Southern Italians have been in love with these highly-spiced cookies for centuries. The mostaccioli recipe is one of the oldest cookie recipes on record, dating back to at least 300 BC. Roman senator and orator, Cato, described mostaccioli in a text written during the 1st century AD. The cookie he described included rye flour, cumin, cheese, anise and eggs. Obviously, the recipe changed over time! According to one legend, St. Domenico, the patron saint of the Kingdom of Naples, gave out mostaccioli cookies to the local populace in Soriano, Calabria, after a terrible earthquake hit the region and the people were in dire need. Since then, on August 16th, the Feast Day of St. Domenico, people in Soriano celebrate by making and selling of mostaccioli cookies, with the money going to the poor.
In Italy, the cookies come in an enormous variety of shapes and flavors. Some recipes include chocolate, while others do not. There are literally hundreds of recipes and not all refer to cookies, some are recipes for pasta.
In the United States, the cookies are often prepared in a diamond shape, but in Italy, the cookies are made in the shape of baskets, birds, horses, dolls and figures of women. Some mostaccioli are so beautifully decorated that people would rather display them than consume them. A collection of 36 ancient forms used to make these cookies are held at the National Museum of Applied Arts in Rome.