29 Pasta Shapes and Their Uses
Picture this: You stop at the grocery store to pick up a box of pasta for a quick dinner, and when you enter the aisle, you’re bombarded by an onslaught of pasta shapes.
Do you go with a classic option like spaghetti? Should you venture into something more unique? Which pasta shape goes best with which sauce?
Today, we’ll demystify the pasta aisle, at least a little bit. I’ll tell you about 29 popular types of pasta and how each shape can be best highlighted with different ingredients.
Pasta’s beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, so this list is going to be in alphabetical order not to show any favoritism (but if you must know, conchiglie – or shells, as we regular folks call them – will always be my favorite pasta shape!)
At first glance, bucatini looks exactly like your typical spaghetti. But the difference here is on the inside.
Here’s a hint: “bucatini” means “little holes” in Italian.
Basically, bucatini is spaghetti with a small hole through the center.
This hole allows whatever sauce you’re using to burrow itself into it.
More sauce with each bite equals more flavor, making bucatini a popular pasta option for anyone looking to increase their sauce-per-bite amount.
Just like spaghetti, it can be served with pretty much any sauce.
One of the most popular sauces to pair with bucatini is the slightly spicy Amatriciana sauce, made with tomato, guanciale (pork jowl), and various spices.
Campanelle is a distinct pasta shape that is reminiscent of a flower petal.
The whimsical, fun shape of campanelle makes it a favorite for those who appreciate an aesthetically pleasing pasta dish.
Its smooth texture pairs perfectly with rich, creamy sauces like a bechamel or a cheese-base sauce.
3. Capellini (Angel Hair)
Capellini, also known to many as angel hair pasta, is a thin, delicate kind of pasta.
Each strand is long and incredibly thin, resulting in its hair-like appearance.
Capellini also cooks very quickly, thanks to its shape.
It’s best served with a light sauce not to break the strands apart and lose the pasta’s iconic shape.
I love a simple mix of garlic, lemon, and olive oil when I cook capellini.
Cavatappi is a hollow, corkscrew-shaped pasta.
The outside of each piece of cavatappi has ridges, making it a texture lover’s dream.
The nooks and crannies make it ideal for catching all the sauce and giving you a flavorful bite every time.
Sauces containing veggies or chunks of meat are popular for pairing with cavatappi.
5. Conchiglie (Shells)
Conchiglie, also known as shell pasta, is named after its shell-like shape.
Most shells have ridges on the outside and are smooth inside.
They have a concave shape and fold over on themselves.
This shape is ideal for keeping all the good stuff in your pasta so that you don’t have to fish around on your plate for it.
Shells are my favorite pasta shape, so I think they go great with everything, from mac and cheese to a spicy vodka sauce.
The size of shells can vary from tiny to quite large.
Larger conchiglie is often stuffed with cheese and meat to create stuffed shells, while smaller conchiglie lends itself well to a soup or cheese-base sauce.
Ditali is one of the smallest pasta shapes on our list.
They’re tiny little tubes with straight, smooth edges and no ridges in sight.
They’re short and stubby, making for a delicious texture in whatever they’re added to.
Ditali is commonly used in comforting soups and is often served with chicken and veggies.
7. Farfalle (Bowtie)
Farfalle pasta, or bowtie pasta, is shaped like a bow or a butterfly.
The middle is pinched in, and the outer edges are zigzagged.
The ridges and pockets on the farfalle make it ideal for picking up and holding onto creamy sauces like Alfredo.
It’s also great with tomato-based sauces.
I’ve used farfalle in many pasta salads, and its shape holds up well, even as next-day leftovers.
Fettuccine is a long, flat pasta shape wider than a bucatini or spaghetti but not quite as wide as tagliatelle.
Fettuccine is also fairly thick, so it’s well-suited for heavier sauces like a Bolognese.
Most famously, it’s served with an Alfredo sauce made with butter, parmesan, and black pepper.
The sauce coats each strand of pasta easily, making for a satisfyingly smooth eating experience.
Fusilli is a tough little shape because it’s often mixed up with the more well-known shape rotini.
Though they look almost identical at first glance (some manufacturers even label one as the other), the main difference lies in their spirals.
Fusilli has larger spirals, with each spiral being further apart than with rotini.
This makes it ideal for chunky sauces containing bits of meat or veggies because the spirals are just the right size to capture all that goodness.
Fusilli is also a great option for pasta salad since the dressing will easily adhere to its corkscrew shape.
Gemelli is a pasta made of two strands of dough twisted into one, similar to a rope.
The word itself means “twins” in Italian, and even though these strands look separate, they are actually cut from one long pasta strand that’s been folded and cut.
Gemelli can be used in place of other short pasta shapes.
For example, you can use it instead of penne to create a gemelli alla vodka.
Or you can coat it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper to enjoy its unique texture without distraction.
Gnocchi is one of the more unique pasta shapes on our list.
It might look unassuming from the outside, but it holds one of the loveliest textures imaginable.
The dough is typically made from potatoes, flour, and sometimes eggs.
Gnocchi shapes can vary slightly, but they are most commonly a small, dumpling-like shape.
The texture is super soft, pillowy, and doughy.
Gnocchi goes well with any sauce it’s paired with, from a creamy gorgonzola to a simple tomato sauce.
Next up is a pasta shape that we all know and love.
Here’s an interesting fact: the pasta sheet itself is called lasagne, while the pasta dish is called lasagna.
Either way, lasagne is one of the most popular pasta shapes because of its ability to stack ingredients on top of each layer.
Of course, the iconic lasagna is the most popular dish to make with sheets of lasagne.
Linguine is a pasta shape that’s essentially flattened spaghetti.
It comes in long strands and is less wide and flat than fettuccine.
Linguine is known for being served with creamy sauces, either on its own or with an accompaniment of seafood.
Linguine with clam sauce is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time, but mussels and shrimp also pair beautifully with this long, simple pasta shape.
14. Macaroni (Elbow)
Ah, macaroni. One of the most beloved and revered pasta shapes out there.
Commonly referred to as “elbows’,” macaroni is a small pasta in the shape of a tube with a slight curve to it – not quite the shape of a “C,” but close.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that macaroni is most commonly served with cheese.
It also pairs well with creamy sauces, which can infiltrate the dish through the holes in the macaroni.
Mafaldine is a flat, long pasta with ruffled edges. It’s so flat and wide that it resembles a mini lasagne noodle.
It’s a particularly popular option for pairing with a ragu, as the width of the pasta allows for plenty of room for meat and spices to cling onto.
Manicotti is made when pasta dough is formed into large, hollow tubes.
To me, it looks like a giant piece of penne.
Each pasta tube is stuffed with fillings like cheese, veggies, and meat and then baked in the oven with a sauce.
Some recipes don’t even require the manicotti to boil.
The pasta can be baked in the oven as the sauce does the cooking, making it one of the most hands-off pasta shapes out there.
Commonly, manicotti is used to make dishes similar to lasagna, with the tubes filled with ricotta and meat and tomato sauce covering the outside.
Orecchiette translates to “little ears” in Italian, and that’s exactly what this pasta is shaped like.
The ear-like indent in the orecchiette makes it ideal for holding bits of meat, veggies, and sauce.
It’s often served with crispy pancetta, peas, and a creamy sauce.
The concave area of the orecchiette is just the right size to hold a piece of pancetta or a pea.
Orzo is often mistaken for a type of rice, and I can see why.
The shape and size are identical to that of a grain of rice, but the dough itself is pasta dough (made with durum wheat semolina, to be exact).
Because of its tiny size, orzo is a great addition to salads and soups.
Chicken orzo soup and minestrone with orzo are two of my personal favorites.
Besides lasagne, pappardelle is the widest pasta shape on our list.
It’s shaped like a ribbon and traditionally contains egg in the dough.
According to Pasta Evangelists, pappardelle’s large surface area and rough texture make it an ideal partner for ragus.
Since the strands are so hefty and often paired with rich ragus, pappardelle is usually enjoyed in the winter.
Penne is yet another tube-shaped pasta, and it’s one of the most beloved type of pastas.
The word penne translates to “pen” in Italian since the shape of penne is reminiscent of a quill pen because of its slated, tipped edges.
There are two different types of penne: rigate and lisce.
Lisce is far less popular, and it refers to penne that has a smooth outer shape.
Penne rigate is most likely the pasta shape you associate with penne, as it has ridges around the outside.
One of the most well-known pasta dishes of all time is penne alla vodka.
Penne is also known to be a great shape for baked pasta dishes.
Pici is a hand-rolled, long pasta that’s similar to fat spaghetti. It’s typically made with a simple mixture of flour and water.
Since these are hand-rolled, pici usually has a rustic vibe to it.
Each piece will vary slightly in length and width, which I think adds to its charm.
Pici goes well with robust sauces like ragu or a zesty tomato sauce and is a great option if you want a pasta shape that absorbs the sauce’s flavor.
Radiatori is a short, small pasta shape somewhat similar to rotini and fusilli.
According to Pasta Project, it’s one of the newest pasta shapes to hit the market.
While most pastas are hundreds of years old, radiatori only came out in the 1960s.
Radiatori gets its name because of its likeness to a car radiator.
It’s curved and covered in ruffles, so it’s the perfect vessel to hold your sauce and the ideal pasta type for texture lovers.
Raviolis are square or circular pockets of dough that are filled with meat, cheese, and various other ingredients.
Usually, the filling is the main event here, rather than the pasta pocket itself.
Ricotta is one of the most popular (and my personal favorite) stuffings for ravioli.
The raviolis are then covered in a sauce that complements its filling, such as a marinara or cream sauce.
Rigatoni is a short and cylindrical pasta shape.
It has ridges around the outside – vertical or diagonal, depending on the brand.
These pasta tubes have a completely hollowed-out center, making them the ideal shape for a chunky sauce with lots of meat or veggies.
It’s also very popular for baked dishes since its outer texture and overall shape keep it from getting mushy after being boiled and cooked.
Its official name is rotelle, but it will always be wagon wheel pasta to me!
Rotelle is a fun, circular pasta shape with “spokes” of dough around its inside circle.
Unsurprisingly, its name comes from the Italian word for “small wheel.”
This shape of pasta holds up in any environment you throw it into, whether it’s a hot soup, chunky tomato sauce, or rich, creamy sauce.
Just like with radiatori, the texture is the star of the show here.
Rotini is a tightly wound, corkscrew-shaped pasta.
Its shape resembles fusilli, but rotini’s ridges are much closer together.
This is my favorite pasta shape for chicken noodle soup, but it’s also great with pretty much any pasta sauce you can dream of.
Its close-knit ridges make rotini ideal for capturing whichever sauce you choose to pair it with.
I think it’s safe to say that spaghetti is the most well-known pasta shape of them all.
If not, it’s absolutely in the top three.
Spaghetti is a long, rounded, and thin pasta shape.
Lengths vary, but usually somewhere between 10 and 12 inches per strand.
We all know that spaghetti goes exceptionally well with marinara sauce and meatballs, but it’s also delicious when tossed in a simple mix of garlic and olive oil.
Just like ravioli, tortellini is a pasta shape filled with various ingredients, from cheese to meat to veggies.
The pasta itself is ring or croissant shaped and is folded at the ends to prevent any fillings from escaping.
Tortellini is typically filled with ricotta, ground pork, and other classic Italian flavors.
As with ravioli, it usually has a sauce to accompany whatever fillings it holds inside.
Ziti is a tube-shaped pasta similar to penne, but its edges are straight instead of diagonal with a point.
It’s also short and wide, which differentiates it from penne.
The hollow area is ideal for picking up thick sauces and chunks of meat or veggies.
Baked ziti is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time, so I can confirm that it holds its shape perfectly when baked and covered with meat, cheese, and sauce!
Well, folks, there you have it – the most popular types of pasta.
Believe it or not, there are dozens more pasta shapes that I didn’t even touch on in this article.
Who knew that water and flour could create so many possibilities?
No matter your preference, you can rest easy knowing there’s a perfect pasta shape for any dish you decide to prepare.
The pastabilities are truly endless! (Sorry, I had to.)