Pasta Guide

Ancient Rome was the birthplace of fresh pasta (pasta fresca), which was made by adding water to semolina-flour. This vital ingredient is made from durum wheat, a thriving crop in Italy’s temperate climate. Unlike the dried pasta found at your local grocery store today, fresh pasta was meant to be eaten immediately. The Arab invasions of Sicily in the 8th Century are thought to be the origins of dried pasta (pasta secca). At the time, Palermo was producing mass quantities of the new product. Some Arabic influence can still be found in select recipes, using ingredients such as raisins and cinnamon.

In the 1300’s, dried pasta became very popular for use on long nautical expeditions because of its shelf-life and nutrition. These voyages contributed to pasta’s worldwide appeal and led to advances in its form and technology. Back in Italy, pasta was slowly migrating north to Naples and reached its destination in the 17th Century. A few historical events boosted pasta to a national icon. It became a kitchen staple during the Risorgimento (Italian Unification) in the mid 1860’s. Italian political and military figure Giuseppe Garibaldi introduced the country to La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte I Mangiar bene, a cookbook written in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi that featured pasta. Tomato sauce was introduced to Italy in the 19th Century but was met with skepticism. The tomato, being a member of the nightshade family, was considered inedible in many regions; fortunately, those rumors were put to rest shortly thereafter. The last major event to influence pasta’s early history was the Italian Diaspora, a mass migration of Italians from their country in the time between the Unification and World War I. These times of hardship led Italians to take even more pride in refining the art of cooking.

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Types of Pasta

There are two major classifications: pasta fresca (fresh) and pasta secca (dried). From here, there are more than 600 unique types of pasta: sheets, strips, long strands, cylinders, unique shapes, flavors, and many other local varieties. There are more names for pasta than the mind can retain, yet all are made from the same basic ingredients — 100% durum wheat and water with a specific percentage of acidity and humidity under Italian law. Varying from the basics, light flavors and colors can be added to pasta with egg yolk, spinach, tomato paste, chocolate, and even squid ink. The individual shape and texture given to pasta can be somewhat of a code in determining the proper sauce. A simple rule of thumb would be as follows: thick pasta = thick sauce, light pasta = light sauce.

Pasta fresca, the starting point of all pastas, is created with higher humidity, and some types only exist in this category. Variations can often be regional. Northern Italy is known to use all-purpose flour and eggs, while southern Italy uses the standard semolina and water mixture. Other ingredients vary, from potatoes to ricotta.

Special tools are used when making dried pasta. First, the pasta is forced through holes in a die-plate and onto sheets for cutting. The next step is drying. Pasta secca is only considered real pasta if it is made in the proper Italian way, slow-drying it for upwards of fifty hours in a copper mold, and then in the open air. The rest of the world usually dries pasta in steel molds at extremely high temperatures for short periods of time, resulting in an inferior product.

Shapes of Pasta

The following table maps out the various shapes and forms of pasta:

Unique Shapes

CampanelleFlattened bell-shaped pasta with a frilly edge on one endLittle bells
CapuntiShort convex ovals resembling an open empty pea pod 
CasarecceShort lengths rolled into an S shapeFrom casereccio meaning homemade
CavatelliShort, solid lengthsFrom the verb cavare meaning to hollow
CencioniPetal shaped, slightly curved with rough convex sideLittle rags
ConchiglieSeashell shapedShells
ConchiglioniLarge, stuffable seashell-shapedLarge shells
CorzettiFlat figure-eight stamped 
Creste di GalliShort, curved and ruffledCocks’ combs
CroxettiFlat coin-shaped discs stamped with coats of armsLittle crosses
FantolioniPanda-shaped bow-ties commonly served with boiled olivesPre-packaged pandas
FarfalleBow tie or butterfly shapedButterflies
FarfalloneLarger bowtiesLarge butterfly
FiorentineGrooved cut tubesFlorentine
FioriShaped like a flowerLittle flowers
Foglie d’ulivoShaped like an olive leafOlive leaf
FusilliThree-edged spiral, usually in mixed colors. Many vendors and brands sold as fusilli are two-edgedFrom fusile, archaic/dialect form of fucile, meaning rifle. As the inside barrel of a gun is “rifled” using a similar screw-shaped device
Fusilli BucatiA spring-shaped variety of the aboveHoled rifles
GemelliA single S-shaped strand of pasta twisted in a loose spiralTwins
GigliCone or flower shapedLilies
GnocchiRound in shape and often made with flour plus potatoesFrom the Italian gnocco, meaning “a knot in wood”
GramignaShort, curled lengths of pastaScutch-grass; more generically, “infesting weed”
LanterneCurved ridgesLantern holders
LumacheSnail-shapedFrom lumaca, meaning snail
LumaconiJumbo lumacheLarge snails
MaltagliatiFlat roughly cut trianglesBadly cut
MandalaDesigned by Philippe Starck in 1987 for French pasta-maker PanzaniDesign based on compensating for overcooking
MarilleDesigned by Giorgetto Guigiaro in 1983 – like a rolling ocean wave in cross-section with internal rugosities, but unsuccessful and no longer producedFrom mare, meaning “sea”
OrecchietteBowl or ear shaped pastaLittle ears
PipeLarger version of macaroniSmoking pipes
QuadrefioreSquare with rippled edgesFlower quadrants
RadiatoreShaped like radiatorsRadiator
RiccioliniShort wide pasta with a 90-degree twistFrom riccio, curly
RicciutelleShort spiraled pastaFrom riccio, curly
RotelleWagon wheel-shaped pastaLittle wheels (from ruota-wheel)
Rotini2-edged spiral, tightly wound. Some vendors and brands are 3-edged and sold as rotini 
SpiraliA tube which spirals roundSpirals
SpiraliniMore tightly-coiled fusilliLittle spirals
StrangolapretiRolled across their widthPriest-chokers or priest-stranglers
TrofieThin twisted pasta 

Tubular Pasta

BucatiniHollow spaghettiLittle holes
CalamarataWide ring shaped pastaSquid (also known as “calamari”)
CalamarettiSmaller Calamarata 
CannelloniLarge stuffable tubesBig pipes or reeds
CavatappiCorkscrew-shaped macaroniCorkscrews; also known as Cellentani and Spirali
CellentaniCorkscrew-shaped tube 
ChifferiShort and wide macaroni 
DitaliniShort tubes, like elbows but shorter and without a bendSmall fingers
FideuaShort and thin tubes 
Gomito MaccheroniBent tubesElbow macaroni
ElicoidaliSlightly ribbed tube pasta; the ribs are corked as opposed to those on rigatoniHelicoidal
FagioloniShort narrow tubeLittle beans
GarganelliSquare egg noodle rolled into a tube 
MaccheroniAs long as a little finger, usually striped 
MaccheroncelliHollow pencil-shaped pasta 
MaltagliatiShort wide pasta with diagonally cut endsRoughly cut
ManicottiLarge ridged tubes that are stuffedSleeves, from the Italian word manica
Mezzani PastaShort curved tubeFrom Mezzo meaning half-size
Mezze PenneShort version of penneHalf-pens
Mezze BombardoniShort, wide tubesHalf bombards
MostaccioliSometimes mistakenly used as another name for Penne, Mostaccioli differ in that they do not have ridges. Mostaccioli are also called Penne Lisce or “smooth penne”Mustaches
PaccheriLarge tube 
Pasta al CeppoShaped like a cinnamon stick 
PenneMedium length tubes with ridges, cut diagonally at both endsLiterally “pens” because the tip is similar to that of a quill, or fountain pen
Penne RigatePenne with ridged sides 
Penne LiscePenne with smooth sides 
Penne ZitaWider version of penne 
PennetteShort thin version of penne 
PennoniWider version of penne 
PerciatelliThicker bucatiniFrom the verb Perciare meaning “Hollow inside”
RigatonciniSmaller version of rigatoni 
RigatoniLarge and slightly curved tubeFrom riga, meaning line: rigatoni is pasta with lines (large). Rigato or rigate, when added to another pasta name means lined, or, with ridges added, as in “spaghetti rigati”
Sagne IncannulateLong tube formed of twisted ribbon 
TrennePenne shaped as a triangle 
TrennetteSmaller version of trenne 
TortiglioniNarrower rigatoniFrom the verb Torcere meaning “to twist.” Twisted, wringed
TuffoliRidged rigatoni 
ZitiLong, narrow hose-like tubes 
ZitoniWider version of Ziti 

Strand Pasta

SpaghettoniThick spaghettiThick little twine
SpaghettiMost common round-rod pastaSpago means twine, spaghetto means little twine, spaghetti is plural
SpaghettiniThin spaghettiThin little twine
FedeliniBetween spaghetti and vermicelli in sizeLittle faithful ones
VermicelloniThick vermicelliThick little worms
VermicelliThicker than capellini, thinner than fedeliniLittle worms
CapelliniThinner than vermicelli, thicker than angel hairFine hair
Capellini d’angeloThinnest round-rod pastaAngel hair

In order of thickest to thinnest.

Various Strand Pasta

BarbinaThin strands often coiled into nestsLittle beards
Spaghetti alla ChitarraSimilar to spaghetti, except square rather than round, and made of egg in addition to flourNamed after the device used to cut the pasta, which has a wooden frame strung with metal wires. Sheets of pasta are pressed down onto the device, and then the wires are “strummed” so that the slivers of pasta fall through
CirioleThicker version of chitarra 
Fusilli LunghiVery long coiled rods (like a thin telephone cord)Long rifles
PiciVery thick, long, hand rolled 

Ribbon Pasta

BavetteNarrower version of tagliatelleLittle thread
BavettineNarrower version of bavette 
FettuceWider version of fettuccineRibbons
FettuccineRibbon of pasta approximately 6.5 millimeters wideLittle ribbons
FettucelleNarrower version of fettuccine 
LaganeWide noodles 
LasagneVery wide noodles that often have fluted edgesCooking pot
LasagnetteNarrower version of lasagne 
LasagnotteLonger version of lasagna 
LinguettineNarrower version of linguine 
LinguineFlattened spaghettiLittle tongues
MafaldeShort rectangular ribbons 
MafaldineLong ribbons with ruffled sides 
PappardelleThick flat ribbon 
PillusVery thin ribbons 
PizzoccheriRibbon pasta made from buckwheat 
ReginetteWide ribbon with rippled edgesLittle queens
SagnarelliRectangular ribbons with fluted edges 
Sciatelli of SciatelliHome-made long spaghetti with a twisted long spiral 
StringozziSimilar to shoelacesFrom stringhe, meaning shoestrings
TagliatelleRibbon fairly thinner than fettucineFrom “tagliare” – to cut
TaglieriniThinner version of Tagliatelle 
TrenetteThin ribbon ridged on one side 
TripolineThick ribbon ridged on one side 

Micro Pasta

Acini di PepeBead-like pastaPeppercorns
AnelliSmall rings of pastaRings
AnelliniSmaller version of AnelliLittle rings
ConchiglietteSmall shell shaped pastaLittle shells
CoralliniSmall short tubes of pastaLittle corals
DitaliSmall short tubesThimbles
DitaliniSmaller version of DitaliLittle thimbles
FarfallineSmall bow tie shaped pastaEither bowties or little butterflies
FideosShort thin pasta 
FiliniSmaller version of FideosThin threads; (from filo, meaning thread)
FregulaBead-like pasta from Sardinia 
FunghiniSmall mushroom shaped pastaLittle mushrooms
Ochi di PerniceVery small rings of pastaPartridge’s eyes
OrzoRice shaped pasta, also “Risoni”Barley
PastinaSmall spheres about the same size or smaller than Acini di PepeLittle pasta
Pearl PastaSpheres slightly larger than Acini di Pepe 
QuadrettiniSmall flat squares of pastaLittle squares
RisiSmaller version of OrzoLittle rice
Seme di MeloneSmall seed shaped pastaMelon seeds
StelleSmall star-shaped pastaStars
StellineSmaller version of StelleLittle stars
StortiniSmaller version of elbow macaroniLittle crooked ones
TrachanaGranular, irregular shaped pasta of Greek origin 

Stuffed Pasta

AgnolottiSemi-circular pockets; can be stuffed with ricotta or mix of cheese and meats or pureed vegetablesLambs’ ears
CannelloniOven cooked, stuffed rolls of pastaBig tubes
CasoncelliA semi-circular stuffed pasta, specifically associated with the style alla bergamasca, which is stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, egg, cheese, ground beef, salami, raisins, Amaretti biscuits, pear, and garlic 
FagottiniA ‘purse’ or bundle of pasta, made from a round of dough gathered into a ball-shaped bundle, often stuffed with ricotta and fresh pearLittle purses
MezzeluneSemi-circular pockets; about 2.5 in. diameterHalf-moons
Occhi di LupoA large, penne shaped pasta that is stuffedEyes of the Wolf
PanzerottiPasta made from eggs cheese and flour 
PelmeniMeat-filled dumplings, usually served in broth 
PierogiDumplings filled with meat, vegetables, cheese or fruit 
RavioliSquare. About 3x3cm. Stuffed with cheese, ground meat, pureed vegetables, or mixtures thereofPossibly from rapa, “turnip”
Sacchettini Little sacks
TortelliniRing-shaped. Stuffed with a mixture of meat and cheese 
TortelloniLarger version of Tortellini

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