want to avoid long strands hanging off the fork. 

Do Italians eat pasta on a plate or in a bowl?

It depends on the family and restaurant. The tradition of serving pasta in a shallow bowl comes from setting the table with the assumption there is going to be a first and second course. The shallow bowl is set on top of the plate. The pasta is first served in the bowl, taken away when finished and the second course is served on the plate. 
Nowadays, many Italians don’t eat both a first and second course so they will eat their pasta directly on a plate instead of in a shallow bowl.