When trying to navigate the world of Italian pastas, it can seem like there are as many different types as there are regions of Italy. Luckily, pasta can be broken down into three distinct categories to help you wade through which exact pasta you are having at your local Italian place.
If you love twirling noodles around a fork, you’re a fan of long pastas. These types of pasta are often combined with thick, flavorful sauces.
Bigoli (bee-GO-lee) is a long, thick, tube-like pasta used in dishes like bigoli all’anatra and commonly paired with a duck ragu.
Bucatini, (boo-kuh-TEE-nee) also known as perciatelli (pair-cee-ah-TEHL-lee), is a long, thick, hollow, spaghetti-like pasta. It’s used in dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and bucatini carbonara.
Busiate (boo-see-AH-teh) is a long Sicilian pasta made by twisting a dough of durum semolina and water around a rod or skewer to create a spiral shape. Busiate is often found in dishes like busiate with Trapanese pesto.
Capellini (cah-peh-LEE-nee) is a long, extremely thin pasta that is often shaped into a nest. It’s used in dishes like aglio e olio, capellini pomodoro, and capellini primavera.
Pasta similar to capellini are barbine, which is slightly thicker, and capelli d’angelo (or angel hair pasta), which is very thin.
Colonne pompeii (coh-LOH-neh pohm-PEH) is an extra long spiral-shaped pasta used in dishes such as colonne pompeii alla vodka.
Canule (can-YUH-lee) is a long, thin corkscrew-like pasta that is often paired with sauce-based dishes.
Fettuccine (feh-tuh-CHEE-nee) is a long, flat, somewhat thick pasta. It’s paired with sauce and used in many Italian dishes, such as fettuccine al burro or creamy fettuccine Alfredo.
Trenette (treh-NET) is a long, flat, narrow pasta like fettuccine. It’s used in dishes like trenette al pesto, trenette al pesto luca, and trenette al pesto babish.
Linguine (lin-GWEE-nee) is a long, thin, circular pasta most commonly paired with seafood. Red sauces such as arrabbiata and marinara are often paired with linguine. This pasta is part of dishes such as linguine and clams, linguine piccata, and linguine carbonara.
Lasagne (lah-ZAHN-yay) is a long, flat, rectangular pasta with wavy edges. It’s used in baked dishes like lasagna, lasagna calabrese, and lasagna soup. A smaller lasagne is called a lasagnette and a larger lasagne is called a lasagnotte.
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Mafalda (mall-FALL-duh), or reginette (reh-jeh-NET) is a long, flat pasta cut into strips with wavy or ruffled edges. It’s used in dishes such as mafalda corta and mafalda bolognese.
Pappardelle (pap-par-DELL) is a long, flat pasta cut into wide strips and used in dishes like pappardelle alla bolognese and pappardelle alfredo.
Pici (PEE-cee) is a long, thick, hand-rolled pasta similar to spaghetti. Pici is used in dishes like pici all’aglione, pici toscani, and pici carbonara.
Spaghetti (spah-GEH-tee) is the long, thin, round pasta that is considered the most common type of pasta in the world.
Spaghetti is often paired with hearty sauces and is used in dishes like spaghetti carbonara. Smaller spaghetti is called spaghettini and larger spaghetti is called spaghettoni.
Pastas similar to spaghetti include chitarra, which has the same shape but is slightly less flat; stringozzi, which is slightly more rectangular and made by hand; bavette, which is flatter and more convex; and vermicelli, which can be a little thicker or a little thinner.
Sagne torte (SAHG-neh TOR-teh) is a long spiral-shaped pasta used in sagne e fagioli, sagne torte alla salentina, and sagne torte all leccese.
Tagliatelle (ta-lee-yuh-TEH-leh) or taglierini (ta-lee-eh-REE-nee) is a long, flat pasta that comes in small strips. It appears in dishes like tagliatelle al burro, tagliatelle alle vongole, and tagliatelle ragu or bolognese.
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Many smaller types of pasta go well with thick, rich sauces. Others are more ideal for lighter dishes, soups, salads, and baked dishes.
Pastina (pas-TEE-nah) is a very small, grain-like pasta found in multiple shapes and commonly used in soups and salads (such as Italian wedding soup and risotto).
Other names for pastina include acini de pepe and pastini.
Pasta similar to pastina is fregola, which has the same shape but is made with semolina dough and is used in dishes like fregola sarda and risotto. A very popular type of pastina is stelline or star-shaped pasta.
Anelli (ah-NELL-lee) is a small, thin, ring-like pasta used in popular dishes like Spaghetti-O’s and anelli siciliani. Smaller anelli is called anellini.
Campanelle (kam-puh-NELL) is a short, bell-shaped pasta with fluted, ruffled edges and a hollow center. They are often found with thick sauces and in dishes like campanelle pomodoro, campanelle alla vodka, and campanelle bolognese.
Casarecce (cah-sah-REY-che) is a short, tubed pasta with a groove down the middle used with thinner sauces and in dishes like casarecce alla bolognese. A pasta similar to casarecce is fricelli, which has the same shape but is a rolled tube.
Fileja (fee-LAY-yuh), or filei calabresi (FEE-lay cah-lah-BREY-see), is a short, spiral pasta with a hollow part in the middle. It’s used in dishes like fileja pasta alla silana and filei calabresi con sugo.
Capricci (cap-REE-chee) is a short, irregular, coral-like pasta typically used in dishes that are sauce heavy.
Cavatappi (kaa-vuh-TAH-pee) is a short, hollow, spiraled pasta with grooves along the surface. It’s often used in dishes like cavatappi primavera, cavatappi alfredo, and cavatappi bolognese.
Cavatelli (cah-vah-TELL-lee) is a short, hollow, shell-like pasta used in dishes like ricotta cavatelli, cavatelli and broccoli, and cavatelli ragù.
A pasta similar to cavatelli is strozzapreti, which is slightly longer and more twisted. It’s used in dishes like strozzapreti al limone.
Also known as shell pasta, conchiglie (con-KEEL-yay) is a short, small, shell-shaped pasta that pairs well with thick sauces.
It appears in dishes like conchiglie alla sarda, conchiglie ripiene al forno, and stuffed shells. A smaller conchiglie is called a conchigliette.
Ditalini (dee-tah-LEE-nee) is a short, small, tube-like pasta commonly used with pasta salad and in soups.
Farfalle (far-FALL-lay) is a short, bow tie-shaped pasta with ruffled edges.
It is commonly used in pasta salads and in dishes with light sauces like farfalle tartufate, farfalle with chicken and garlic, and farfalle alla vodka. Smaller farfalle is called farfalline.
Folgie d’ulivo (FOHL-ee deh-UHL-vee-oh) is a short, sometimes green, handmade pasta made to resemble leaves. It’s paired with creamy olive sauce, tomato and basil, and is found in dishes like foglie d’ulivo agli spinaci.
Fusilli (foo-SEE-lee) is a short, thick, corkscrew-like pasta paired with thick sauces and used in dishes like fusilli alla vodka and fusilli alla roma.
Another spiral-shaped type of pasta, rotini, has the same shape but a tighter corkscrew. Spiralini is also similar to fusilli, but it gains its corkscrew from being twisted around something.
Garganelli (gar-guh-NAY-lee) is a short, flat, square-shaped egg pasta that has been folded into a tube. It’s used in dishes such as garganelli alla norcina, garganelli alla vodka, and garganelli bolognese.
Gemelli (jay-MEL-lee) is a short pasta made up of two rounded strips twisted together, commonly paired with light sauces and best for pasta salads and casseroles.
Gnocchetti sardi (nyow-KET-tee SAR-dee), or malloreddus (mah-loh-REY-doos), is a short, small, clamshell-like pasta usually paired with meaty or cheesy sauces.
They can be found in dishes like gnocchetti sardi con salsiccia, gnocchetti sardi alla campidanese, and gnocchetti sardi alla sorrentina.
Gnocchi (NYOH-kee) is a dumpling-like pasta commonly made with potato. It has a groove down the middle on one side and small ridges on the other. Gnocchi is most commonly found in saucy dishes and in soups.
Maccheroni (mah-cheh-ROH-nee), also called macaroni (mah-ka-ROH-nee), is a short, small, slightly curved, tube-like pasta that is found in baked dishes, soups, and the American macaroni and cheese.
It also makes an appearance in dishes like maccheroni al ferretto and maccheroni alla norma.
Orecchiette (or-yeh-KET-teh) is a small, rounded, ear-shaped pasta often served with broccoli or broccoli rabe. It’s used in dishes like orecchiette with sausage and spinach, orecchiette arrabbiata, and orecchiette bolognese.
Orzo (OR-zoh) is a small rice-sized pasta. It’s popular in soups, salads, and casseroles, and used in dishes like minestrone and risotto.
Paccheri (pa-KER-ee) is a wide tube-like pasta often paired with garlic. It’s used in dishes like paccheri alla norma, paccheri al forno, and paccheri alla vodka.
A pasta similar to paccheri is calamarata, which is smaller and more ring-like, and often used in dishes like calamarata allo scoglio and calamarata ricetta.
Passatelli (pah-suh-TEH-lee) is a short, thin, egg pasta often cooked in chicken broth and used in dishes like passatelli alla norcina and passatelli in bordo.
Penne (PEN-neh) is a short, somewhat wide, angular tube-like pasta with grooves along the outside. Their shape allows them to be filled with vegetables, cheeses, or thick sauces.
Penne often appears in popular dishes such as penne alla vodka, penne pomodoro, and penne arrabbiata.
Pasta similar to penne are sedani, which resemble penne with the angular tips cut off; mezze penne, which is the same but shorter and more narrow; and mostaccioli which doesn’t have the outside ridges of penne.
Pizzoccheri (pee-zo-KER-ree) is a short, wide, thick pasta that come in small strips and is used in dishes like pizzoccheri di valtellina and pizzoccheri gratin.
Radiatori (rah-dee-ah-TOE-ree) is a short, small radiator-shaped pasta with wavy lines that is often paired with thick sauces, pesto, soups, salads, and casseroles.
Rigatoni (rig-ah-TOE-nee) is a short, large, tube-like pasta with ridges along the outside. It’s often paired with a meat sauce and is found in dishes like rigatoni carbonara, rigatoni alla vodka, and rigatoni arrabbiata.
Pasta similar to rigatoni is tortiglioni, which is a little smaller and has twisted grooves.
Testaroli (tess-tah-ROH-lee) is a flat, diamond-shaped pasta that is often paired with pesto.
Trofie (TROH-fee) is a short, thin, twisted, handmade pasta that is often served with pesto or basil. It can be found in dishes like trofie al pesto and trofie alla genovese.
Ziti (ZEE-tee) is a short, tubular pasta most common in baked dishes (such as baked ziti).
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Filled pastas are made to hold meats, vegetables, and cheese. The combination of the decadent fillings and variety of sauces makes these dishes explode with flavor.
Cannelloni (kan-uh-LOW-nee) is a large, thin, tube-like pasta filled with meats, cheeses, or vegetables. It’s used in dishes like cannelloni di carne, cannelloni florentine, and cannelloni al forno.
Pastas similar to cannelloni are manicotti, which has the same shape but is ridged on the outside, and caramelle, which is cannelloni with the ends twisted together.
Fagottini (fah-guh-TOE-nee) is a bag-shaped pasta wrapped around a filling and tied off at the top. It’s used in dishes like fagottini al porcini, fagottini alla pera, and fagottini de mare.
Ravioli (rah-vee-OH-lee) is a filled, square-shaped pasta with ruffled edges that are often stuffed with meats, cheese, vegetables, and other ingredients.
Ravioli can be found in a wide variety of dishes, most commonly paired with a thick sauce.
Pasta similar to ravioli are agnolotti, which is the same shape but made of one piece of dough folded and closed together; casoncelli, which uses the same method but is shaped like candy with no ruffles; mezzelune, which is a half moon shape instead of a square; and tortelli, which is slightly more flat and round than ravioli.
Tortellini (tore-tuh-LEE-nee) is a ring-shaped pasta often filled with meats or cheese. It’s used in a variety of soups and other dishes.
Pasta similar to tortellini are cappelletti, which is smaller and often stuffed with only meats, and tortelloni, which is much larger.