Pasta Types & How to Cook Pasta

This entry is part 3 of 31 in the series My Italian Kitchen

italian-kitchen-bannerIf you shop the pasta aisle in the US, you might see 4 to 5 different brands, each carrying 5 to 10 different pasta shapes. In Italy there is an entire aisle, both sides, with multiple pasta brands offering dozens of pasta shapes. Barilla boasts to be the best-loved brand of pasta in Italy and is now available in the US. (My parents used to send me care packages of Barilla pasta and Nutellla when I was a student at the University of Florida.)

We traveled to Chicago to attend a wedding and shopped at an Italian grocery store called Caputo’s. They had an entire aisle of pasta, but it was a smaller store, similar to a Trader Joe’s. A few weeks later, when we were in Italy, the large supermarket we visited displayed an entire aisle – both sides – of pasta.

Barilla pasta
See all the blue Barilla boxes on the left side?

There are so many different kinds of shapes! You might wonder why? The type of pasta needs to match the sauce it is being served with. A simple sauce is ideal for long and thin strands of pasta while thicker tomato sauces combine well with thicker pastas. Thicker and chunkier sauces adhere to the holes and cuts of short, tubular, or twisted pastas.

pasta-poster-twopasta poster

Some shapes originate in certain cities so that’s why some shapes have different names. Pasta can be divided into multiple categories. One such division is fresh pasta vs dried pasta. Fresh pasta is usually made with eggs (pasta all’ uovo) or egg noodles and dried pasta is made with durum wheat and no eggs.

Barilla, Italy’s #1 pasta, divides pasta into four categories: long, short, stuffed, small. I consulted both the American site as well as the Italian one. You can check out the links for images of the various shapes. Below I list the most popular ones.

Long Pasta (Pasta Lunga)

Spaghetti – In the US there are three shapes – regular spaghetti, vermicelli and angel hair. But in Italy there are spaghetti, spaghettini, spagehtti rigati (striped or ribbed spaghetti), spaghetti quadrati (square spagetti). Then there’s vermicelli (worms), vermicellini (tiny worms), bavettine (little bibs), and capellini (little hairs), just to name the most popular. [ the –ini ending indicates ‘small’ like the -y ending in English. We call our son, Thomas, ‘Tommy.’ In Italian Tommaso is ‘Tommasino.’]

Bucatini or Perciatelli – These are long pasta with a hole in the middle [buco in Italian mean ‘hole’].

Fettuccine – a long, flat pasta.

Linguine – as long as fettuccine and spaghetti but wider than fettuccine.

Lasagne – even wider than linguine. Used in baked pasta dishes.

Short Pasta (Pasta Corta)

Penne – literally means ‘pen’ like a quill pen. Also penne rigate (literally ‘striped’ or ribbed), mezze penne (half), pennette (little), penne liscie (smooth)

Tortiglioni – larger ribbed tubes with a slight twist

Rigatoni – large tube shape

Fusilli – spiral shape

Casarecce – home style (casa).

Gemelli – twins

Fusilli bucati – twisty shape with a hole down the center

SedaniSedano means ‘celery.’ Also sedanini, sedani lisci, sedani rigati

Stuffed Pasta (Pasta Ripiena)

Tortellini – small ring-shaped stuffed pasta

Tortelloni – a larger version of tortellini

Fagottini – ‘little sacks’

Ravioli – little pillow shaped stuffed pasta

Tiny Pasta (Pastina)

Farfalline – little butterflies

Stelline – little stars

Puntine – little points

Acini di Pepe – pepper flakes

Anellini – little rings

Tubettini – little tubes

Corallini – little corals

Pasta dishes are part of the first course (primo piatto) which can be served as pasta asciutta, brodo, or pasta al forno (“dry pasta,” “soup,” and “baked pasta” respectively). We will cover some of these in the days to come.


How to Cook Pasta

In a large saucepan, Dutch oven, or stock pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt to taste (I eyeball it but it’s about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon.) Add pasta to the boiling water, stirring occasionally. Cook for the recommended amount of time (for example, 12 minutes for fettuccine). I like to taste it occasionally to test for doneness. It should be slightly firm (raw) in the center. Al dente means “to the tooth.” Drain well in a colander or strainer and proceed with recipe.


Tomorrow we will focus on tomato-based sauces and I’ll share my quick and easy tomato sauce recipe! If you want to be sure you don’t miss any delicious recipes, you might want to sign up to receive my posts in your inbox. Click the sign up in the side bar or scroll down to the very bottom if you are on a mobile device.

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About Sheila @ Making the Most of Every Day

I'm a wife, mom, and a homeschool teacher. I'm always behind on housework and paper pile sorting. I'm fond of this crazy life but not of melted cheese. I want to follow hard after God, making each day really count. I like to run, read, cook (and eat!). Thanks for joining along on my journey!

18 thoughts on “Pasta Types & How to Cook Pasta

  1. I’m learning so much! I wondered why there were so many different shapes when they all taste the same. That totally makes sense about the sauce now that you mention it.

    For me, a little pasta goes a long way. I enjoy the sauce or whatever goes on top more, with just enough pasta to carry it, so to speak. For example, spaghetti with just a little thin tomato sauce smeared on it? Ugh. I want chunky sauce with veggies and meat, and just a little pasta. Is that weird?

  2. Agh pasta, I’m limited to the GF variety now, but loved seeing all the different varieties you described. Caputos reminds me of a little shop I used to visit outside of Philly; I could browse all day!

  3. I’m so excited for your month of sharing! We love Italian food, but I don’t really know how to cook it, other than a few basics. Looking forward to learning from you!

  4. Ditto what everyone else has said…I am learning so much. Your explanation for which pasta with which sauces was very enlightening and makes such sense! We were talking spaghetti sauces today at work. Can’t wait to try your recipes.

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