The Most Common Pasta Shapes and How to Pair Them With Sauces

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Have you ever needed a guide to all pasta shapes? We happen to think that less is more when it comes to pasta and that you can safely stick to the basics – just learn about the most popular pasta types and the sauces they go with best and you’re safe!

There are so many pasta shapes out there – more than 100! – for so many possible dishes and combinations! It’s unbelievable that people created so many varieties because if it were up to me, spaghetti, penne, and tagliatelle would be more than enough. Oh, and maybe some cannelloni every once in a while.

Most pasta shapes were created in Italy because Italians are huge fans of cooking and eating them. To them, cooking pasta is like art; they can’t accept mistakes or changes to the classic recipes.

Anyway, cooking pasta has gone worldwide. There are people – and some of them are great chefs – who make fresh pasta in their kitchens. But most of us don’t have time to complicate our lives like this. We buy pasta in boxes. And it’s a good thing because dry pasta is as good as the fresh kind. Even in Italy, except for a few regions of the north, Italians don’t bother too much with pasta fresca. In fact, simplicity and ease of approach are the keys to good pasta in Italy.

Because we don’t want to complicate simple things, we chose some of the most common pasta shapes in the world, and we counted 11.

11 pasta shapes and the best sauces for them  

1. Spaghetti

The most frequently consumed of all the pasta shapes is spaghetti. Remember the spaghetti scene from ‘Lady and the Tramp’? I guess that’s where these long and straight noodles became worldwide famous.

Cook them with carbonara sauce, a simple tomato sauce, or with olive oil and some garlic. And don’t skimp on the meatballs! But spaghetti is versatile, and you can cook it with a variety of different sauces, meats, and veggies.

The most frequently consumed of all the pasta shapes is spaghetti.

2. Linguine

Linguine is like spaghetti, except that it’s longer and narrower in appearance, and elliptical in section. The extra surface area makes light sauces stick better to them. Linguine or linguini is phenomenal with a butter-based sauce and seafood, clam, and shrimp. You can also pair this pasta with a red sauce, like arrabiatta, or a combo of lemon zest, olive oil, and parsley.

Linguine is like spaghetti, but elliptical in section

3. Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle pasta is long and flat. You will usually find it dried, in small nests, making it easy to prepare small portions. The best sauce for this pasta is Bolognese – a thick meat sauce because it goes perfectly with the thickness of the pasta. It’s also good with cheesy and buttery sauces, with fresh basil, zucchini, and shrimp. There are other options too: homemade pesto, or a topping of fresh asparagus, tomato, and basil.

Tagliatelle pasta is long and flat. It’s sold folded in small nests.

4. Fusilli

Fusilli are thick spirals. They taste great with pretty much any type of sauce. Because the sauce sticks to them easily and they absorb liquids, you should eat them with meat sauces or pesto. You can try sausage meat combined with a red sauce, or just add tomato sauce or Bolognese to the cooked pasta.

A great dish is fusilli pasta with cheese sauce and ham, baked in the oven! Because, yes, these spiral pasta shapes are also suitable for casseroles or salads.

Fusilli are thick spirals.

5. Farfalle

Farfalle  which translates to ‘butterflies’ – are also known as ‘bow-tie pasta’. Kids love them, especially if you buy colored farfalle, with different vegetable flavors. They look fun and are tasty in pasta salads, with chunks of veggies or meat. They also hold sauces well, and you can pair farfalle with cream or tomato sauces that have a lot of flavor to them.

Farfalle is known as ‘bow-tie pasta’.

6. Elbow pasta

Elbow pasta is the one traditionally used for macaroni and cheese. They are curved tiny tubes which go great with a cheese sauce ready to be baked or you can use them in minestrones.

Elbow pasta are curved tiny tubes.

7. Penne

Penne pasta looks like a small cylinder shape cut at an angle, and they come in a variety of flavors and colors. Egg penne (yellow), spinach penne (green), and tomato penne (pale red) are the most common in grocery stores.

This pasta is excellent in cold pasta salads, but you can also cook it with sauces. Try tomato or other veggie sauces, carbonara sauce with some veggie chunks, or just pour some olive oil on it, and sprinkle some salt and pepper for a simple dish. You can also make casseroles using penne.

Penne is small cylinder shapes cut on an angle.

8. Rigatoni

This is a thick tube-shaped pasta that is much larger and more circular than penne, with ridges on the outside. Their shape makes them perfect for stuffing them. Pair rigatoni with thick meat or veggie sauces. You can also eat them just plainly boiled, with sauce, or you can use them in baked dishes, like casseroles.

Rigatoni is a tube-shaped pasta that is much larger and more circular than penne.

9. Cannelloni

Cannelloni are big tubes of pasta, a member of the same pasta family as lasagna (flat pasta, rolled into tubes). You can pair them with the same ingredients as you would lasagna: stuff them with the same tomato and ground beef sauce, then coat them with béchamel and bake them. You can also fill them with spinach and ricotta cheese, then cook them in a light sauce, like a simple tomato one.

Cannelloni are big tubes of pasta.

10. Ravioli

Ravioli is different. It’s a small sheet piece of pasta, folded over a dollop of stuffing and pinched together to form a delicate parcel. You can find ravioli stuffed with cheese, lobster, a cheese and tomato mixture, a spinach and cheese mix, with meat, or fish.

You should cook ravioli in butter sauce with herbs so that you can feel the taste of the filling better. Or you could do something with a fresh tomato sauce, which works anytime.

Ravioli is a small sheet piece of pasta, folded over a dollop of stuffing.

11. Tortellini

Tortellini resembles ravioli pretty well, only they are circular in shape, not rectangular. They have a variety of fillings, but they’re usually stuffed with cheese or meat. You can use them when you make broth or casseroles, but you can also serve them with a butter or oil based sauce and some veggies thrown in it.

Tortellini have different fillings, but they have a circular shape.

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