Pasta types and shapes play a determinant factor on the appeal of this typical Italian food.

Pasta types are easily categorized considering the ingredients. Italian pasta can be made from:  semolina from durum wheat, flour from soft wheat and eggs for fresh pasta or according to shapes.

Regarding shapes there are three kinds of pasta: long, short and stuffed.

Type of pasta most used is pasta made from durum wheat semolina, short or long. It is difficult to establish the most popular pasta shapes. It all depends on personal preferences and varies with regions. If I had to guess, it has to be spaghetti. In Naples vermicelli, a slightly thicker kind of spaghetti are very popular.

In Rome, rigatoni and penne are most used as short pasta. As long pasta, Bucatini and fettuccine. Tonnarelli, a square spaghetti shape has been gaining popularity.

Fresh homemade pasta type made from semolina is common in the south of Italy, generally without eggs. Examples are orecchiette and cavatelli. There are not fancy shapes.

The dough is easily and quickly shaped in experts hands. You can do it too. Watch how.

Fresh homemade pasta with flour and eggs is not for everyday as it’s time taking.

There is a special type of pasta available for people who have intolerance to gluten. Gluten is found in wheat and other cereals. Gluten free pasta is in increasing demand even from people who do not have a condition. Some believe gluten free pasta is healthier, other even believe it helps in losing weight.

Pasta types and shapes are to be considered when associating to a sauce.

Long pasta is flexible and adaptable to most any sauces, good with thin ones and condiments like a spaghetti aglio e olio as easier to be picked by the long strands. In ribbons shapes especially indicated with cream sauces for their larger surface holding more of the sauce.

Short pasta does well in rich thick sauces like a ragù. The other property, especially important with kids is the easier handling.

There are hundreds of shapes of pasta and more keep appearing.


Most popular pasta types and shapes

Long Pasta

The Spaghetti Family

Spaghetti – Literally “small strings”.

Linguine – Literally little tongues, from the flattened shape.

Fusilli bucati – Thick hollow spiral spaghetti.

Bucatini – Thick hollow spaghetti

Vermicelli – Literally “small worms” thick spaghetti” very popular in Naples.

spaghettoni – Thicker spaghetti

Spaghettini – thinner than spaghetti

capellini – Diminutive of “capelli”, thin hair, or capelli d’angelo, otherwise known as “angel’s hair”. They are very very thin spaghetti.

Bigoli – big spaghetti with rough surface from Veneto.

Pici – thick rough homemade spaghetti. They are a specialty pasta from Toscana where are easier to find and can also be bought.

Spaghetti alla chitarra, Maccheroni alla chitarra – Originated in Abruzzo. It’s from a dough made from durum wheat semolina, sometimes with eggs.

The square spaghetti shape is obtained by laying a rather thick sheet of dough on a rectangular frame strung with several metal wires.

A rolling pin is then run over it pressing down so to cut the dough.  The device is called chitarra for the metal wires reminiscing of a guitar. The wires are placed about 2/16 of an inch apart. If further apart then you have fettuccine.

Spaghetti alla chitarra marry well with rich meat sauces-beef, pork, lamb.

Tonnarelli – Name used in Rome for spaghetti alla chitarra, but always with eggs. Some say there is a difference in size as well. The name probably comes from the Roman dialect “tonno”that means “round”. Tonnarelli then means “rather round”.

The 2 pasta types present here are from semolina and egg semolina in spaghetti alla chitarra and tonnarelli.

Ribbon Pasta

Lasagne – Widest ribbon shaped pasta.

Pappardelle – Loved by gluttons. The name derives from the verb “pappare”, to gobble up. They are wider fettuccine – about 1 inch.

Fettuccine – Literally means “small ribbons”. They can be made, with flour or semolina with eggs or without. Fresh homemade are always best. In supermarkets you find  generally packaged coiled in ‘nests”.

Tagliatelle – from the verb “tagliare”, cut. It derives from the use of rolling the homemade sheet of pasta and cutting in in small strips. Tagliatelle are thinner than fettuccine. Tagliarini are the thinnest of the ribbon pasta.

Trenette – The pasta of choice for pesto alla Genovese. Ribbon pasta thinner than tagliatelle.

Except for shapes, there can be 2 pasta types here: semolina from durum wheat and fresh egg pasta from flour.

Short Pasta

Penne – diagonally cut cylindrical pasta. It can be with lines (rigate) or without (lisce).

Rigatoni – Tubular pasta with lines, as from the name.

Ziti – Small diameter straight tubular pasta.

Farfalle – Translates into “butterflies’ for the shape. Otherwise known as “bow-ties”.

Fusilli – Thick corkscrew shaped pasta.

Conchiglie – Known otherwise  as “shells” for the shape, can be of various sizes.

Orecchiette – It means little ears as for the shape.

Cavatelli – Concave shaped pasta.

Trofie – semolina dough slightly pressed and rolled between  the palms of the hands or by pushing and dragging the dough on a flat surface.. The movement twists the dough in a shape resembling drill bits. Trofie are typical from Genova, associated with pesto.

Only 1 pasta type here from semolina.

Stuffed Pasta

It’s fresh egg pasta from flour. Stuffing is generally made from meats and cheeses, with the presence of prosciutto and parmigiano as well in tortellini.

Tortellini – Origins disputes between Bologna and Modena. They are circles of thin dough, about 3 inches wide. The filling is placed in the center, dough is folded over it, sealed and wrapped around the pinky or index to form a ring. The larger size of tortellini are called tortelloni.

Cappelletti – Literally “little hats”. Another name for tortellini, supposedly slighthly larger.

Ravioli – Squares of stuffed pasta originated in Genova.

Agnolotti – From Piemonte, similar in shape to ravioli. the filling is the difference, made from roast meats, eggs, parmigiano sausage and leafy greens.

Cannelloni – Literally big reeds or tubes because of the shape.  It’s tubular pasta with a diameter of about 1 inch  3-4 inches long. It’s stuffed, covered with sauce and baked.

Manicotti – Another name for cannelloni.

One thing is certain. You won’t get bored with so many choices of pasta types and shapes.

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