Pasta comes in an astonishing variety of shapes, some of which are common throughout Italy, and some of which are limited to a particular region, or even town. There are also specialty shapes produced by individual pasta makers.
Taken as a whole, pasta can be divided into pasta di semola di grano duro, made from durum wheat flour, water, and a little salt, and pasta all'uovo, which is made from eggs, flour, and salt.
Commercial pasta all'uovo is generally made with durum wheat flour, which gives it a firmer texture and means it won't go soft if it's overcooked slightly (all pasta will become flabby if seriously overcooked). Homemade pasta is, on the other hand, generally made with cake flour, which has less gluten. Therefore, the cooking time of home made pasta all'uovo is more critical; if you leave it in the water too long it will become flabby.
Commercially made pasta can be divided into several basic kinds:
Sheet Pasta: Used primarily in making baked dishes. Often but not always all'uovo, with eggs.
- Cannelloni, also known as manicotti, and a pepper-and-ricotta filling.
- Lasagna: Square or rectangular sheets of pasta, which are cooked, interlayered with other ingredients and baked. There are many many variations.
Strips: Fettuccine, Linguini, tagliatelle, and so on. The broader strips are generally used for thick-to-chunky sauces, whereas the thinner strips are also used for creamier, though never really liquid sauces.
Most of these pastas are made with egg and will say all'uovo on the package.
- Pappardelle Broad strips, and a chunky tomato-mackerel sauce for them.
- Reginette Wavy-edged half-inch wide strips of pasta named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, which work quite well with rich sauces, and a pheasant breast sauce, that can also be made with duck or Guinea hen.
- Tagliatelle Quarter-inch strips of pasta, and a tomato and chicken breast sauce.
- Tagliatelline or Fettuccine Fine (1/8 of an inch) strips and a smoked salmon sauce for them.
- Tagliolini All'Uovo The finest of strips, and a creamy mascarpone sauce for them.
Extruded Pasta: Pasta that's forced through a die, then cut to the proper length and dried. It's almost always made from durum wheat, water, and salt (no egg), and the better quality pasta makers extrude their dough through bronze dies, which require more pressure but leave microstriations that capture the sauce when the pasta is seasoned. Cheaper pasta is made with Teflon or other non-stick surfaced dies and is smoother.
The better artisanal pasta is also dried more slowly, over a period of several days, and this makes it more flavorful. Commercial pasta makers instead usually dry at higher temperatures (70-80 C, 140-160 F), and this drives out some of the flavors.
Extruded pasta can be:
Long strands of the spaghetti family, which are commonly used with liquid to moderately thick sauces.
- Bavette: Thin flattened strands, rather like tagliatelle.
- Bucatini: Thick hollow strands, with a sausage-and-eggplant sauce.
- Capellini: Fine strands, with a parsley cream sauce.
- Spaghetti: Likely the best-known pasta shape, with a tomato-and-anchovy sauce.
- Spaghettini: Spaghetti's slightly finer cousin, with a tasty shrimp-and-clam sauce.
Cylinders of various sizes, for example, penne, rigatoni, or sedanini. The thickness of the sauce depends upon the diameter of the pasta. Some of these are also baked, while others are used in soups rather than with a sauce.
- Gomiti Rigati Elbow macaroni, which works nicely with chunky sauces, and captures the liquid of the sauce in the hollows. Also a pea sauce for them.
- Mezze Maniche Stubby, fairly broad tubes that work quite well with chunky sauces, and an artichoke sauce.
- Penne Lisce Smooth sided penne, which works well with creamy sauces, and a mock carbonara sauce, enriched by cream and a shallot.
- Penne Rigate The standby again, with a tasty, rich smoked salmon sauce.
- Pipe Rigate Elbow-penne.
- Pipette Rigate Elbow-penne, and a scampi sauce.
- Riccioli Amalfitani Riccioli is sedani with a twist (the word means curls), and a rich, chunky eggplant and mozzarella sauce.
- Rigatoni And a tasty, creamy tomato-and-sausage sauce.
- Sedani RigatiCelery stalks, and a chicken-and-prune sauce to go with them.
- Sedanini Rigati Small celery stalks, and a brandy and turkey breast sauce that will work nicely on special occasions.
- Tortiglioni A little larger than penne, with a tasty artichoke sauce.
And Then There Are Specialty Shapes: Farfalle, orsacchiotti, and so on. Some of these are recent innovations, whereas others are traditional.
- Casarecce Casarecce is simple, partially rolled (around the long axis) pappardelle, and will work quite well with chunky sauces, e.g eggplant, and swordfish sauce.
- Farfalle Butterflies or bow ties, and a bell-pepper-and-arugula sauce for them.
- Fusilli Corkscrews, with a zucchini sauce.
- Fusilli Bucati Corkscrews with holes running down the middles of the strands, and an interesting artichoke sauce to go with them.
- Fusilli Stretti Tightly wound corkscrews and a clam-and-leek sauce for them.
- Lumaconi Snail shells and a ricotta-and-ham filling.
- Orsetti Teddy Bear shaped pasta (for kids) and a chicken-and-zucchini sauce for them.
Blebs, stars, and bits: Kinds of durum wheat pasta generally used in soups.
- Ditaloni Neapolitan "thimbles" for soup, and a zucchini-and-eggplant soup to go with them.
- Farfalline Bow ties, and a creamy tomato cheese soup.
- Grattugiata Bits of pasta, and a spring-like vegetable-and-potato soup.
- Midolline Bits of pasta that look like mellon seeds, and a radicchio-based soup to go with them.
- Stelline Tiny stars, and a creamy asparagus-and-mint soup.
Handmade Shapes: Things like orecchiette or pici.
- Orecchiette Little ears from Puglia, and an olive-and-tomato sauce.
Flavored Pastas: Here the flavoring is up to the imagination of the pasta maker.
- Five Colored Shells Several colors of shells, and a chunky sauce made with tomatoes, eggplant, and olives.
- Penne al Fungo Porcino Pasta made with porcini mushrooms is delightful with butter and grated cheese.
- Penne al Peperoncino Hot peppers are perhaps the most common flavoring for pasta, and here mesh with a zesty caper and anchovy sauce.
- Spirali algi Spinaci Pasta made with spinach works nicely with tomato sauce.
Had Enough Of Shapes? Then Try:
How to make the basic building block for ravioli, lasagna and lots of other things at home. Also,
suggestions for coloring (and flavoring) home-made pasta.
Cooking and Serving Pasta
It's easy, but there are some rules.