“Legend has it that in the late thirteenth century, German bakers made large figures out of noodle dough in the shapes of men, stars, birds and sea shells, which they collectively called ‘doughmen’. These bakers went to Genoa, Italy, to sell their product, but the Italians found them too expensive and exclaimed ‘ma caroni’, meaning ‘but it’s too dear’. So the Germans reduced the size and, with the size, the price. They made a bundle and the name stuck.” The New Basics Cookbook
The Sicilian word macarune roughly translates as “forced into dough,” reflecting the fact that milled durum wheat, called semolina, is granular, like sugar, not powdery like other flours. In order to make it malleable enough to roll out, ancient noodle making techniques required men to knead durum wheat with their feet, sometimes for an entire day. Then the dough was extruded through pierced dies with pressure brought by two men or a horse. Until the Industrial Revolution eased this labor intensive process, pasta was a costly commodity, available only to the wealthy.
By the 1660s, the Industrial Revolution had reached Naples and a process was invented to extrude pasta through a mechanical die, allowing pasta to be produced efficiently on a large scale. Pasta became affordable to the masses, and it was sold in the street by vendors called maccaronaros, who boiled it over charcoal fires. It was eaten on the spot with bare hands, perhaps sprinkled with cheese, but without sauce.