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. Penne with pesto sauce is such a satisfying dish. Learn how to make pesto penne pasta.
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 a baked pasta dish. Just make sure you keep these tips for cooking pasta in mind as you go!
Who knew making pasta in the shape of a radiator would be such a good idea! We can thank the number of layers that this pasta shape has for the pockets of saucy goodness that each noodle carries. English muffins aren’t the only food with nooks and crannies!
Try pairing radiatore with a flavorful vodka sauce, similar to this radiatore with tomato-cream sauce and fresh basil from Pinch My Salt.
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 it in fresh spinach and olives for this Greek-style ravioli. If you want to think outside the box, try fried ravioli, a St. Louis favorite.
Campanelle is a short, layered noodle with a hollow inside and frilly edges, which means that it works well in pasta salads (like this fresh summer pasta salad) and baked dishes alike.
Although campanelle translates to “little bells,” we think they could pass for little tulips, too. If you agree, this springy pasta with prosciutto and peas will be the perfect addition to your weeknight menu as the days get longer and the temperatures get warmer.
Pronounced “pee-chee,” this pasta shape is essentially the thickest version of a spaghetti noodle that you can find. Some people are reminded of worms because it’s a thick, unevenly shaped noodle—but don’t let that scare you away! If you’re a fan of the chewy quality that a perfectly cooked, al dente noodle provides, you’ll love pici because you simply get more of that bite with each thick strand.
Although this Tuscan pasta shape is not something you’ll typically find in the pasta aisle at the grocery store, it’ll be worth the extra effort spent tracking it down on Amazon. Serve it in carbonara or as the star in cacio e pepe, like in Top With Cinnamon’s pici cacio e pepe recipe.
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.
Technically, pastina is a category of pasta that contains the smallest of pasta shapes, like orzo and ancini de pepe. However, you can also find boxes of dried noodles labeled “pastina” all the same. These boxes typically hold stelline pastina, which are star shaped.
Stelline pastina (or other varieties of pastina) could be easily mistaken for grits if you cook them up in a cream-based or cheese sauce. They’re perfectly suited for soups, too, like in Italian chicken noodle soup from Inside the Rustic Kitchen.
Know that since they’re so small, they have a shorter cook time than other pasta shapes—reaching al dente status in just 3 to 4 minutes.
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.
Ditali and Ditalini
Ditali and its smaller cousin ditalini are short, tube-shaped pastas. The name means “thimble” in Italian.
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 (a kind of 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.
You probably didn’t know that can of SpaghettiOs you looked forward to as a kid was packed with anelli!
Meaning “little rings” in Italian, they’re perfect for anything you’d put ditali in, like soups or pasta salads.
Of course, you can also make an adult version of those nostalgic bowls of tomatoey goodness with Bitterside of Sweet’s homemade SpaghettiOs recipe, too.
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 called mafalda or reginette (which means “queen” in Italian), mafaldine is essentially fettuccine with frills. It goes well with tomato or cream-based sauces, because the sauce catches in its edges.
If you’re a fan of calamari, or even if you’ve only seen it before, you can guess where calamarata gets its name. It’s shaped in the same short and wide, circular tubes that calamari is cut into before it’s often battered and fried.
Calamarata is most commonly served in southern Italy with tomatoes and—you guessed it—calamari. Try the traditional pairing for yourself with The Petite Cook’s Italian calamarata pasta recipe.
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.
Although macaroni noodles are sometimes called elbow macaroni, gomiti literally translates to “elbow” in Italian.
Gomiti is a very close cousin to macaroni. In comparison, the circumference of the tube is a little bit wider, one end is a little bit more pinched than the other side, and some gomiti are ridged while all macaroni noodles are smooth. But we wouldn’t blame you if you can’t tell the difference!
Gomiti will do well in any dish that you’d typically use macaroni in, like any mac and cheese recipes or pasta salads. If you’re new to gomiti, this beautiful and delicious pesto chicken corn and avocado bacon salad from Half Baked Harvest is a good place to start.
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.
Otherwise known as wagon wheel pasta, rotelle is perfect for pasta salads, soups and casseroles because they’re easily picked up with a fork or scooped with a spoon. Plus, the ridges hold just a little more sauce than if they were smooth.
This pasta salad will put you and your guests on a roll with rotelle.
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 use 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 cheese manicotti 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!
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.
Casarecce, meaning “homemade,” is built to hold sauces incredibly well. When it’s made, the dough is loosely wrapped around a rod to create its almost-tubular shape, which means not only will it be coated in sauce, but it will carry some sauce from your plate to your mouth within each noodle, too.
Plan to try this stovetop mac and cheese recipe from Cookie and Kate, and in the meantime think about the melty, cheesy and creamy sauce that each casarecce noodle would shuttle from your bowl to your mouth.
Ancini de Pepe
One of the tiniest kinds of pasta you’ll find at the supermarket is ancini de pepe. This itty bitty pastina gets its name from the Italian word for peppercorns, though this pasta is even tinier.
Much like orzo, ancini de pepe is best used in salads and soups. In fact, it’s the pasta that’s most commonly used in Italian wedding soup.