Pasta is one food we can’t get enough of. It comes in so many shapes and types that it keeps things interesting. Some pasta shapes are long, and others are short; some are stuffed, and others are hollow. While almost all pasta shapes and types can be used in a pinch for an easy weeknight dinner, some are better suited to different types of recipes. Thinner pastas work great with lighter ingredients like fresh tomatoes, while wider, thicker pastas are great with heartier sauces like classic fettuccine alfredo.
In the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, our food editors have developed thousands of pasta recipes. They range from healthy pasta recipes to cozy lasagna. Here are the common pasta shapes and types you should know — most paired with a recipe that highlights the best way to use it. Plus, we sprinkled in some fun facts about how some pasta shapes were created and got their names, thanks to insight from pasta company pasta Barilla.
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This long pasta shape is amongst the thinnest and works well when tossed in a thin sauce, oil or dressing. It also goes by capellini, which directly translates to “little hair,” and in this case means thin hair.
Get the recipe for Cool Chicken and Noodle Salad »
This long pasta is best known for its signature hollow shape — aka its bucowhich means hole in Italian — that you can slurp out of like a straw. It’s good for recipes that require twirling and minimal poking with a fork, like hearty sauces with meatballs.
Get the recipe for Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs »
Named for its resemblance to handbells, this shape captures small ingredients, like corn and peas, in the best way so you can get a full bite of your favorite recipe in every forkful.
Get the recipe for Brown Butter and Corn Pasta »
Cavatappi are like longer, more spiraled elbows. They’re relatively thick with ridges, which make them good for carrying sauces and toppings. They’re great for pasta salad dishes that are served warm or cold.
Get the recipe for Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Pasta »
These “little thimbles” are perfect for soup. They’re small enough to spoon up and big enough to match the size of larger cuts of veggies and beans.
Get the recipe for Classic Minestrone »
The name comes from the Italian word for butterflies. This shape is short and flat with little pockets that trap small amounts of sauce and bits of ingredients for added pops of flavor without being too overwhelming.
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These long, flat noodles are best layered in casserole dishes with sauce, cheese, ground meat or vegetables. Their ridges help hold different types of ingredients. No-boil varieties that are wide and flat are similar to the shape originally made by the Romans, according to Barilla; They make the lasagna-making process easier though the results don’t come out as saucy as we like.
Get the recipe for Lasagna with Meat Sauce »
These noodles are thin — but wider than spaghetti — and good for recipes that benefit from a little more substance. They take a little more effort to chew than thinner noodles, so they work well with bigger sauces.
Get the recipe for Shrimp and Zucchini Scampi »
These tiny stars are best in broth. When served on their own, they hold onto liquid and have an almost creamy consistency, especially when combined with butter. They’re typically a child’s introduction to the world of pasta in Italy, according to Barilla.
Get the recipe for Galaxy Noodle Soup »
We love how shells often nest inside each other when cooked — a little like orecchiette. They’re great tossed in sauce and baked or paired with ground meat. Barilla says that large shells are inspired by the shellfish near Naples and Genoa.
Get the recipe for Baked Pesto Shells and Greens »
A classic that needs little explanation. It’s long and thin like spaghythe Italian word for lengths of cord, according to Barilla, which also says it’s the most popular shape in Italy. It’s super versatile and best for twirling and eating with soft toppings that can easily be picked up with a fork.
Get the recipe for One-Pot Spaghetti »
Tagliatelle is wider than both linguine and fettuccine, but thinner than pappardelle. Its width allows for proper twirling and scooping up of larger-cut ingredients at the same time.
Get the recipe for Pasta Primavera »
Some may consider this stuffed pasta to be miniature ravioli, but it has a toothier bite thanks to its pinched ring shape. It can be used in soups, warm pasta dishes or cold pasta salads.
Get the recipe for Chilled Tortellini Romesco »
Ziti is similar to penne but without the ridges and angled edges. We find them to be softer than penne but still able to stand up to toppings. They’re traditionally served at weddings in Naples, according to Barilla – zita means bride.
Get the recipe for Easy Peasy Shrimp Ziti »
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