The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Shapes
The grocery store is packed with pasta shapes. Before you reach for a box, learn about what makes each shape different and which recipes work best with your go-to noodle.
One of the most popular types of pasta, rigatoni (meaning “ridged” or “lined”) is extremely versatile. Whether you’re serving up a light Garlic Chicken Rigatoni or using the noodles in a baked dish like Four-Cheese Sausage Rigatoni, it’s a pasta that can get tossed into any meal.
Translated as “quills” or “feathers,” penne noodles are also tubular and ridged similarly to rigatoni. Those two features help sauces cling to the noodles. Use penne for any dish where you want the sauce to be the star, like Penne alla Vodka.
You may know these shapes as bow ties, but in Italian, they’re actually “butterflies.” A kid favorite because of the fun shape, these noodles work well with chunky sauces (try this no-cook fresh tomato sauce) or as the main ingredient in a cold pasta salad (we recommend this summer strawberry salad).
We all know spaghetti! This long thin pasta gets its name from the Italian word spago meaning “twine” or “string.” We bet you have a box of spaghetti in your pantry right now. So get going and make a delicious spaghetti sauce or baked pasta dish.
When it comes to this pasta, less is more. Because ravioli are stuffed with anything from cheese to meat to veggies (or all of the above!), there’s already a lot going on. Keep the sauce simple with the classic sage and browned butter ravioli or toss in fresh spinach and olives for this Greek-style version. If you want to think outside the box, try fried ravioli, a St. Louis favorite.
You probably know it primarily from fettuccine Alfredo (and the myriad ways to play it up, like with seafood). But you can also use these “small ribbons,” which are wider and flatter than spaghetti noodles, in any dish with a thick or creamy sauce.
While the Italian word for this pasta is conchiglioni, you’re most likely to hear this pasta referred to as “shells.” This pasta comes in various sizes, with and without ridges. Smaller versions are often used in pasta salads or in a cheese sauce, but we think Stuffed Pasta Shells make the most of this unique shape.
Nope, it’s not rice! Orzo is actually a rice-shaped pasta that gets its name from the Italian word for barley. This tiny pasta (also called pastina) is best used in soups and cold pasta salads. It’s not a pasta suitable to be served with your favorite meat sauce.
You can use this pasta in place of rice in many recipes, though, like stuffed peppers.
Similar to fettuccine, linguine (which means “little tongues”) is a long, flat noodle. Because it’s slightly narrower than fettuccine, linguine is often served with lighter sauces or even simply with olive oil or pesto. It’s also commonly used in seafood dishes like our Lemony Shrimp & Mushroom Linguine.
Common among home cooks, the corkscrew noodles can be used in a variety of dishes but are most often eaten in the form of pasta salad. Want to try it yourself? We recommend our Chicken and Spinach Pasta Salad.
One of the oldest types of pasta, these wide sheet noodles are a staple in many American households in the popular dish featuring layers of pasta, sauce and cheese. While traditional four-cheese lasagna is always a delicious option, you can switch it up with Southwest lasagna or even a breakfast version using bacon and eggs.
Also known as angel hair, the literal translation is “fine hair.” This pasta is a thinner version of spaghetti at only about 1/15 of an inch thick. Capellini pairs best with a light sauce, simply tossed with olive oil and herbs or seafood (like Lemony Scallops with Angel Hair), so as not to overpower the pasta.
Don’t let the name fool you: Despite the fact that gemelli means “twins,” each piece is actually just one twisted piece of pasta dough. The twisted texture makes it a great option for serving with tasty sauces like homemade pesto. The grooves catch all the bits of flavor.
These little bites, often filled with a variety of meats or cheeses, are similar to ravioli. Their unique shape and sturdy structure, however, make them a great fit for soups (this Spinach and Tortellini Soup recipe is great for a cold day) or salads (toss them in this homemade Caesar salad).
In Italy, you might see these elbow-shaped pasta referred to as maccheroni, but stateside we spell this pasta macaroni. Whatever you call this pasta, it’s most commonly used in dishes like macaroni and cheese here in the US, though you’ll also see it used in pasta salads, stirred into soups or served with chili.
However you serve this pasta, be sure you’re using the tastiest option. Here are the macaroni brands our Test Kitchen prefers.
Gnocchi is a very different type of Italian pasta. In addition to the standard ingredients (egg and flour), this pasta also includes potatoes, which gives it a slightly different texture. For that reason, gnocchi are sometimes referred to as dumplings.
There’s some debate where the term gnocchi comes from but it likely comes from the Italian word knocchio, meaning “knot,” or nocca, which means “knuckle.”
Gnocchi can be served with any sauce or in any preparation. Lighter sauces, though, allow the gnocchi’s distinct flavor and texture to really shine. This skillet dinner made with spinach and chicken sausage is a great way to used this pasta.
Manicotti is a ridged, tube-shaped pasta. Meaning “little sleeves,” each piece is about four inches long and an inch high. These tubes are designed to be stuffed with tasty fillings and baked. A ricotta and herb filling is most popular, and we’ve got a great recipe.
At first glance, bucatini looks just like spaghetti. Look again, though, and you’ll see this long pasta has a hole running through it.
This spiral-shaped pasta goes by a few names, including cellentani and serpentini, but you’ll likely see it packaged and sold as cavatappi (which means “corkscrew” in Italian).
This pasta’s unique shape, ridges and bite-size proportion make it extremely versatile. Feel free to use cavatappi in pasta salads, baked pasta dishes or served with your favorite sauce. You really cannot go wrong!
Flat, wide ribbons of pasta are called pappardelle. Its name means “to gobble” which is fitting because this pasta is often served with the most delicious sauces.
Ziti is a smooth, tube-shaped pasta. Traditionally ziti would be sold in foot-long tubes and broken before boiling, but today it’s more common to see ziti sold in shorter lengths (about two inches).
This type of pasta (which comes from the Italian word for “bride”), is best with lighter sauces because of its smooth surface. It’s also very popular with baked pasta dishes—everyone’s heard of baked ziti before!
Ditali and Ditalini
Ditali and its smaller cousin ditalini are short, tube-shaped pastas. The name means “thimble” in Italian.
Taste of Home
Meaning “little ears,” orecchiette is a type of curved, ridged pasta that originated in Puglia. Because of the ridges, orecchiette are terrific for holding onto sauces and other ingredients.
Ragu and pesto are traditional sauces to serve with this pasta, but wilted greens of all kinds are welcome in any orecchiette dish. This Sausage and Swiss Chard Pasta makes great use of this type of pasta.
Taste of Home
Ancini de Pepe
One of the tiniest kinds of pasta you’ll find at the supermarket is arancini de pepe. This itty bitty pastina gets its name from the Italian word for peppercorns, though this pasta is even tinier.
Much like orzo, arancini de pepe is best used in salads and soups. In fact, it’s the pasta that’s most commonly used in Italian wedding soup.