Pasta and sauce — seems simple enough. While you may be inclined to pair any jarred sauce with any box of pasta on the shelf in the grocery store, as it turns out, most of the more than 350 shapes of pasta have a history and a designed purpose behind their shape beyond just being pretty.
From egg-based pasta doughs to classic semolina durum pastas, we have the history and how best to enjoy a few pasta shapes beyond your typical spaghetti that you should give a try next time you are at the grocery store.
From the Piedmont region of Italy, this filled pasta is made with a small piece of pasta dough that is then flattened and folded to encase the meat or roasted vegetable filling. These are usually made free, and cook quickly in boiling, salted water. The sauce should be a simple butter or olive oil-based sauce, so as not to detract from the flavor of the pasta and the filling.
Bucatini is most commonly found in Rome. The pasta, which is looks similar to spaghetti at first glance, has a characteristic hole running through the center of the pasta, which explains its name that comes from the Italian buco meaning “hole.” This pasta is typically served with a buttery sauce, sautéed cured meats, vegetables, cheese, eggs, and anchovies.
Cappelletti, meaning ‘little hat,’ gets its name from its striking resemblance to a cardinal’s hat. This pasta shape, which is popular in Modena, is a stuffed pasta that looks like an elongated tortellini. Traditionally, this pasta is stuffed with ricotta spiced with nutmeg and lemon zest, and then floated in a simple capon broth.
Chittara is an egg-based pasta from the Abruzzo area in Italy. The pasta is made by slicing long noodles from a flat sheet of pasta, about three centimeters wide. Traditionally, this style of pasta is served with a sauce of hot peppers and diced lamb. It is also one of the easiest pastas to make on simple home equipment, which is why it is made around the world and served with a variety of sauces.
This large coin-like pasta is stamped on both sides with a beautiful pattern, often the pasta-makers family’s coat of arms. This traditional-style pasta comes from the Liguria area, and the embossed pattern helps to grip the thin, oily sauces, like pesto that are typically served with this labor-intensive shape.
Sometimes referred to as “bowtie” or “butterfly” pasta, farfalle is made by cutting small rectangle from a sheet off pasta and then pinching the center together. The pinched center actually keeps the pasta from losing that al dente texture when cooked, and helps to catch the light, vegetable-based sauces that this style of pasta is typically served alongside.
This modern-style pasta that is made by machine is a semolina-based pasta with a spiraled, triple helix shape. The pasta is actually not as good at gripping sauce as some traditional spiraled shapes, but it has a pleasant, firm texture.
This beautiful pasta looks like trumpet-shaped flower. The pasta is made with a simple sheet pasta, that is pressed to form the frilly edge, and then twisted to form the tapered bell-shape. This is not a traditional pasta shape, and is most designed for its aesthetic beauty.
This pasta was created for the Italian royal family to celebrate the birth of Princess Mafalda in 1902. The pasta itself is a thick, wide strip about 10 centimeters wide by 250 centimeters long. It has a ruffled edge and a similar look to a lasagna sheet.
The name of this pasta means, “little ears,” which accounts for its slightly concave shape. This pasta is best fresh, rather than dry because its thick semolina dough exterior needs more time to cook through. When dried, the outside often overcooks before the thicker center is done. Serve this pasta with oily sauces that coat the smooth exterior.
You might expect these large, thick, ridged pasta tubes to be stuffed, but actually, paccheri is never stuffed. This pasta shape is meant to collapse while cooking, and is usually served with a seafood sauce, like totani, which is native to the Naples as well.
This pasta shape has a sordid past. The name translates to “priest-choker,” and the shape resembles a rolled cloth that could be used to choke someone. The shape, which originated in the central regions of Italy around Romagna and Tuscany, is a simple twisted pasta, but legend has it that this pasta was used in exchange for forgiveness on land rent payments enforced by the clergy. The pasta shape was possibly a nod to the anger the people felt about these payments.