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While Italian cuisine involves many meats, cheeses, seafood, and vegetables, most of us associate Italian cuisine first and foremost with pasta. Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, and each shape helps trap the sauce, stand up to a casserole, or elevate a salad. Here are some of the shapes you’ll find in Italian dishes, as well as the kind of dishes where you might find them.
Acini di Pepe
Literally “peppercorn,” these tiny pasta beads are usually found in soups.
These small rings of pasta are usually found in soups or salads. Even smaller rings are called anellini.
Angel Hair / Capelli d’angelo
Angel Hair is long, thin noodles served with light sauces and vegetables, often coiled into a nest. In Italian, capellini literally translates to “thin hair.”
Bucatini are thick spaghetti-like noodles with a hole running through the center. In Italian, buco means “hole,” and bucato means “pierced.” You might also hear this pasta called perciatelli, from perciare, “to hollow.” These noodles are served with buttery sauces, cured meats, or salty fish like anchovies or sardines.
Literally “little bells,” this ruffled, cone shaped pasta is also known as gigli (Italian for “lilies”) and ricciolo. It works well in pasta salads or with chunky sauces.
This short pasta resembles a hot dog bun, and pairs well with thick and chunky sauces. Its name comes from the verb cavare, which means “to hollow,” and that hollowness is what makes this pasta so good at holding onto thicker sauces.
This tiny tube-like pasta, whose name means “little thimbles,” is generally used in soups.
Farfalle is commonly known as bow tie pasta, but its name actually means “butterflies.” Either way, this versatile shape works well with chunky sauces, as well as in soups and pasta salads.
If you’re craving a thick and hearty sauce but want noodles, fettucine is a good bet. Its name means “little slices,” and because of its width it stands up well to heavier sauces.
Fusilli is a short spring or corkscrew-shaped pasta that stands up well to heavy sauces. It’s also sturdy enough to bake in casseroles. Fusilli col buco / fusilli bucati lunghi has the same twisted shape, but is longer in length.
Gemelli, or “twins” in Italian, is a short pasta made of two rods twisted together into a spiral. It pairs well with a variety of sauces and preparations, hot or cold.
Lasagna / Lasagne
Lasagna, as it’s known in North America, or lasagne, as it’s called by English speakers elsewhere, is a wide sheet of pasta used to make layered casseroles. It often has fluted edges.
This long, flat spaghetti is called “little tongues” in Italian, and works with a variety of sauces.
Macaroni refers to a short, tubular dried pasta; when curved, it’s called elbow macaroni. It works well in baked dishes, soups, and pasta salads.
Manicotti is a pasta of Italian-American origin. This large tube pasta is usually ridged and most often stuffed with meats, cheeses, and/or veggies, then baked.
Named “little ears” for its round, inverted shape, this pasta goes well with thick and chunky sauces.
Though it looks like a grain, orzo is a type of pasta that takes its name from “barley” in Italian. Its small, rice-like shape works well in soups and salads.
With a width somewhere between lasagna and tagliatelle, this flat ribbon pasta works best with hearty, creamy sauces.
Penne, which means “quills” or “feathers” in Italian, is a tube pasta with ends cut on a diagonal. It is an ideal shape for pairing with chunky meat or vegetable sauces, and bakes well, too. Penne rigate is a ridged version of this shape, while penne mostaccioli is a thinner, also ridged version.
Pici is a thick, round, usually hand-rolled pasta that resembles fat spaghetti. These rustic noodles are often paired with game meat and hearty sauces.
These square or round pasta pillows can be filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables.
These large, grooved pasta tubes work well with a variety of sauces, especially those with large chunks.
Meaning “little wheels” in Italian, this cartwheel-shaped pasta is a modern invention. The hollow “spokes” of its wheeled shape pick up lots of sauce, whether creamy or chunky.
Spaghetti means “a length of cord” in Italian. This long noodle works well with a variety of sauces, and can even be used in Asian stir-fries. Spaghettini is a slightly thinner version of spaghetti, while spaghettoni can refer to spaghetti noodles that are either extra-long or extra-thick.
This flat, ribbon-shaped pasta is slightly thinner than fettucine, but thicker than linguine. Its name comes from the Italian verb tagliare, which means “to cut.”
This ring-shaped pasta, whose name means “little pies” in Italian, is stuffed with meat and/or cheese. It can be served with sauce or used in soups.
Named “little worms” in Italian, this pasta is a slightly thinner version of spaghetti.
This medium tubed pasta, whose name means “bridegrooms” in Italian, works well with chunky, hearty sauces or in casseroles and pasta salads.