A Pasta Lover’s Guide to Pasta Shapes (Slideshow)
The name lasagna refers to both the noodles and the dish. These noodles can either be flat or wavy, and are typically layered with cheese, meat, vegetables, and tomato or cream sauce and then baked.
Capellini (Angel Hair)
Capellini, better known as Angel Hair, is the thinnest and most delicate of the string pastas. Its long, thin strands are best paired with thin sauces, but they also go well in salads and stir-fry dishes and can be broken in half and added to soups.
Vermicelli is similar to capellini, except the strands are sometimes already broken into short lengths, making them ideal for pilafs and soups.
One of the most popular pasta types, spaghetti is traditionally served with thin sauces such as olive oil or tomato sauce, but goes well with nearly any sauce and can also be used in casseroles or stir-fries. Variations of spaghetti include spaghettini, which has thinner strands, and spaghettoni, which has slightly thicker ones.
Similar to spaghetti, bucatini pasta is long and thin, except it has a narrow hole down the center, making it slightly thicker and straw-like — great for holding sauce.
This popular ribbon-shaped pasta is typically served with thick, creamy sauces, including its classic pairing, Alfredo sauce. It also goes well with cheese, meat, and tomato sauces.
The widest and flattest of the ribbon pastas, pappardelle is best paired with oily sauces or thick wild meat ragùs such as rabbit, boar, or duck.
Linguine, meaning "little tongues," has a flat and long shape that's narrower than fettuccine and goes well with most sauces. But it's best paired with seafood, pesto, and tomato sauces, or is also great tossed in salads and stir-fry dishes.
Wide Egg Noodles
Wide egg noodles, with a delicate spiral shape, are mainly used in soups, salads, and casseroles and can be paired with any sauce.
Medium Egg Noodles
Medium egg noodles are like wide egg noodles, only slightly narrower. They pair well with cream, tomato, cheese, and meat sauces.
Macaroni is one of the most versatile pasta shapes, as it can be topped with any sauce, baked, and added to soups, salads, and stir-fry dishes. However, macaroni is generally mixed with butter and cheese to make the classic macaroni and cheese dish.
Hollow, corkscrew-shaped cavatappi is excellent paired with thick and cheesy sauces. It can be used instead of macaroni pasta to make macaroni and cheese, and is typically used in pasta salad.
Wider than penne, rigatoni consists of large, short tubes with ridges down their sides. The ridges and holes make it great for pairing with any sauce, from cream or cheese to chunky meat sauces. Rigatoni can be used interchangeably with other tubular pastas such as penne and ziti.
This tubular pasta, which is cut into an angle to resemble quills, can be paired with any sauce and can be added to salads, baked in casseroles, and used in stir-fry dishes.
A medium-sized, tubular pasta, ziti goes best with chunky sauces and meat dishes, and can be used in salads, baked dishes, and stir-fry meals.
Fusilli, Rotini, Gemelli
These spiral-shaped pastas are fairly similar to each other and give dishes such as pasta salad an interesting texture. Rotini is similar to fusilli, just slightly smaller and more tightly wound. Gemelli is double-twisted like a helix. Their convenient shape holds bits of meat, vegetables, and cheese well and pairs with any sauce, but pesto, tomato, and shellfish sauces may work best. These pastas can also be broken in half for soups, added to salads, or baked in casseroles.
Manicotti are short, large pasta tubes meant to be stuffed with meat, cheese, and vegetables. They're often stuffed, topped with sauce, and then baked in the oven.
Resembling thimbles, ditalini can be used as the base of any dish but are traditionally used in soups and thick, hearty stews.
Farfalle (Bow Ties)
Better known as bow ties, farfalle goes best with thin sauces or just a drizzle of oil.
Tortellini, Tortelloni, Tortelli
Listed from smallest to largest, these pasta shapes, resembling little hats or bellybuttons, can be filled with meat or cheese or vegetables. They are great topped with light sauces or put in broth-heavy soups.
Ravioli, Agnolotti, Pansotti
Filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, these pastas are traditionally dressed with butter or cream. All have ruffled edges, but each varies in shape: ravioli can be square or circular, agnolotti can be rectangles or half-moons, and pansotti are triangular.
Conchiglie’s shell shape allows for its versatility with sauces from thin to chunky and can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups and salads. Conchiglie can be stuffed with mixtures of cheese, meat, and vegetables, or be used as an alternative pasta for macaroni and cheese.
Radiatore’s ruffled, ridged shape pairs well with any sauce and is great in salads, soups, and casseroles.
With an ear-like shape, orecchiette holds ragù well as well as any sauce consisting of small vegetables.
Ruote (Wagon Wheels)
Ruote, shaped like wagon wheels and often called by that name, go well in all types of dishes, and its spokes are great for catching chunks of meat and vegetables.
The smallest of the pasta shapes, orzo resembles grains or seeds and can be served as a side dish or a main course. It’s a great addition to soups, salads, and pilafs, and even stuffed into vegetables. Orzo pairs well with olive oil, vinaigrettes, and heavy sauces.