Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Pasta Shapes

Quick, if I asked you to write down all the pasta shapes you can think of, how many would be on your list? I would suspect the average person would write down between 5 and 10 different shapes. How many different shapes do you have in your pantry? My local supermarket has over 25 different shapes. Why do you even need multiple shapes? Afterall, aren’t they all just pasta? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Depending on the source you look at, there are between 350 and 600 different pasta shapes. There is no way I can cover all of these. Rather, I would like to categorize them, give you examples in each category and how to use them.

Soup Pastapastina

This pasta type is great added to broths or soups. They vary in size from very small for light soups to slightly larger shapes for more robust soups. Probably the most common in our stores will be Acini Di Pepe. It is also the smallest, sometimes compared in size to peppercorns. You may also occasionally find Alfabeti or alphabet pasta. This is pasta made into the shape of numbers and letters, especially appealing to children. A third one is Conchigliette, little sea shells. Finally, there is the easy to find Orzo, which can be used both in soups and in pasta dishes.

Long Pastapasta lunga

This is the type of pasta that I suspect most of us have in our pantries. It can vary from very fine, Capelli D’Angelo (angel hair) to the ubiquitous Spaghetti to the slightly fatter Linguini to even larger in the form of Bucatini. One of the largest tubes is known as Candele as it resembles candles. The thinnest forms are best served with delicate sauces with the larger ones suited to heartier meat sauces.

Tube Pasta

Tubular-shaped pasta generally have thicker walls, making them great for capturing thicker sauces whether it be tomato, meat or cheese. Some tube-shaped pastas have ridged surfaces that help them hold onto olive-oil based sauces. This type of sauce tends to just run off from smooth-surfaced pasta. A tube shape pasta that is easy to find is Fusilli, which looks like corkscrews. The very common Penne is another one although the diameter can vary. One of the largest tube pastas is Rigatoni, which we often use in baked pasta dishes.

Ribbon Pasta

The most common is probably Fettuccini, little ribbons. Other ones that may be in your supermarket are Tagliatelle and Pappardelle. The former is very thin but slightly wider than Fettucini. Pappardelle is wider still. In the fresh form, it tends to have fluted edges whereas the dry variety normally has a straight edge.

Shell pasta

This common in our stores and can vary from the tiny Conchigliette mentioned above to a medium size to a giant size. The medium shells are great for tomato and meat sauces whereas the larger ones work well when stuffed and baked.


A cute bowtie or butterfly shaped pasta. Serve with simple oil-based, butter or tomato sauces.

Ruote (rotelle)

This translates to wheel and this unique shape looks like a wheel with spokes. If you find them, they will sometimes be in a package of three colors. The spokes are great for trapping meat and cheese-based sauces.

Sheet pasta

we couldn’t make lasagna without it!

Stuffed Pasta

We are all familiar with Ravioli and Tortellini but you may also run across Capelletti (little hats) and Cannelloni (large reeds). All of these are stuffed with some type of filling but vary in size and shape.

According to Leite’s Culinaria, there is one basic rule for pairing pasta with the correct sauce. “Take into account the heaviness of the noodles compared to the weightiness of the sauce. You want the two to be balanced. Big, hearty noodles are made to stand up to big, hearty sauces, whereas thinner and more delicate noodles need to be tossed with lighter and more delicate sauces.” That rule leads to the following recommendations.

  • Long, skinny pasta such as spaghetti and angel hair are best with a light tomato sauce.
  • Long flat noodles such as fettucine and linguine will stand up to a richer sauce such as an alfredro sauce or even a Bolognese if you are using the wider versions.
  • Tube pastas such as penne and rigatoni are great in baked pasta dishes, richer tomato sauces or in everyone’s favorite – macaroni and cheese.
  • Shapes such as farfalle and fusilli have curves that are perfect for capturing creamy sauces.
  • Stuffed pastas are best with sauces that do not overpower the filling. Serve these with a brown butter sauce, some delicious olive oil or a light pesto.
  • Pastina or soup pastas are meant to give a bit of texture to soups.

So, yes, all of these are pasta but they do give you great variety in your pasta dishes. Just try them in appropriate sauces to highlight their uniqueness.