20 Classic Pasta Shapes Your Family Will Love
Happiness is… PASTA
There is so much comfort in quality time with a loved one, a warm heat source, a super soft blanket, and a bowl full of my favorite pasta. Even typing that sentence puts me in a full-belly-of-happiness trance. You can never go wrong with pasta. Whether you dress it up or dress it down, pasta always has the ability to taste exactly the way you want it to and be a crowd pleaser for any type of gathering. Best yet, I have yet to meet a kid that did not love pasta. Pasta is truly a kid and family-friendly fave dish!
History of Noodles
In the year 2005, archaeologists uncovered a bowl with the fossilized remnants of noodles that were dated to be over 4000 years old. It is thought that these ancient noodles were remarkably like the popular hand pulled lamian Chinese noodles. Those are some ancient noodles!
Noodles were introduced to Italy where they were whole-heartedly embraced with open arms. The Italians took creating types of noodles in a different direction than the traditional rice flour method popular in China. The Italian countryside had the perfect climate to grow wheat, the main ingredient in pasta (along with water and sometimes eggs).
Pasta dough that is made with wheat flour, also known as semolina, contains a high amount of gluten. This high containment of gluten allows the pasta to be stretched and formed into different shapes. That’s why we have so many pasta shapes and forms.
Pasta is now a staple in Italian food, and may I just propose that it is also a staple in American cuisine? Pasta dishes are most definitely a staple here in my household!
20 Different Types of Pasta Shapes
Did you know that there are over 350 different types of dried and fresh pasta? Who even knew that so many shapes and sizes existed? However, it is not so hard to understand when you realize that in Italy, the names of different types of pasta are different in the different regions of the country. For example, cavatelli (that small pasta that closely resembles hot dog buns), is referred to in over 25 different names depending on which region of Italy you are in. The most common shapes of pasta found in America include long and short shapes, hollow tubes, flat shapes and sheets, small pasta shapes made especially for soups, and shapes made large enough to be stuffed. With all those various pasta-tastic options, we narrowed it down to our favorite pasta shapes for feeding our families.
Lasagna was the first pasta type to be created! Created in Naples, Italy Lasagna is a classic layered Italian dish made with the flat lasagna noodles, sauce, meat, and several types of cheeses (such as ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan).
We here in my household have what my kids call “Dad’s famous spa-get” at least once a week. My husband does not do anything special to the dish, other than cook it himself. Perhaps it is the rare occasion that they see him working in the kitchen that could label is recipe as “famous”? Spaghetti is loosely translated from Italian as “thin string.” My kids prefer their spaghetti with light meat sauce and heavy on the parmesan sprinkles.
Penne noodles are short, wide, and ribbed and can hold onto thick sauces and vegetables in the dish. I love to serve them with a thick tomato sauce.
Penne noodles and ziti noodles are super similar to each other. However, ziti is only slightly slimmer than their penne cousin and they typically do not have ribbing. I like making a classic baked ziti for special occasions.
This type of noodle may be the most recognizable to families. Who doesn’t love macaroni and cheese? Elbow noodles are small and crooked like an elbow. They are best served in a creamy and cheesy homemade macaroni and cheese recipe.
Angel hair is the dainty version of spaghetti. These noodles are super thin and best served with light oil based sauces and shellfish.
I made a sausage and fennel rigatoni a few weeks ago that nearly knocked my socks off. Rigatoni noodles are thick, wide, short, and ribbed noodles that can be mixed with great thick sauces and baked.
If angel hair pasta is spaghetti’s cousin, then linguini is spaghettis sibling. Instead of tube like noodles like spaghetti and angel hair, linguini is flat. Linguini is divine served with a creamy alfredo sauce.
Rotini noodles are short medium-sized corkscrew shaped. When my kids were toddlers, I served rotini with light butter for practice self feeding. Tri-colored rotini is also very pretty in pasta salads.
Cavatappi noodles are my new favorite. They are thick, ribbed curly noodles that are so fun to eat. I love getting super creative in the kitchen and throwing in new ingredients tossed with cavatappi pasta to create a new dish every time.
These circular shaped noodles look very similar to wagon wheels. The word rotelle is loosely translated from Italian as “little wheels.” Just like rotini noodles, I love serving rotelle noodles with a bit of butter to self-feeding kiddos.
Ravioli are little pockets of pasta heaven. Typically, square shaped and filled with cheeses, they can also be found in all sorts of shapes and filled with all sorts of ingredients.
Just as the name would suggest, jumbo shells are giant pasta shells that can be filled with a delicious dollop of ricotta and mozzarella and topped with a generous serving of marinara sauce.
Farfalle (also known as bow tie)
Farfalle noodles resemble tiny bow ties and are perfect in pasta salads.
Originating in Greece, orzo noodles, also known as risoni, is a small noodle that is shaped like a large grain of rice. Orzo is perfect for soup pasta dishes and well as mixed with rice pilaf recipes for texture variety.
Somewhat similar to ravioli, tortellini noodles are ring-shaped noodles that are typically stuffed with meats and cheeses.
Fusilli noodles are traditionally formed by pressing or rolling thin strips of pasta over a rod to create a twisted corkscrew shape. Fusilli noodles work well with any type of sauce from oil based all the way to thick and chunky sauces.
If ravioli and tortellini are little pocked full of noodle heaven, then gnocchi are little pillow-fulls of noodle heaven. Gnocchi are a varied family of dumpling in Italian cuisine and are made with flour, egg, cheese, potato and breadcrumbs.
Whereas gnocchi are made with potatoes & cheese, cavatelli have a firmer texture and are made with no eggs. Cavatelli resemble little hot dog buns and are best served with garlic-based light sauces and tossed with your favorite vegetables.
Manicotti noodles are totally tubular (pun intended). Literally meaning “little sleeve,” manicotti pasta are large tubes of noodles that are traditionally stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, ground meats and spinach and topped with marinara sauce.
There are plenty more pasta shapes like bucatini, papparelle, and tagliatelle that can be made by hand or purchased fresh or dry. Pro-tip: While cooking your pasta, make sure your water is salty like the sea and before straining, set some pasta water aside for your sauce. Do not rinse! Enjoy your bowl of pasta with whatever kind of sauce you desire.