As Italy’s pasta production moved from the family kitchen to the mill workshop and finally to the factory floor, the number of new pasta shapes dramatically increased. This was due, in part, to the development of pasta dies. In his Introduction to the first Italian edition of Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta  Corrado Barberis, President of the Italian Institute of Rural Sociology, writes: “[t]he introduction of dies for extrusion meant there were no longer any limits on the number of possible pastas, whose shapes had very much to do with taste and enjoyment.” Some of these new extruded shapes were showy examples of die technology, such as radiatori and campanelle; other shapes were more reserved but nevertheless extremely appealing and functional, such as one of my favorite pasta shapes, lumache.
Zanini De Vita describes lumache as a factory-made, durum wheat pasta shaped like small elbows, smooth or ridged. Lumache in Italian means “snails” which the shape resembles. It comes in various sizes from the small lumachine to the large lumaconi. The form has a host of other names, some equally descriptive, such as gomitini (elbows) and pipe (pipes). Perhaps lumache’s best known (distant) relative is conchiglie, the large, shell-shaped pasta that is often covered in a meat sauce or stuffed, then baked.
Lumache's appeal is in part because of its ability to expertly holds a range of sauces. It is simple to make fresh lumache at home with a torchio. (Emiliomiti sells the press and 532 bronze die that I use.) All the cook needs to do is turn the torchio’s wooden handle and a beautifully complex bronze die with its ingenious multifaceted chambers does the hard work of shaping the partially pinched, elbow-shaped tubes. The pasta dough recipe for bigoli or casarecce will work to make lumache. However, given lumache’s factory origins, I often make fresh lumache using only durum wheat flour and water. Here are the proportions that I use to create just shy of a pound of lumache.
- 300 grams Giusto’s Gourmet Semolina (not Extra Fancy Durum)
- Approximately 8 ½ tablespoons cold water
I let the lumache dry overnight to cook the following day. (Some drying is necessary before cooking fresh lumache so that the pasta holds its snail shape during cooking; a couple of hours is usually adequate depending upon the pasta’s dough and the weather conditions.)
Zanini De Vita writes that lumache is generally served as pastasciutta. A very appealing sauce for lumache is braised bacon and peas. Among its range of sizes, the smallest are sometimes served in broth and the largest are boiled, stuffed, sauced and baked.