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The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Shapes

Picking the right type of pasta for your recipe can be an overwhelming task. Not anymore!

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Variety of types and shapes of dry Italian pastaPhoto: Shutterstock / kuvona

Rotini, fusilli, orecchiette…picking the right pasta shape for a recipe can be overwhelming. But you’re about to become an expert. We break down some of the most popular types, beyond classic spaghetti, and tell you how to cook with them.

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Garlic chicken rigatoniPhoto: Taste of Home


One of the most popular types of pasta, tube-shaped 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 this meaty rigatoni casserole, it’s a pasta that can get tossed into any meal.

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Roasted pepper chicken pennePhoto: Taste of Home


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 this blushing penne pasta or this roasted red pepper chicken penne.

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Strawberry pasta saladPhoto: Taste of Home


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).

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Sage and browned butter ravioliTaste of Home


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.

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Taste of Home


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.

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Linguine with fresh tomatoesPhoto: Taste of Home


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 this shrimp linguine with Parmesan cream sauce.

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Beef tip stew over fusilliPhoto: Taste of Home


These spiraled noodles may look like corkscrews but they’re actually “little spindles.” Fusilli is a go-to for dishes with chunky vegetable or meat sauces because yummy morsels get caught in the noodles’ crevices. Get the best of both worlds with this beef tip stew served over fusilli.

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Cashew chicken rotini saladPhoto: Taste of Home


Think of rotini (aka “spirals”) as a tighter-wound version of fusilli. 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 this cashew chicken rotini salad or this antipasto salad.

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Turkey sausage spinach orecchiettePhoto: Taste of Home


Orecchiette, meaning “little ears,” is perfect for sauces with chunky vegetables as the cup shape of the noodle is able to scoop up all the deliciousness. We also love it tossed with turkey sausage and spinach or substituted in a baked pasta dish like this sloppy joe casserole.

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Four-cheese lasagnaPhoto: Taste of Home


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.

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Asparagus and shrimp with angel hair pastaPhoto: Taste of Home


Also known as angel hair—the literal translation is “little hairs”—these super-thin strands are only about 1/15 of an inch thick and pair best with a light sauce, simply tossed with olive oil and herbs or seafood (like this asparagus and shrimp dish), so as not to overpower the pasta.

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Vermicelli pasta saladPhoto: Taste of Home


It may have the most unappetizing name of the bunch (“little worms”), but it’s just as delicious as its carby counterparts. There are two types of vermicelli, Italian (what you’re most familiar with) and Asian (which is known as rice vermicelli). Toss with scallops and pesto for an elevated pasta bowl or twirl it into a cold salad.

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One-pot chicken pesto pastaPhoto: Taste of Home


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. Think outside the pasta box with this chorizo pumpkin dish, or keep it classic and simple with one-pot chicken pesto pasta.

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Chicken cannelloniPhoto: Taste of Home


These “large tubes” are part of the lasagna family, except that the noodles are filled instead of layered. Naturally, these rolled-up pasta shapes are often stuffed with a mixture of cheese and meat and used for baked Italian dishes. Try this twist on classic lasagna using cannelloni or this chicken cannelloni dinner.

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Spinach and tortellini soupPhoto: Taste of Home


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 recipe is great for a cold day) or salads (toss them in this homemade Caesar salad).


Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.

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