Popular Types of Pasta and How They Differ

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You can never go wrong with pasta. Delicious in all its forms, pasta is often the ideal complement to your dish. But understanding all the types of pasta out there and how they can elevate the flavors and textures of the dish can be challenging. More and more, grocers are adding new varieties of pasta to shelves. It’s normal to get excited (and overwhelmed), but don’t go grabbing the fanciest one.

Knowing the popular types of pasta is key to making your next Italian-inspired meal a huge success. That is why we pulled together a list of 20 common pasta types to help you choose.

How Many Types of Pasta Are There?

Pasta types are also called pasta shapes, and there happens to be 350 shapes recorded. Of course, that isn’t counting all the kinds of noodles seen around the world, either. Pasta is separated into varieties that are categorized by their size, since as short pasta (pasta corta), long pasta (pasta lunga), stretched (strascinati), dumpling (gnocchi), cooked in broth (pastina), and stuffed (ripiena).

Interestingly, although there are 350 pasta types, many of those pasta have three or four names attached. This is often attributed to the language differences throughout the regions of Italy. That is why you might hear “one man’s gnocchetto is another man’s strascinato.”

For example, Farfalle pasta is sometimes known as bow-tie or butterfly pasta, because of its shape.

20 Common Types of Pasta and Noodles

Obviously, we can’t name all 350 types of pasta out there. What we can do is give you insight into the 20 common types of pasta that line the supermarket shelves. Next time you plan on whipping up an Italian recipe, you will be able to navigate the pasta section with ease.

Angel Hair

Also known as capellini, capelvenere, capellini fini, capelli d’angelo, ramicia, and barbine a nido, the ever popular angel hair pasta is a well received addition to any meal.

Angel hair is a long, thin, delicate pasta. Because of that, this pasta is best in lighter sauces that won’t weigh it down. Butter- and cream-based sauces work best. Avoid chunky sauces.

angel hair pasta

Cannelloni

What is cannelloni? Not to be confused with a cannoli (but quite similar), cannelloni is tube-shaped pasta that is reminiscent of oversized ziti. Cannelloni is also different from manicotti, which has ridges.

This pasta is best used with fillings, including ricotta cheese and chunky sauce. You can fill cannelloni then bake it to make a casserole.

cannelloni

Conchiglie

You know all those pastas we haphazardly call “shells”? Turns out, they have a name that is much more fun to pronounce—conchiglie!

These shell-shaped pastas are superb at holding delicious sauces, be they thick or thin. Some favorite pairings include cheese- and tomato-based sauces with chunks of vegetables. However, shells also work well in soups, pasta salads, and casseroles.

conchiglie

Ditalini

In Italian, ditalini means “little thimbles.” These little tubes of deliciousness cook up between 8-10 minutes and are ideal for minestrone soup. However, you can drop some ditalini into any tomato-based soup and be in for a treat.

Ditalini

Farfalle

There is something surprisingly versatile about bow-tie pasta that you can’t help but love. Farfalle looks fun, and it is also rich in flavor. The little indentations will scoop up sauces and seasonings.

Farfalle goes well with olive oil and butter, tomato sauce, creams, and also with stir-fried vegetables and meat. You can throw it into cold pasta salads, as well.

farfalle

Fettuccine

The literal translation of fettuccine is “little ribbons.” This kind of pasta was originally produced and largely consumed in Rome. Fettuccine is between pappardelle and linguine in width, making it sturdy enough for heavier, cream-based sauces (yes, like alfredo), vegetables, and chunks of meat or seafood.

fettuccine

Lasagna

Another classic Italian dish is lasagne, made with the well-known rectangular sheets of pasta called lasagna. These large and wide pieces of pasta are more versatile than you would think, though. You can roll up dense cheese and vegetables up in the pasta and bake them or use the pasta in soup.

Lasagna

Linguine

Linguine means “flattened tongue” in Italian, which is probably one translation you didn’t need to know. That aside, linguine is much like flattened spaghetti—long and thin. Being that linguine is incredibly versatile, you see it beyond the traditional use of clam-based sauces.

These days, linguine is the star of any dish with tomato and cream sauces, such as vodka sauce, alfredo, and chunky marinara.

linguine

Macaroni

Did you know that “macaroni” was once a slang word for “fashionable”? Well, now you do. And it’s probably no small wonder that macaroni continues to be one of the most popular types of pasta.

Macaroni and cheese is a classic that can always be innovated. But don’t let one dish hinder your creativity. The bent shape of macaroni makes it ideal for picking up all kinds of goodness. You can mix it into casseroles, pasta bakes, and pasta salads.

macaroni

Manicotti

The ridged cousin of cannelloni pasta. Manicotti often refers to a dish that means tubes of pasta stuffed with ricotta, spinach, and baked in a zesty tomato sauce. In fact, manicotti often comes pre-stuffed to make preparation much more convenient.

If you have hollow manicotti on hand, don’t be afraid to try different variations of the classic. You can add pepper, chicken breast, mushrooms, beans, avocado, or whatever else your heart (and stomach) desires.

manicotti

Orecchiette

Orecchiette is possibly one of the more interestingly shaped types of pasta out there. Meaning “little ears,” these miniature concave bowls cook up in about 10-12 minutes. They aren’t very dense, but it doesn’t matter. This pasta scoops up sauces and creams by design. Consider them a delivery system for heartier meat or seafood dishes.

orecchiette

Pappardelle

Aptly derived from a phrase meaning “to gulp down,” pappardelle noodles are undoubtedly worth slurping. Long and flat, this pasta is ideal for soaking up the flavors from whatever sauce you choose. You can dress up any dish with pappardelle, especially if it involves seafood or vegetables.

Pappardelle

Pastina

In Italian cooking, pastina is a family of miniature pasta shapes that are cooked in broth instead of water. Regularly, you can find pastina that looks like very small pieces of orzo or stars, but there are other shapes out there.

Pastina tastes excellent in rich broths and will soak up whatever flavoring you give it. Mix in some vegetables for a light meal. Optionally, you can load pastina up with some butter, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese for a tasty treat.

Pastina

Penne

Often confused as ziti, penne means “feathers” or “quills” in Italian. Unlike ziti, penne pasta is angled when cut and usually has light ridging on the outside. The tubes are usually between 2-4 inches long.

As with most hollowed out pastas, you can use penne for heavier sauces and creams. Give penne some time to soak up the flavors of the sauce before serving.

Also, here is something to keep in mind: You don’t want to pair penne pasta with a sauce that is too heavy. Opt for a more watery sauce that will flow through the pasta.

Penne

Rigatoni

When you have bolognese cooking, you better have rigatoni on the menu, too. Rigatoni pasta is similar to manicotti but smaller. The tubes are about 1.5 inches long, 0.75 inches in diameter, and grooved. Due to the thickness, rigatoni takes about 11-13 minutes to cook.

You want to use the hollowed insides to scoop up all the sauce. Ideally, use rigatoni with chunky meat and vegetable sauces or gooey cheese. Toss this pasta in the sauce or let it bake.

Rigatoni

Rotelle

Literally named and shaped like a wagon wheel, rotelle will roll right into your heart and belly. Although this pasta isn’t common out in restaurants, it does have a proper place in many recipes. The shape makes rotelle perfect for tomato sauces and cream sauces that aren’t too heavy. You can also use rotelle to add some whimsy to pasta salads.

rotelle

Rotini

These tightly wound spirals of pasta are bound to be bursting with flavor. Rotini is versatile when it comes to what sauces you can use—oils, creams, and tomato. Otherwise, you can simply toss rotini in some butter and a splash of lemon juice and cheese for something light and refreshing. Rotini also works when tossed with stir-fried or roasted vegetables and fresh mozzarella.

If you can’t find rotini in the store, you can also use fusilli, which is slightly narrower.

rotini

Tagliatelle

Planning on making a thick sauce? You’re going to need a strong enough noodle for the job. Tagliatelle should do the trick. Between pappardelle and fettuccine in thickness, tagliatelle won’t be overpowered by heavy sauces and flavors. Pair this pasta with sauces that are loaded with vegetables, seafood, oil, and garlic.

There is also a narrower version of tagliatelle that is called bavette or lasagneddi in Sicily.

tagliatelle

Torchio

This is the kind of pasta you cook if you want to impress someone. Also referred to as campanelle, torchio pasta is bell-shaped and ruffled. You might even think it looks like a flower before it blooms.

The ruffled edges and hollow in the noodle means that campanelle can withstand heavier sauces and creams. The ideal sauce is anything dairy-based, including bechamel, fish-based sauces, alfredo, chunky vegetables, or even meat sauces.

Torchio

Ziti

Almost everyone has heard of baked ziti. These long, smooth tubes are like the big sibling of ditalini, though they have far more applications. You can incorporate ziti into dozens of baked dishes and casseroles. The pasta is of medium-width, so it can withstand denser sauces. For that reason, toss it with olive oil, cream, cheese, or tomato sauces.

Here is some trivia for you to share with your friends: ziti is plural for bride and groom in Sicilian.

ziti

What is the Best Kind of Pasta?

Having been introduced to some common types of pasta, you might be wondering which one is the best.

There is no absolute winner of that debate. Pasta is delicious and should be loved in all its shapes, forms, and flavors. Choosing the right pasta for the sauce, however, is different.

Keep in mind that some pastas are too thin and delicate for thicker sauces, whereas wider pasta, like fettuccine or pappardelle, are ideal for creamier bases. If you have a dish loaded with meat, seafood, or chunks of vegetables, think about choosing a pasta that is hollowed out.

Similarly, casseroles should be accompanied with pasta that can soak up the goodness. Ziti, rigatoni, penne, and rotini all have nooks and crannies designed for holding onto cheese, small pieces of meat or vegetables, and sauce.

When you use the right kind of pasta for the dish, you amplify the deliciousness.

Final Thoughts

Is there anything more perfect than pasta? Tasty and versatile, the hundreds of pasta shapes out there make cooking pasta an adventure. Whether you are making soup, a casserole, or a classic Italian entrée, there are several kinds of noodles and pasta that fit the bill. Hopefully, you now know which of the most common types work with what sauces and flavors, so you can start cooking pasta like a pro.