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The Most Popular Types Of Italian Pasta & Noodles

A ranking of the best types of pasta noodle shapes & their uses.

Currently, there are an estimated 350 different types of pasta. And around 1,400 different names for these types of pasta.

This is unsurprising considering the wide range of dialects present within Italy. And due to the global love of all kinds of pasta. (Because honestly, how can you not love pasta?)

Types Of Pasta and Noodles

Pasta is a staple of many people’s diets. It is excellent for filling you up. As well as being incredibly delicious. However, many people tend to stick to the types of pasta that they know best.

Without trying out anything new. So, here is a guide to some of the world’s favorite pastas. As well as some slightly different kinds that you might not have heard of before.

Types of Pasta Noodles

  1. Spaghetti
  2. Tagliatelle
  3. Penne
  4. Ravioli
  5. Tortellini
  6. Farfalle
  7. Fusilli
  8. Shell Pasta
  9. Lasagna Sheets
  10. Gnocchi

Spaghetti

This is the go-to pasta for many people. It is easy to cook, goes with a range of different sauces, and is just good messy fun.

Spaghetti is a very long pasta. But while the strands are incredibly thin. They can either be flat or cylindrical.

The exact origins of spaghetti are not known. However, historians have suggested that it was introduced to Europe by the Barbarians during their invasion of Sicily.

Spaghetti is a simple type of pasta to make from scratch. It is made through combining flour (usually durum wheat semolina) with water. The dough is then flattened and cut into thin strips. 

Other types of pasta that are similar to spaghetti are angel’s hair which is incredibly fine, Bucatini which is cylindrical with a hole down the middle, and Fettuccine which is similar in length but is slightly wider and flatter. Linguine is similar to fettuccine but not as wide.

Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle is another popular form of pasta. It is long and flat. And is sold in tight balls that come apart in hot water.

Whereas spaghetti is most commonly used in tomato dishes, tagliatelle is better suited to creamy dishes. 

Tagliatelle is very similar to fettuccine. And they can often be used interchangeably. However, fettuccine is usually sold straight like spaghetti. 

Carbonara is often made with tagliatelle. However, this is not the traditional pasta used for a carbonara. Which is traditionally made using spaghetti.

Tagliatelle is more traditionally used for rich tomato sauces, usually containing red meat. 

Tagliatelle can be used for many different dishes. Today, it is more commonly used for creamy mushroom dishes. Which are very similar to carbonara, but do not contain egg, cheese, or pork. It will more commonly be used for vegetarian dishes. 

Penne 

Penne is a very common type of pasta. Penne noodles are short tubes with ridges cut along the sides.

The ends are cut at angles. Penne is a great pasta to be used with a simple ragu. Or a Bolognese. But, it is very versatile and could be used in a cream dish.

Penne is also excellent for a pasta bake. This is made by adding dried penne to a pasta sauce (with some added vegetables and cheese) then baked in the oven.

The penne cooks in the pasta sauce and absorbs is flavor.

Penne is especially good for adding vegetables and other ingredients to. As it can be eaten in big forkfuls. Rather than twirled around a fork. So, lots of different dishes can be made with penne.

Ravioli

Ravioli is an interesting type of pasta. It is made by laying out one wide strip of pasta. Small amounts of meat, mushrooms or any other filling are placed at varying intervals.

Then a second strip of pasta is placed over the top. The strip is cut into squares with a specially designed serrated wheel knife (similar to a pizza wheel). Sometimes, a serrated cutter that is similar to a cookie-cutter is used.

Ravioli is a pasta that is usually eaten in small amounts. The size of the ravioli can vary greatly. With some pieces being quite large. In this case, only four or five pieces are served.

They can be stuffed with almost any ingredient. But they are very usually blended or pureed first. Mushrooms are a very common filling. 

Ravioli can be served in a sauce. Either tomato or cream. Or they can be served with a little olive oil and fresh herbs. It is possible to buy ravioli in a tin.

Which is fine if you need to make something quickly. But ravioli is usually sold fresh. It is very difficult to dry ravioli, due to the filling. 

Tortellini

Tortellini is very similar to ravioli. But it has a very different shape. Whereas ravioli are cut into simple squares, tortellini are more complicated.

They are circular pieces of pasta that are twisted around the filling. And then pinched together at the end. This turns them into a ring shape. With one side very thin and the other stuffed with filling.

Tortellini are often filled with similar ingredients to ravioli. The most traditional option is to fill the pasta with meat, cheese, egg, and nutmeg.

Then serve it in capon broth (this is a broth made from neutered cockerel). It can be served in a cream or tomato sauce. And are usually all of the same size. 

Farfalle

Farfalle is a pasta that is shaped like a bow, with serrated edges. Farfalle can be used in any kind of sauce or pasta dish. Or it can be served with a little olive oil and tomatoes. 

To make this unusual shape, pasta is cut into squares with two sides cut to resemble ruffles.

It is then pinched in the middle to make the bow shape. Farfalle is also commonly made in different colors. Most traditionally, this is green and orange. 

But more adventurous chefs have begun making it in a huge range of colors and patterns. Which suits its whimsical shape.

Fusilli

Like penne, fusilli is a go-to standard kind of pasta. It is pasta, shaped with a series of twists. Similar to the end of a screw. Traditionally, it is made through “spinning” the pasta with a small rod that causes the pasta to twist into a corkscrew shape.

However, on a more industrial scale, it is put through a large machine that twists the pasta and cuts it into smaller lengths.

Fusilli can be used in a range of different dishes. But is most commonly used in tomato-based sauces. It can also be used in a pasta bake, similar to penne.

Fusilli is another pasta that can be mixed with a range of different ingredients. The best being Mediterranean vegetables, tomato sauce, and cheese. 

Shell Pasta

Shell pasta is pretty self-explanatory. It is pasta that is shaped like seashells. Shell pasta can be very small or incredibly large.

Small shell pasta can be used in a similar way to fusilli or penne. Although, it would not be especially suitable for a standard pasta bake. 

Large shell pasta can be used for very different dishes. Shell pasta is often served stuffed and then baked in a tomato sauce. The shells are cooked until al dente.

Then stuffed with a thick filling. Usually consisting of spinach and ricotta. 

Although any kind of filling can be used. A tomato sauce is then poured into a baking tray. The stuffed pasta shells are then laid inside the baking tray. Sprinkled with cheese and baked. 

Lasagna Sheets

Lasagna sheets are one of the few types of pasta that aren’t versatile.

They can be eaten in a sauce as you would spaghetti. But this would be difficult and awkward due to their size and shape. Lasagna sheets are specially designed to be used in lasagna. 

Whether to cook the lasagna sheets first is a little contentious. Some people do it automatically. But, as in a pasta bake, the lasagna sheets will cook while in the oven.

If the sheets are cooked first, they will be very soft and soggy after they have been in the oven. And so the lasagna will potentially lose a lot of its structure. 

Gnocchi

Whether or not gnocchi is a pasta is a little contentious. And technically, it is closer to a dumpling. But it is often confused for being pasta.

So it’s still worth including on this list. Gnocchi are small pieces of dough made from combining flour, water, salt, and potatoes. Gnocchi sometimes includes egg. However, this is not necessary.

The potatoes are cooked and mashed. Then combined with the flour, water, and salt until a dough is made. Then, it is rolled out into thick cylinders. It is then chopped into smaller pieces.

And rolled across a gnocchi paddle. Which is a wooden panel with ridges on one side. This can also be easily done with a fork.

Gnocchi is a very dense food. But it can be stuffed. However, it is more traditionally served without a filling. It can be used in any kind of sauce.

As with most other Italian dishes, recipes vary across the country. But it is very common to serve gnocchi with some olive oil and herbs. 

Fresh Pasta vs. Dry Pasta

Dry Italian Pasta in a basket

There are two main types of pasta and there are actually quite a few differences between them.

It’s worth making a note of these differences to make sure you’re pairing your sauce with something that will make the overall dining experience enjoyable and delicious.

Dry pasta is the pasta you can buy from the store, pre-made and ready to be boiled and served. This pasta is very convenient and still tastes great, especially when boiled for the right amount of time to prevent overcooking.

If this happens the pasta will become stodgy, sticky, and quite unpleasant, so it’s best to keep a close eye on the pasta to make sure its texture isn’t totally ruined.

A popular way to serve pasta is ‘al dente’ which essentially means that the pasta has a bit of firmness and bite to it which is one of the traditional Italian methods of preparing pasta.

Dry pasta is made using water, salt, and semolina flour and doesn’t contain any eggs so it’s often vegan-friendly which makes it an ideal choice for large groups with varied dietary requirements, but always make sure to check with your diners for things like vegetarianism or whether they’re gluten-free or not so as to make sure everyone can enjoy your food.

Dry pasta is thoroughly dried over several days to remove all its moisture meaning it can be stored for a very long time, sometimes up to a year if the packaging remains undisturbed.

This makes dry pasta a great budget choice that can deliver amazing flavor and texture while being simple to prepare and suitable for many different diners.

Fresh Raw Homemade Pasta Tagliatelle

That being said, fresh pasta is an alternative way to enjoy pasta and is quite different from dry pasta.

First and foremost, fresh pasta is made by hand using a very easy-to-make dough consisting of eggs and flour. While this makes it quite easy to start making, it does mean that this type of pasta isn’t suitable for vegans or some vegetarians so keep this in mind.

Next, the dough is kneaded and rolled extensively until it is the correct thickness for the type of pasta you’re planning to make. This is important because some pasta requires a more dense dough, while others need you to knead the dough until it’s as thin as possible.

Another important thing to note about fresh pasta is that its consistency is very soft, and it is far more difficult to store with a comparatively small shelf life to dry pasta.

The great thing about fresh pasta is that you can make as much as you need relatively easily and always make more quite easily in the future, to avoid storage concerns.

Another bonus is that you can make different types of pasta quite easily, whether you want to create noodles, spaghetti, or various other types of pasta.

Whether you’re using dry or fresh pasta however, you will definitely need an amazing sauce to accompany it.

Final Thoughts

No matter which pasta you decide to try, all will taste great whether prepared at home or by professionals in your local Italian restaurant. Now that you learned about the different pasta types, you’ll need to get a course in pasta sauces next.

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Ryan also enjoys traveling and checking out local eateries in every city he visits.