Pasta is a staple food in Italian cuisine and has become a popular dish worldwide. But what is pasta, exactly?
At its most basic, pasta is made from flour and water or eggs, with many different shapes and varieties available.
In this comprehensive guide to pasta, we’ll explore the history of this beloved food and how it’s made, as well as covering the popular pasta shapes and names..
What is Pasta? The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Pasta
Pasta is a type of food made from dough that is typically flavoured with eggs, water, or both.
It is usually served with sauces, vegetables, and meats to create a complete meal.
Pasta has been enjoyed across the world for centuries, and its popularity has only increased over time.
It’s versatile, easy to make, and can be used in many different types of dishes – from simple spaghetti with tomato sauce to more complex lasagna or baked ziti.
Whether you’re cooking for one person or an entire family, pasta is a delicious and satisfying choice that’s sure to please everyone at the table.
Pasta kinds are divided into two broad categories. These would be dried (pasta secca) and fresh (pasta fresca).
- Fresh Pasta
Fresh pasta is traditionally produced by hand, sometimes with the aid of simple machines.
The fresh products available in grocery stores are produced commercially by large-scale machines.
This fresh food is usually made with a mixture of eggs and all-purpose flour or “00” low-gluten flour.
Since it contains eggs, it is more tender compared to dried pasta and only takes about half the time to cook.
Fresh egg pasta is generally cut into strands of various widths and thicknesses depending on which pasta is to be made (e.g. fettuccine, pappardelle, and lasagne).
It is often served simply with a butter sauce or other delicate sauces.
Once it is cooked, it does not grow in size.
- Dried Pasta
Dried pasta is usually produced in large amounts that require large machines in commercial premises.
The ingredients normally include semolina flour and water. Eggs can be added for flavour and richness, but are not needed to make dried pasta.
This form needs to be dried at a low temperature for several days to evaporate all the moisture.
The process gives it a longer shelf life.
Dried pastas are best served in hearty dishes like ragu sauces, soups, and casseroles.
Once it is cooked, the dried pasta will usually grow to twice its original size.
The fresh pasta must be refrigerated, but dry pasta will keep indefinitely if stored in an airtight container placed in a cool dry area.
Is Pasta Considered a Type of Noodle?
Yes, pasta is considered a type of noodle.
Noodles are made from unleavened dough consisting of wheat flour, water, and sometimes egg or rice flour.
Pasta is a specific type of noodle that is made with durum wheat flour and water (sometimes with egg added).
So while all pasta is technically a noodle, not all noodles are pasta.
History of pasta and where it comes from
There is no consensus regarding the exact origin of pasta, but most people believe that it was first created in ancient China over 4,000 years ago.
It is thought to have been introduced to Italy by Marco Polo in the late 13th century, and from there its popularity spread throughout Europe and beyond.
The word ‘pasta’ comes from the Italian phrase ‘paste’, which means dough or pastry.
Today, pasta is enjoyed in many countries and cultures around the world, with each region having its own unique way of preparing and serving this versatile food.
How pasta is made – traditional vs commercial methods
Pasta can be made using traditional or commercial methods.
Traditional pasta making involves using simple ingredients such as semolina flour and water to create a dough that is then rolled into sheets and cut into the desired shape.
Commercial pasta making, on the other hand, involves using industrial machinery to mix and extrude pasta dough through dies in different shapes and sizes.
Regardless of the method used, quality ingredients are important for good tasting pasta.
While homemade pasta may seem daunting, it can also be a fun activity that produces delicious results.
The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Shapes and Their Uses
Pasta comes in various shapes and sizes, and it’s not just for visual appeal – the shape affects how well it holds onto sauce and how it interacts with other ingredients in a dish.
With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to figure out which pasta shape would work best in your recipe.
This ultimate guide to pasta shapes and their uses will help you navigate through different types of pasta and make informed decisions when choosing the right one for your dish.
So, let’s dive into the world of pasta shapes!
Long Pasta Shapes
Long pasta shapes are perfect for dishes with thicker sauces as these sauces can cling to the noodles more easily.
There are several popular long pasta shapes, including spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, and tagliatelle.
Spaghetti is one of the most common long pasta shapes, and it works well with simple sauces like olive oil, garlic, and herbs.
Angel hair pasta is another popular option that is thin and delicate and goes well in soups or stews.
Linguine is a little thicker than spaghetti, making it more suitable for richer seafood-based sauces or creamy Alfredo sauce.
When cooking any long pasta shape, make sure to stir them frequently to avoid clumping together while boiling.
Type: Long, Strand.
Spaghetti is a long, thin, solid, cylindrical pasta shape that’s easily recognizable.
It is most commonly available in 25–30 cm (10–12 in) lengths.
A variety of dishes are based on spaghetti, such as spaghetti bolognese.
Meatballs with tomato sauce is another classic combination.
It is also frequently served with tomato sauce or meat or vegetables.
Type: Long, Tubular.
Bucatini is Italian for “hollow straws”.
It looks a lot like traditional spaghetti, however, it’s more round, and is a little thicker than normal spaghetti.
There’s a hole through the middle that gives each noodle a hollow centre, making it great for catching that little bit of extra sauce.
It is perfect when cooked in soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles.
Bucatini is often served with with pesto sauce, vegetables and parmesan or a pasta sauce like carbonara.
Type: Long, Ribbon.
Fettuccine literally means “little ribbons”.
Fettuccine is a long, flat, ribbon-like pasta that’s about 6.4 mm (0.25 inch) wide, it’s a thicker and more dense strip.
Because it’s a thicker pasta, fettuccine is good paired with heavier sauces, especially creamy Alfredo sauce.
It also works well with chunky meat sauces.
Type: Long, Ribbon.
Linguine is Italian for “little tongues”.
Linguine resembles fettuccine, but it’s not as wide. It is elliptical in shape, like flattened spaghetti and is about 4 mm (5⁄32 inch) in width.
The extra surface area means that it is perfect for pairing with lighter textures, like cream based sauces, like marinara or seafood.
Type: Long, Ribbon.
The word pappardelle comes from the Italian pappare, which means “to gobble up”.
Pappardelle comes in the form of long, broad ribbons similar to wide fettuccine. They can have either fluted edges or straight sides.
Pappardelle is perfect serving with rich, meaty ragù or bolognese sauces.
Type: Long, Ribbon.
The name Tagliatelle comes from the Italian word tagliare, meaning “to cut”.
They are long, flat ribbons that are similar in shape to fettuccine and are traditionally about 6 mm (1⁄4 in) wide, making it a little thicker to the bite.
Tagliatelle can be served with a variety of sauces, though the classic is a meat sauce or bolognese sauce.
It also pairs well with a cream or tomato sauce.
Type: Long Strand rice noodle.
Vermicelli is Italian literally meaning. ”little worms”.
Vermicelli noodles are skinny and is a traditional type of pasta, similar to spaghetti strands and has a diameter of less than 1.5 mm (0.06 inches).
There’s Italian and Asian vermicelli. The Italian one is made with semolina and the Asian one is a rice noodle made from rice flour.
The Asian rice noodle are often used in stir-fries such as Chop Suey, soups, spring rolls, and salads.
Short Pasta Types
Short pasta shapes are perfect for creamy and cheesy sauces as they can hold the sauce better.
Some common short pasta shapes include penne, fusilli, farfalle, macaroni, and rigatoni.
Penne is a popular choice that works well with chunky tomato-based sauces or cream-based sauces with vegetables or meats.
Fusilli has a spiral shape that helps to capture creamy or meaty sauces while farfalle’s shape resembles a butterfly and holds up well with heavy sauces or salads.
Macaroni is most commonly used in mac and cheese dishes, but it can also be used for pasta salad or soups.
Rigatoni has ridges and hollows that go well with thick meaty sauces like Bolognese sauce.
When cooking any short pasta shape, make sure not to overcook them since they tend to get mushy quickly.
Type: Short, Shaped.
Cavatelli is Italian literally meaning “little hollows”.
These small decorative shaped pasta shells are created from an eggless dough.
They are rolled into small shapes that resemble tiny hot dog buns.
Because of the shape it holds sauce well.
Both creamy sauces and thicker meat sauces pair well with this noodle.
Type: Short Tubular.
The name comes from Greek for “food made from barley”.
Macaroni is a hollow, tubular-shaped pasta that comes in different lengths and sizes, but is commonly cut short and can be either bent like an elbow, or straight.
This versatile pasta shape is used in a wide variety of dishes such as baked dishes like tuna casserole, salads and soups, the most popular being macaroni and cheese.
Type: Short Shaped.
The name comes from the Italian word farfalle (butterflies).
Farfalle come in several different sizes, but they all have a distinctive “bow tie” shape.
Farfalle is perfect for cream-based sauces, soups or in pasta salads.
Type: Short, Tubular.
Rigatoni are a form of tube-shaped pasta of varying lengths and diameters. They are a large, tube-shaped pasta with ridged edges.
These thick tubes are strong enough to take on heavier sauces like Bolognese, they are perfect for capturing both sauces and grated cheese.
Type: Short, Shaped.
Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian, which makes a lot of sense when you consider their shape.
These round, dome-like pasta shells are thinner in the centre than they are on the edges, which gives them a toothsome texture.
Pair orecchiette with any rich, creamy sauces.
It is typically served with a meat such as pork, capers and a crisp white wine.
Type: Short, Tubular.
Penne is an extruded type of pasta with cylinder-shaped pieces, their ends cut at an angle. They can be either smooth or grooved.
The shape of Penne makes it particularly good for sauces, such as pesto, marinara, or traditional (no cream) carbonara.
Filled Pasta Shapes
Filled pasta is a type of pasta that is stuffed with various types of fillings such as cheese, meat, or vegetable-based mixes.
They come in a variety of shapes such as ravioli, tortellini, and agnolotti.
The versatility of filled pasta makes it a popular choice for different dishes like soups, salads and entrees.
You can also try boiling them and adding some sauce or simply frying them for an appetizer.
With so many options available to you, filled pasta is a great addition to any cook’s repertoire.
The word tortellini comes from the Italian torta, “cake”.
Tortellini are ring-shaped pastas that are usually stuffed with a mixture of meat and cheese, they are about 25 x 20mm (1 inch x 0.8 inch) in size.
Tortellini are traditionally served in capon broth, which could explain why they make the perfect addition to a variety of soups.
The word ‘ravioli’ means “little turnips” in Italian dialect.
Ravioli are a type of pasta featuring a filling enveloped in thin, egg-based fresh pasta dough.
Raviolis can be square or circular and stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables.
Ravioli is usually served in broth or with a creamy sauce such as a Carbonara.
Sheet Pasta Shape
Sheet pasta is a type of pasta that is rolled out into large, flat sheets. It can be used in a variety of dishes, from classic lasagna to ravioli and even cannelloni.
The flat shape lends itself well to layering with other ingredients, making it a popular choice for baked pasta dishes.
Additionally, sheet pasta can also be cut into smaller pieces and used in soups or salads. Its versatility makes it a staple in many kitchens around the world.
Type: Sheet Pasta.
Lasagna is a of wide, flat, square or rectangle sheets of pasta that can have both flat or with curly edges.
The square of pasta is Lasagna while the dish you normally create from it is Lasagne.
Lasagna sheets are typically layered with sauce and cheese to form the popular casserole dish of the similar name “Lasagne”.
Dumpling Pasta Shape
And last but not least, there is only one type of pasta in this category and it is more a dumpling than a pasta.
Type: Dumpling Pasta.
The word gnocchi comes from the Italian word nocchio, meaning a knot in wood.
Gnocchi is an Italian pasta made of small lumps of dough.
Potato Gnocchi are various thick and small sizes, and are soft dough dumplings.
Gnocchi are made from a dough that uses potatoes or ricotta and flour and not really pasta at all.
Common accompaniments of gnocchi can include something simple such as melted butter with sage or pesto.
A cream base sauce or a traditional Carbonara are both great, because of the larger surface area of the dumpling there’s plenty for your sauce to stick to.
Pasta Cooking Time Chart
To cook your noodles to al dente you can always check the pasta package for the pasta cooking time.
Do not rely on the package to give you the correct cooking time as it is only a guideline.
If no estimated time is given, follow these rules-of-thumb in our pasta cooking time chart, but be careful to check the pasta often for doneness as it cooks.
Remember to start timing when the water returns to a boil after you have added your pasta.
|Pasta||Pasta Type||Cooking Time|
|Fresh pasta||Especially egg pasta (fettucine, tagliatelle, lasagna).||Cook for 3 to 5 minutes.|
|Thin||Dried durum wheat (eggless) pasta (spaghettini, shells, rotini).||Cook for 6 to 9 minutes.|
|Dried spaghetti||Is generally 8 to 9 minutes, depending on the brand and thickness.|
|Thick dried||durum wheat (eggless) pasta (penne, ziti, tortigioni, trofie).||12 to 15 minutes.|
- 100 grams pasta noodles
- 1 litre (4 cups) Water
- Fill a pot with 4 cups/1 litre of water per 100 grams serving of pasta, cover it, and set it to Boil over high heat.
- When the water comes to a boil, remove the cover and add 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt (a little less if it's fine-grained) per litre of water.
In terms of saltiness, it should resemble sea water.
This will season your pasta — and it's the only chance in your cooking process to do so.
- When the water comes back to a rolling boil, add the pasta and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon or tongs to separate the pieces.
- Stir the pasta occasionally as it cooks, this will keep the pieces from sticking to each other or to the pot.
- A minute before the estimated pasta cooking time is up, remove a piece of the pasta to check for doneness.
You want an al dente, or chewy "to the tooth" texture -- not soft, limp pasta.
Bite the pasta to check.
- Test again every 30 seconds or so, and as soon as the broken piece is a uniform, translucent yellow, drain the pasta.
- Toss the pasta in your sauce and serve.
Pasta Cooking Tips
Cooking perfect pasta is easy — here are 6 easy pasta cooking tips to get you there.
Get perfect, al dente pasta every time.
- Get lots of salted water boiling;
Make sure the pasta has enough room to move around while cooking. You need a big pot.
- DON’T put oil in your water or on your pasta;
Adding oil to the water, or to cooked pasta to keep it from sticking will cause your sauce to slip off the noodles.
You’ll also end up with greasy pasta, yuck.
- Add the pasta and stir;
You don't have to stir the whole time, just enough to keep it from sticking.
Tongs work well for this task.
- Slightly undercook the pasta;
Cook it until the noodles are still a tiny bit hard in the centre, just before al dente.
It's generally 2 minutes less than the packages' recommended cooking time.
You will have to taste the pasta as it is being cooked to know when it is al dente.
- Drain in a colander and shake just until dry;
Once the noodles are no longer slick with cooking water, return them to the pot you cooked them in.
- Keep cooking with the sauce;
Add whatever sauce you'd like to the pasta in the pot.
Cook them together over medium heat, tossing all the while, until the noodles are coated and have absorbed some of the sauce.
That extra cooking time will get them perfectly al dente too.
Gordon Ramsay cooking pasta al dente
Cooking pasta al dente with Gordon Ramsay's top tips on how to how to cook angel hair pasta.
These principles can be applied to cooking any pasta.
Recommended Celebrity Cookbooks
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Amount Per ServingCalories 158Total Fat 1gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 0mgSodium 582mgCarbohydrates 31gFibre 2gSugar 1gProtein 6g
"These values are automatically calculated and offered for guidance only. Their accuracy is not guaranteed."
Enjoying your pasta – popular Italian dishes and sauces to try
Recipes using pasta
Now that you’ve learned about what pasta is and where it comes from, let’s talk about some popular Italian dishes and sauces to try with your pasta.
Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic Italian dish loved by many for its hearty and savoury flavours.
The combination of tender, meaty ground beef in a rich tomato-based sauce served over al dente spaghetti noodles creates a perfectly balanced taste experience that is sure to satisfy any hunger cravings.
Give Spag Bol a try and discover why it’s such a beloved dish.
Another classic spghetti noodle dish is spaghetti carbonara, which originates from Rome and typically consists of spaghetti coated in a sauce made of eggs, cheese, black pepper, and pancetta or bacon.
If you’re a fan of pasta, cheese, and comfort food, then mac and cheese is a must-try.
It’s creamy, flavourful, and can be customised with various toppings or add-ins to suit your taste preferences.
Plus, it’s an easy and affordable meal to prepare at home.
Don’t knock it until you try it!
Another popular dish is lasagna, which is made by layering flat pasta sheets with various fillings such as minced/ground meat, vegetables, and cheese.
Pasta salad is a great dish to try for a number of reasons. First, it’s a versatile meal that can be customized with your favourite ingredients.
Additionally, it’s perfect for meals on-the-go as it can be eaten cold and stored easily.
Finally, pasta salad can be a healthier option when made with whole grain pasta and plenty of vegetables.
Whether you’re looking for a quick lunch or a simple side dish, give pasta salad a try!
As for sauces, marinara (made from tomatoes and herbs) and alfredo (a creamy sauce made with butter, cream, and parmesan cheese) are commonly used in Italian cuisine.
However, many other delicious sauces exist – so don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations of pasta shapes and sauces to find your personal favourite!