Pasta ranks high on the list of universal favorite foods, right up there with pizza, fried chicken, ice cream, and sushi. However, it wasn't always such a common food in the United States. Thomas Jefferson first introduced macaroni to the states in 1789. Jefferson had a penchant for mac and cheese and imported both macaroni and Parmesan for his use at his estate in Virginia. In 1802, Jefferson even served "a pie called macaroni" at a state dinner.
The reason there are so many pasta forms is that the weight, texture, size, and shape all contribute to the way in which the build holds onto sauce. For instance, light and creamy sauces cling best to long and skinny pasta strands like spaghetti and linguine, and tubular shapes like rigatoni and penne are better suited for thick, chunky sauces that trap the goodness within their voids.
Whichever shape you prefer, revel in this gift from Italian culture by digging into a bowl of your favorite pasta. Here are 20 of our favorites.
These beautiful gnocchi show off the rich red color of the beets, but while the flavor of the gnocchi is earthy, it's not overly beet-flavored. Best of all, the texture is soft, light, and delicate. For this Beet and Ricotta Gnocchi recipe, click here.
Orecchiette, which means "little ears" (a reference to the pasta's round, concave shape), is a regional symbol of Puglia. These orecchiette are sauced with broccoli rabe that is cooked in olive oil and seasoned with garlic, red pepper flakes, and chopped anchovy, then finished with grated pecorino and fried breadcrumbs. Crumbled sausage may also be added to balance the bitterness of the broccoli. For this recipe, click here.
A classic bolognese is a sauce layered with big flavors: To start, prosciutto and a soffrito comprising carrots, celery, onion, and garlic are sautéed until soft and fragrant. Then, beef, pork, veal, and crushed San Marzano tomatoes are added to complete the sauce. Bolognese is best served with long, fat ribbons of pasta like pappardelle or mafalda. Click here for this recipe.
Amatriciana means in the style of the town of Amatrice, near Rome (a town tragically devastated by an earthquake earlier this year). This classic pasta sauce is composed of guanciale (cured pork jowl), pecorino, and tomatoes. A related pork product, pancetta, which is easier to find, is often substituted for the guanciale, as in this recipe. Aromatics like garlic, red pepper flakes, and basil enhance the sauce, making it an incredibly flavorful (but easy) dish to make. For this recipe, click here.
Rich, fresh, and healthy: This cheater’s recipe for lasagna cuts corners but yields a scrumptious and simple weeknight family dinner. Click here for the recipe.
Carbonara hails from the region of Lazio, near Rome. A key facet of this dish is the guanciale, or cured pork jowl, which is similar to pancetta or bacon. For the Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe, click here.
This easy recipe molds sautéed shallots, garlic, fresh ricotta, and ground beef into tender meatballs that are then served with a simple marinara sauce and spaghetti cooked al dente. For this recipe, click here.
Strozzapreti is a pasta shape whose name translates as “priest strangler” — supposedly because even virtuous priests would find this pasta so delicious that they'd gorge on it and choke. Here, the strange-sounding combination of sausage, sage, and sweet grapes is simply irresistible — but beware of choking. Click here for the recipe.
Tonnarelli, spaghetti-like pasta with squared-off sides, is a shape traditionally made in the Lazio region in Italy. Here, fresh tonnarelli is served in a tomato-based sauce topped with shrimp, clams, and calamari. For this recipe, click here.