The 12 Pastas You Should Know About
After a short-lived dalliance with low-carb shenanigans, pasta is back on the map. Here’s our comprehensive guide to show you the various types you need to know.
We hear through the culinary grapevine that pasta is making its triumphant return after a short-lived dalliance with extreme low-carb shenanigans. Of course for us food lovers in the test kitchen, we’ve been preparing and enjoying all manners of pasta dishes this whole time. If you’re ready to get mixed up in this delicious business of cooking, eating, and sharing deeply flavored pasta meals with us, we naturally want to help you do that. Below is a comprehensive guide to the pasta types you might encounter either in your grocery store aisles or if you’re making your own, in your colorful imagination. Veni, vidi, vici—come, see, conquer….all the pastas!
One of the most widely eaten types of pasta in central and southern Italy, rigatoni’s name means “ridged” in Italian. Like penne, it’s made by rolling the dough around a stick to create short hollow tubes. While penne is cut on a diagonal and has a smaller diameter, rigatoni is cut straight and is slightly wider. Like many pastas, it’s often boiled in salted water until al dente, or firm to the bite, then tossed in a sauce. Traditionally, it’s served with a robust red sauce with or without meat. Think meatballs on top or covered with a flavorful bolognese sauce. For a simple and satisfying weeknight dinner aimed to please, try mixing it with your favorite sauce, veggies, and cheese—bake the dish in the oven for about 20 minutes and you’ll have yourself a surefire crowd-pleaser.
Native to the Emilia region of Italy, tortellini is a small, ring-shaped pasta stuffed with any variety of fillings for maximum deliciousness. It’s thought that the unique appearance of this pasta was inspired by the shape of the Venus’ navel! While it’s often sold in stores stuffed with blends of vegetables, meats, or cheeses, you can also practice your folding skills and play around with your own fillings by making them at home. Whatever ingredients you choose, most are often mixed with egg or cheese (like ricotta) to help bind them together. Depending on the person you ask, the sauce choice changes accordingly. For a more traditional presentation, try ladling these small nuggets of goodness into a simple broth. If you’re feeling more experimental, you can also serve tortellini in a rich cream sauce or meaty ragù.
Originally hailing from the Liguria region of Italy, linguine is now used all over the world in a variety of preparations. Its name means “little tongues,” which its strands kind of resemble? Long, flat, and thin, this pasta is similar in shape to spaghetti and fettuccine. While slightly thinner spaghetti is frequently paired with red sauces and meat, and wider fettuccine with creamy ones, linguine is more often served with seafood or zesty pesto for a subtly lighter option. We can’t argue that classic linguine in clam sauce has ever disappointed anyone at our dinner tables. Other optimal serving options? Try a simple olive oil or fish-based sauce for an easy dinner that’s light, flavorful, and leaves just enough room for dessert.
Made particularly relevant by that Seinfeld episode—Google “fusilli Jerry”— fusilli is a type of pasta distinctly shaped like small short spirals. Fun! The name is a diminutive of the southern Italian word “fuso,” which aptly means spindle in Italian. Made by twisting strands of pasta dough into spirals and cutting them to about 1-½-inches short, fusilli is traditionally served with thicker sauces since its curly nature clings on very well. It makes a great feast when paired with tomato, pesto, or seafood. We like to turn these little corkscrews into a cold pasta salad for a summer picnic or bake them in a simple sauce with cheese for a dreamy casserole dish. Likewise, fusilli is perfect in your favorite soup or simply tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and freshly grated Parmesan.
Ah, short, narrow C-shaped macaroni is a popular pasta usually made without egg in Italy. Interestingly, the invention of this pasta has been attributed to various cultures, including the Chinese, Greeks, and Romans. Most macaroni is made commercially since it requires machines capable of creating the small curved shape. Here in North America, it is well known for its prominent use in macaroni and cheese dishes. Like most people, we also love this preparation of cooked macaroni tossed in a creamy béchamel and cheese. Aside from ubiquitous mac and cheese, this pasta also adds great texture when placed in soups, salads, and other types of baked casseroles.
Made by twisting two short strands of pasta together, gemelli is an Italian favorite known for its distinct shape. Aptly, its name comes from the Italian word for “twins.” Gemelli’s twisted spiral shape makes it suited to both very refined and simple sauces. We like to prepare it any variety of ways—in a pasta salad, tossed with seasonal tomatoes, or in cream and oil-based sauces. Try serving it with your go-to pesto, herbed marinara, or rich Alfredo sauce. Highly versatile, you’ll find no shortage of ways to prepare this unique whimsical-looking pasta. With its twisted architecture, these helixes are as easy to cook as they are fun to enjoy for adults and children alike.
Similar to fettuccine, pappardelle is a pasta that’s cut into a wide ribbon shape for a dramatic presentation. This Southern Italian noodle is one we love for its incredible versatility—it’s quite perfect for any number of sauces. In Italian, its name means “to gobble up,” which we totally understand! From simple butter and herbs to more robust ragùs, you can serve these wide strands in any number of ways. Made from an egg-based dough, pappardelle makes any dish feel special, owing to its richer, fluffier texture. Its long, wide strands are a beautiful way to elevate a home-cooked meal to restaurant-caliber dish. Try pairing it with an earthy mushroom cream sauce or decadent pork bolognese for a hearty weekend feast.
Commonly referred to as “bow ties,” farfalle is a northern Italian pasta with a distinctive butterfly shape—and its name actually does mean “butterflies” in Italian. Made by cutting pasta into small rectangles and pinching them at the center, this pasta is often the star of recipes with rich creamy sauces or ones featuring fresh tomatoes. Try serving it with a rich Alfredo for a simple weeknight dinner that everyone in the family can enjoy. For a hearty, nourishing main course, we like to serve it with bite-sized pieces of tender grilled chicken.
Common in the Lazio region of Italy, bucatini is a type of pasta similar in shape to spaghetti, only with a hole running through the center of each strand—like a drinking straw. Its name comes from the Italian word for “hole,” so there you have it. Its hollow shape is unique and makes it perfect for trapping any sauce it’s served with. Unlike cut pastas, bucatini is extruded—or pushed through a perforated disk similar to a meat grinder—instead of rolled to get its special shape. Traditionally, it’s paired with Amatriciana, a sauce made using guanciale—a kind of cured meat derived from pork jowl. The meat is cooked until crisp, then tossed with onion, garlic, and tomatoes. We can’t deny that this is also one of our favorite ways to enjoy bucatini.
Pronounced NYOH-KEE, gnocchi is a pillowy Italian dumpling traditionally made with potatoes. Its name comes from the word for “knot,” which makes perfect sense to us given gnocchi’s small knobby shape. Rolled into cylinders and cut into bite-sized pieces, these adorable dough nuggets are sometimes decorated with ridges. While gnocchi is associated with northern Italy, you can find them all over the country. The preparation options can range from boiling to baking to sautéing—which makes it easier for you to come up with a way to enjoy these light, fluffy pasta dreamboats. Whether they are served covered in butter (Yasss!), tossed in bright green pesto, or baked with copious amounts of cheese, gnocchi is one of our favorite food groups.
Orecchiette is a type of pasta that gets its name from the Italian word meaning “little ears.” These ear-shaped carb bombs hail from the Puglia region of the country and holds sauces well thanks to its cup-like interior. Great news, right? Try serving orecchiette with chopped tomatoes and creamy ricotta or dressing the dish with anchovy, olive oil, and garlic. You won’t regret these decisions. It also makes a great meal when served in a thinner sauce with a handful of perfectly wilted greens. We also enjoy this pasta simply tossed in browned butter and topped with generous amounts of grated pecorino and herbs for a pop of color.
Like tortellini, ravioli is a filled pasta that’s perfect for experimenting. A favorite in Italy and all around the world, this pasta is made by using two pieces of pasta to seal in a savory filling. Whether round or square, stuffed with cheese or meat, ravioli is easy to love. Most often served in a broth or with a sauce on top, it’s a great choice for experimenting with different flavor combinations. You can stuff ravioli with anything your heart desires, which makes it the perfect choice for even the pickiest of eaters. Try boiling and serving with butter or a cream sauce for utmost decadence or a lighter tomato-based one for carefully crafted balance. You can’t go wrong!