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Pasta Shapes Defined

Published November 11, 2011        by Nicole

Dry Pasta

Do you know the difference between spaghetti and vermicelli? How about ziti and penne? Fettuccini and fettucelli? They do have one thing in common; they are simply delicious. But often, the type of pasta you choose has a big impact on the quality of the dish you serve. It is important to complement the shape of the pasta and the texture and taste of the sauce. This can be hard because there are hundreds of different choices! You don’t have to stick to the old favorites – macaroni and cheese or spaghetti and marinara sauce. Try something new! Here are some of the most popular pasta shapes defined.

There are more than five hundred different pasta shapes. Some, like spaghetti, are much more common than others, but if you have wanted to try something different, do it. There are no strict rules regarding pasta, and experimentation can do wonders for your palette. One of the things to consider, though, is the size and shape of your pasta compared to the type of sauce you will be using.

For instance, if you have a very thick, hearty meat sauce, you want a noodle that can hold its own! Thicker pastas like fettuccine (which is broad and flat) and tagliatelle (which is a bit thinner than fettuccine) will hold up nicely. If you are making a sauce with meat or chunky vegetables, also consider:

  • Fusilli. This is “corkscrew” pasta. All those twists and turns are perfect for catching chunky sauces.

  • Farfalle. This bowtie pasta is perfect for thick sauces. It is a small but sturdy noodle.

  • Penne. These are cylindrical and hollow in the center.

  • Rigatoni. This is like penne’s big brother. This tubular pasta is too small to be stuffed, but it makes a hearty addition to meals, especially baked dishes.

  • Rotini. The spiral shapes make these perfect for holding bits of sauce, veggies, meats, and cheeses.

  • Pipe rigate. This is hollow and curved, resembling a snail shell. A smaller version, pipette rigate, is also good for chunky sauces.

  • Stuffed shells, like manicotti. These make a terrific complement to any thick sauce.

Look for a noodle that is thick enough to be used with your chunky sauce without being overwhelmed. Textures and shapes, like twists and spirals, are great for scooping up the delicious sauce. Take a look through the pasta aisle at the grocery store and see what fits the bill, or the sauce.

Some pastas are better suited to oil-based sauces, rather than tomato-based sauces. Linguine, spaghetti, and tagliatelle work very well with olive-oil sauces that coat the pasta without drowning and creating a greasy mess. These types of pastas – especially when fresh – are wonderful served with a simple olive oil and herb sauce or pesto. Stuffed pastas, like ravioli or tortellini, are also delicious with an oil or butter based sauce.

Finer, more delicate pastas call for an equally delicate sauce. Angel hair, for instance, which is much thinner than spaghetti, is perfectly paired with simple sauce made with diced tomatoes, olive oil, and basil. This type of pasta also works well with seafood. For instance, use sea scallops, lemon juice, butter, parsley, and fresh basil for a terrific and very easy to prepare meal.

In general, use a thicker pasta when you have a thicker sauce, and a thinner pasta when you have a lighter sauce. When you are making things like soups or salads, find the shape and size that appeals to you and will help you capture the perfect flavor with each bite. There is no possible way to do pasta wrong; experiment with different shapes. You’ll be glad you did, and you will undoubtedly come upon a fabulous combination that becomes your new favorite.

When you put together an italian gift basket, be sure to put in different types of pasta and sauces. You could even put in a recipe or two with suggestions for the types of pastas and sauces you chose.