Vermicelli is a type of pasta made from durum wheat semolina flour. From the Italian word meaning “little worm,” vermicelli has a shape very similar to spaghetti, but could be thicker or thinner depending upon where it is produced. For example, vermicelli in Italy is a much finer pasta than that served in the USA, which is more like angel hair pasta.
Vermicelli is one of the oldest forms of pasta originating in Naples, in the Campania region. In fact, once upon a time, Neapolitan pasta makers were called ‘vermicellari’. Originally this pasta was made by hand. There is evidence that vermicelli were being made and sold in Italy even as far back as the 13th century. However, there are references to ‘Vermishelsh’ (vermicelli) in Hebrew texts of the 11th century. So this is really one of the oldest forms of long pasta. The twelfth-century Arab geographer, al-Idrisi, writes that at Trabia, in Sicily, ‘itriya‘ (vermicelli), was produced and exported throughout the island and into Muslim territories. This claim is confirm by the survival of the Sicilian dialect word ‘tria‘, which is the word to describe the metal cutter that is used to produce vermicelli.
In the south of Italy, the terms ‘vermicelli’ and ‘spaghetti’ are used interchangeable.
The first published recipe for vermicelli is in the fifteenth century book ‘The Art of Cooking’ (1464-65), by the famous Italian chef and gastronome Martino de Rossi, known as Maestro Martino. This book is considered a masterpiece of Italian gastronomic literature that documents the transition from Medieval to Renaissance cuisine in Italy. In The Art of Cooking there are several recipes for vermicelli, which the author says can be stored for 2 or 3 years when dried in the sun. Which is exactly how it was dried in the streets of Gragnano, Italy.
Vermicelli is often served with very light, fish-based sauces. In Southern Italy, especially Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, there are many recipes for for these ‘little worms’! From frittata to wonderfully flavourful dishes including capers, pine nuts and olives. If you have ever wandered Naples, Italy, you will know about the numerous types of street food made from fried vermicelli or spaghetti. There are a lot of different ways you can present ‘pasta fritta’.