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Learn About Common Pasta Shapes To Eat

Pair these different kinds of pasta with your favorite sauce.

If you’ve ever been to an Italian store or restaurant, you might’ve noticed that there are many different pasta shapes & types to choose from. Believe me or not, there are over 600 shapes!

Variety of types and sshapes of dry Italian pasta in bowls

And while you might’ve heard of common ones like spaghetti, macaroni, and fettuccine, there are plenty more that you might be interested in trying but just don’t know about!

Some people think pasta is pasta, and it doesn’t matter what shape or size they have.

But depending on what dish you’re eating and the type of sauce and ingredients that come with it, the shape and size of this staple food can significantly impact the entire meal!

Pasta Shapes & Types

That said, I’ll discuss different pasta shapes and types, why I like them, and when to use them so that you’ll feel more knowledgeable the next time you’re scanning an Italian menu!


Bucatini

Bucatini is a thick pasta that looks like spaghetti from afar because of its rope-like strands but has a hole running through the middle of it.

I love bucatini because it has a chewy texture and can soak up whichever sauce you’re eating it with — on and in between.

I recommend a buttery sauce for bucatini, like a garlic sauce or carbonara.


Farfalle

Farfalle, or “bow-tie” pasta, is a type of noodle that is shaped like, well, a bow tie!

The ridges in the bow-tie-like structure hold up sauces of varying consistencies. However, I like it best with tomato sauce.

If I include other ingredients, I make sure they are bite-sized and no bigger than each piece of the pasta.


Fettuccine

Fettuccine is a long pasta noodle that is similar to spaghetti but wider, thinner, and flatter.

I love fettuccine with heavier, creamier sauces such as alfredo and carbonara.

Adding cooked spinach and bacon to a creamy fettuccine dish is the way to go.


Orecchiette

Orecchiette pasta is small and shaped like a little ear (it comes from the term “ear” in Italian).

The gaps in this type of pasta are significant for catching and holding sauces and small ingredients.

I usually eat orecchiette with a chunky vegetable sauce or a light olive oil and garlic sauce with cooked spinach and tomatoes.


Orzo

Orzo is pasta shaped like a large grain of rice.

I love orzo because it is versatile and can be used in sweet or savory dishes.

I recommend adding orzo to soups or as a substitute for rice in paella for a savory dish.


Pappardelle

Pappardelle is a wide and flat noodle, similar to fettuccine but much wider.

I love pappardelle because it is excellent for heartier sauces. I recommend eating it with a meat sauce like bolognese or cream and mushroom sauce.


Penne

Penne is a kind of pasta shaped like a quill, with a hole running through it and pointy ends.

Penne is reasonably one of the most popular pasta shapes and can be found in almost any grocery store.

I like penne with almost everything, including bolognese, carbonara, Alfredo, etc.

It’s perfect with fork-length vegetables, as they combine seamlessly with the fork-length penne.


Ravioli

Ravioli is usually square or circular and filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables.

I love this pasta because you know you’ll get so much flavor with every bite — since each bite is guaranteed to be stuffed!

My favorite fillings include ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and spinach.


Rigatoni

You’ll love rigatoni if you like the idea of pasta with a hole down the middle like bucatini but prefer it to be shorter for fork bites.

This short, tube-shaped pasta goes swimmingly with creamy, buttery tomato sauce and Italian sausage.


Tortellini

Tortellini is a shape of pasta that is usually circular or ring-shaped and filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables, similar to ravioli but generally smaller.

I love tortellini because it’s like ravioli but bite-sized!

I usually eat it filled with ricotta and spinach, then pour tomato sauce on top.


Campanelle

Campanelle is a kind of pasta shaped like a bell or a cone with ruffled edges.

I love Campanelle first and foremost for the way it looks. It has such a unique shape that it almost begs to be seen and highlighted with other colorful ingredients, such as cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms.

I lighten the sauce here, sometimes only olive oil and salt.


Capellini

Capellini, also called “angel hair pasta,” is a type of pasta that is very thin and delicate.

I love capellini because it cooks so quickly! I usually only have to cook it for 1-2 minutes before it’s ready to eat.

I recommend eating it with a light olive oil and garlic sauce or a tomato-based sauce with fresh vegetables. Since it’s so thin, go easy on the chunky ingredients.


Cavatappi

Cavatappi is a kind of pasta that is shaped like a small, round corkscrew. It also looks similar to twisted macaroni.

I enjoy cavatappi with heartier, creamier sauces because the spirals help catch and hold onto the sauce. I also think it pairs well with chunky vegetables like broccoli.


Ditalini

Ditalini is shaped like small, stunted tubes. It’s similar in shape to rigatoni but much smaller.

I like to use ditalini in soups or as a substitute for rice in dishes like paella.

Ditalini’s small size makes it easy to scoop up, and the holes allow savory, spiced broths to make their way throughout the spoon for the most fulfilling bit.


Fusilli

Fusilli is a type of pasta that is shaped like small, curled spirals.

It’s similar in shape to corkscrew pasta (cavatappi), but the spirals are tighter and more compact.

I love fusilli because it’s so versatile — you can use it in a salad, as the main course, or even in dessert! (I’ve had fusilli pasta with chocolate sauce before, and it was delicious.)

For pasta sauce, I think fusilli pairs well with lighter sauces, such as olive oil and garlic, or a tomato-based sauce.


Gemelli

Gemelli is the Italian word for twins, which makes sense because this pasta looks like two short ropes twisted around each other.

However, they are each a single s-strand of round twisted pasta. 

I typically use gemelli for pasta salads with bell peppers, parmesan, and rosemary.

Or I’ll do a Greek pasta salad with feta cheese and kalamata olives. 


Lasagne

Lasagne — or lasagna, spelled in English — is a wide, flat noodle that usually comes with sauce, cheese, and meat.

This is the only real choice of pasta to make a meaty, cheesy, hearty lasagna dish with beef, mozzarella, and cottage cheese.


Linguine

Linguine is a long, flat noodle that resembles fettuccine but is thinner.

The word “linguine” actually means “little tongues” in Italian.

I love linguine because it’s perfect for dishes with oil-based or pesto sauces.

I also think it pairs well with seafood, such as shrimp, scallops, and lobster.


Pastina

Pastina is a very small pasta type and is typically used in soups.

The word “pastina” means “little pasta,” and it’s even smaller than other small pasta on this list, like ditalini.

Pastina mixed with chicken broth, butter, and olive oil makes the perfect dish, but you can also throw in spinach or cherry tomatoes for depth.


Spaghetti

Spaghetti is one of, if not the, most popular pasta types.

It’s long, relatively thin, and perfect for various sauces and ingredients.

I appreciate being able to dig my fork in and twist it until I have a nice little bite, topped with the perfect amount of sauce.

I think spaghetti pairs well with just about any sauce, but you can’t go wrong with tomato sauce and meatballs.


Ziti

Ziti is a long, tubular pasta similar to penne but slightly thinner.

It’s one of my favorite kinds of pasta because it’s hearty and filling but not too heavy.

I love ziti with a classic red sauce, and baking it makes it even better.

The cheese on top gets all bubbly and brown, and the sauce seeps into the pasta for an extra flavorful dish.


Anelli

Anelli is a type of pasta that is shaped like small rings.

It has a similar outer shape to orecchiette but has a wide hole in the middle.

I like to use anelli in soup because the shape allows the broth to seep in and flavor the pasta.

I also think it’s fabulous a red wine sauce and fun to pick up with a fork by poking the prongs into the holes.


Conchiglie

Conchiglie is a type of pasta shaped like seashells.

They are one of my favorite shapes because they are sturdy and have light ridges on the outside that help hold the sauce.

I think conchiglie pairs well with a chunky meat sauce or a creamy sauce with vegetables.

They can also be used in a cold pasta salad, and I’ve even had them baked with cheese before — delicious!


Gnocchi

Gnocchi is small, soft dumpling noodles that people traditionally make from potatoes.

You can make them from other ingredients, but the Italian potato variety has the best, most appealing consistency, in my opinion.

Given the softness of the pasta, I like pairing it with a creamy, soft sauce like a four cheese sauce.


Macaroni

Macaroni is a small, tubular pasta typically used in macaroni and cheese. It’s short and has ridges on the outside that help hold the sauce.

Macaroni and cheese is a popular dish worldwide, and I think macaroni pairs well with just about any cheese sauce.

But my favorite is a three-cheese blend that includes shard cheddar, melty pepper jack, and creamy gouda.

No matter what you do, try making your cheese blend from real cheese instead of the box!


Mafaldine

Mafaldine is an interesting pasta variety that looks like narrow, long pieces of lasagne.

It’s a delectable option for dishes with meat or vegetables because the pasta can hold a lot of sauce.

I like to use mafaldine with dishes that have Italian sausage, eggplant, roasted peppers, shrimp, and other highly flavorful ingredients.


Manicotti

Manicotti is a kind of pasta that is tubular and very large.

It’s typically used in baked dishes that look similar to lasagna and have lots of red sauce.

When you stuff soft cheese, like ricotta, in them, bake them, and then drizzle a red sauce on top, it almost looks like an Italian enchilada!


Paccheri

Paccheri is another large tubular pasta, similar to manicotti but more bite-sized.

It’s so tasty with creamy sauces, and it’s crucial to have some chunky vegetables like mushrooms and sausage because you can fold these ingredients into the gaping hole.


Pici

Pici is a long, spaghetti-like pasta that is originally from Tuscany.

It’s traditionally handmade by rolling pieces of dough into long strands that are relatively thin but fatter than spaghetti.

I think this pasta is best with a light sauce like a garlic and olive oil blend or a tomato sauce, and its lovely texture does not call for heavy or chunky ingredients, in my opinion.


Rotelle

Rotelle is a type of pasta that is shaped like wheels.

They’re similar to other kinds of pasta, like fusilli and rotini, in their uniqueness.

I prefer rotelle in light sauces with similar-sized veggie ingredients like broccoli, red peppers, and cucumbers.


Rotini

Rotini is pasta that is shaped like little spirals.

It’s similar in shape to fusilli, but the spirals are tighter.

Rotini is best with a light sauce and small ingredients because the pasta can get lost in heavier sauces.

Smaller veggies like peas and cherry tomatoes pair well with this pasta.


Shells

Shells are the interchangeable name for conchiglie, mentioned earlier in this article.

Some brands will simply call them “pasta shells” because the term is more easily understood and recognized.


Tagliatelle

Last but far from least is tagliatelle, which is long and flat, similar to fettuccine but a bit wider.

Like fettuccine, it’s a perfect canvas for creamy sauces, but I also love it with a chunky meat sauce or even a simple tomato sauce. You can’t go wrong with this versatile pasta.


Pasta Shapes & Types

  1. Bucatini
  2. Farfalle
  3. Fettuccine
  4. Orecchiette
  5. Orzo
  6. Pappardelle
  7. Penne
  8. Ravioli
  9. Rigatoni
  10. Tortellini
  11. Campanelle
  12. Capellini
  13. Cavatappi
  14. Ditalini
  15. Fusilli
  16. Gemelli
  17. Lasagne
  18. Linguine
  19. Pastina
  20. Spaghetti
  21. Ziti
  22. Anelli
  23. Conchiglie
  24. Gnocchi
  25. Macaroni
  26. Mafaldine
  27. Manicotti
  28. Paccheri
  29. Pici
  30. Rotelle
  31. Rotini
  32. Shells
  33. Tagliatelle

Final Thoughts

Different pasta shapes and types play well with different sauces and ingredients.

Some are great for holding a lot of sauce, while others are better with light, delicate sauces.

Now that you know more about pasta shapes, which one do you like the best, and which pasta types do you think you’ll try next?

Check out some popular Italian dishes, many featuring pasta from our list!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.