Simultaneously a destitute student’s staple and a feature in high-end restaurants, everyone understands pasta and, more importantly, everyone loves pasta.
However, even true love can get boring. Missionary and “words of affirmation” can only keep a relationship alive for so long. Likewise, fusilli and spaghetti are bound to grow tiresome at some point. But worry not, our Ultimate(?) Guide to Pasta Shapes is here to save you from the culinary equivalent of a stale marriage. Take it from someone who knows: loyalty is dead, long live variety.
We’ve limited ourselves to unfilled, dried pastas. Filled and fresh pasta are a whole different game and we don’t have the time nor the page numbers to dedicate to them. Similarly, wholegrain and gluten-free options are available but they’re indefensibly gross and we’re not here for indefensibly gross (apologies to the coeliac community in advance).
Round, slurpable lengths of romance (think Lady and the Tramp). What’s not to love? To the people who snap their spaghetti in half before cooking, there’s a special place in hell for you.
Best served with: Loose, smooth sauces that can coat each strand and doesn’t get in the way of the slurp. Think carbonara or tomato-based sauces. Surprisingly, meaty sauces like bolognese aren’t a great fit but no one will be mad at you for doing it. Sometimes tradition trumps sense.
Spaghetti’s trendy, skinnier cousin. Has a twin sister, capelli d’angelo, which is somehow even skinnier. Like lots of skinny people (I’m talking about myself really), prone to breaking and absurdly difficult to dress. I tend to avoid because it’s too reminiscent of rice vermicelli and then I just want a sizzling hot plate of Singapore noodles.
Best served with: Very light, oil-based sauces like aglio e olio or even in a soup preparation.
A personal favourite, linguine is what happens if spaghetti and tagliatelle had a child. A best-of-both-worlds, it has the heft for heavier sauces but also the elegance of spaghetti (re: Lady and the Tramp).
Best served with: Creamy sauces, chunkier meat sauces, light and aromatic sauces… I mean, what can’t you pair it with?
Tagliatelle, Fettucine, Pappardelle
Tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle. These are our chonky bois with nonno pappardelle leading the charge as the widest of them all. Apart from purported places of origins, the differences between them vary by source so don’t stress the small stuff and go for the thiccness you know you deserve.
Best served with: Sauces that are rich and meaty, like the man of your dreams. Or cheesy and creamy. The man of your dreams comparison still stands.
Good lord, what have they done? It’s spaghetti but with a hole going down the middle. It’s a straw but made of pasta. It is fantastic as a pasta and an absolute joy to eat. Don’t believe me? Alex Delany from Bon Appetit Magazine wrote an article titled “Bucatini Is the Best Long Pasta There Ever Was or Will Be”.
Best served with: Thinner sauces with strong flavours like tomato or squid ink. More important than ever to finish your pasta in the sauce so it can soak up all that flavour into its hole.
Gets a lot of stick for being the uninspired choice. But look a bit closer at the intricate ridges running along the short tubes and that oblique cut and you might begin to understand why it’s such a popular workhorse pasta. It was almost designed for success.
Best served with: The ridges ensure even thick sauces can cling onto its curved surfaces and the tube shape is great for collecting up bits of finely cut veg. Pasta salad is an obvious choice.
Like the Argentine comic by Quino, Mafalda, Mafalde comes in strips. Unlike the Argentine comic by Quino, Mafalda, Mafalde looks like the beautiful tentacles you may find dragging behind a portugese man of war. When cooked right, you get the contrast between the delicate frilled edges and the sturdier central spine. Basically fettucine in a tutu.
Best served with: a medium weight sauce can show off the versatility of this pasta. Another case of centering the sauce around the playful texture of the pasta.
It exists and I know some people love it. Does it excite me? Not really. Although the tricolore variety can be fun.
Best served with: A pasta bake? That sounds about right.
Trofie, Gemelli, Casarecce
Above: Casarecce; Middle: Gemelli; Below: Trofie
Our short little twists and turns. Trofie is the rustic, hand-smudged pasta twist that fusilli wishes it was. Gemelli means twins and is made from two entwined strands. Cute. Casarecce are like little scrolls. Also cute.
Best served with: Not a whole lot of surface area means it can’t really handle a lot of sauces particularly well. Pesto works well.
A friend got me this one as a souvenir one year. It’s long, its spirally, it’s old-timey ringlets or (similarly old-timey) turkey twizzlers, but a pasta. It’s still in my cupboard.
Best served with: Apparently only served with pesto alla trapanese, a pesto with almonds, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. I have a nut-allergic housemate so, for me, cooking this pasta may lead to death.
Another versatile pasta, the little ears are perfect for scooping up sauces, meat, cheese, and the like. A fancy alternative to our penne and fusilli.
Best served with: Sauces containing small, round things (like peas, mini meatballs), or rich, cheesy sauces.
They look like bow-ties, and that’s why we love them. That and the textural distinction between the soft wings and the denser middle bit.
Best served with: Nothing overly rich or complex. Farfalle is the protagonist and the sauce should only be nominated for supporting roles.
Conchiglie and conchiglioni
Conchiglie are your shell pasta and conchiglioni the shell if it held a small family of sumo wrestlers. If you hold one close to your ear, you can hear the sea. Or the frenzied cries of Italian nonnas bewailing your complete disregard for tradition. They both sound similar. Here’s a fun experiment: hold a piece of conchiglie next to a piece of orechiette and record the results of this magical interaction.
Best served with: cheesy sauces! Something about the shape demands it be filled with a thick, velvety sauce that isn’t too much of a puzzle on the palate. It would also work well with sturdy meat-based sauces but that’s much less sexy.
These are shaped like wheels with spokes and everything. I’m not exactly sure why they’re a thing and its resemblance to an artifical real-world object just makes me think of that penis-shaped pasta so adored by giggly bachelorettes the world over. I’m sure it has a rich history but it’s a pass for me.
Best served with: Plenty of glue and macaroni to make your own 3D pasta wagon. Then drive it into ditch of heavily salted water at a rolling boil and throw the result away. Stop playing with your food.
One-trick pony. Mac and cheese. That’s about it? Two tricks if you go full Asian and do a soup macaroni. That said, those two tricks are really quite good and perfect for a lazy night in so we recommend saving a bag for those rainy days.
Best served with: Lots and lots of cheese. Has there ever been a better comfort food than mac and cheese? A departure from tradition, but I like topping mine with sriracha (look away, Italian grannies).
Anelli, Calamarata, Rigatoni
Anelli are our baby rings found in Spaghetti-O’s amongst other things. Feed your Anelli enough rare candy and watch it evolve into calamarata, a mid-sized, smooth ring. By the time you’re ready to face the Elite Four, you should have yourself a large, ridged tube by the name of Rigatoni.
Best served with: Anelli can’t do more than swim around in soup. Calamarata is okay for most sauces but really, we’re all waiting for rigatoni which can do all the things that penne can do and arguably better.