20 Popular Types of Pasta + When to Use Each One

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There’s nothing better than a big bowl of pasta ... except, maybe, one that’s paired with the perfect sauce. It’s true: Certain shapes just go better with certain toppings. Here’s what you need to know about each of your favorite types of pasta!

1. Angel Hair

Angel hair is long, very thin, delicate strands of pasta. Chunky sauces can be too heavy for it, so go with a thin cream sauce or just toss it with a compound butter (like our recipe that uses lots of fresh herbs — yum!).

2. Cannelloni

Cannelloni is a large tube-shaped pasta. Think ziti, but then supersize it. Because of the size, it’s the ideal specimen for stuffing with fillings such as cheese or sauce and is often baked as a casserole.

3. Conchiglie

These shell-like portions of pasta are available in a few different sizes. Consider pairing it with sauces that will get caught in the shell-shaped center, like thick cheese-, cream- or tomato-based sauces. (This type of pasta also works well in soup.)

4. Ditalini

Translated as “little thimbles,” ditalini are very tiny tubes of pasta. It goes well with creamy sauces like in mac 'n cheese, but is most often found in soup.

5. Farfalle

These pasta portions bear a strong resemblance to small bow ties. In fact, some call farfalle “bow tie pasta.” And it's as versatile as it is fun! These guys are well suited for tomato-based or cream sauces, along with butter or olive oil. It also works when combined with vegetables, like in our recipe for farfalle With fried eggplant, ricotta and tomato sauce.

6. Lasagna

Large, wide, flat sheets of pasta with ridged edges, lasagna is most famously used in the dish that bears the same name! The ultimate comfort food, this pasta casserole is composed of layers of noodles, sauce, cheese and other fillings. Delish!

7. Linguine

Long, thin, flat strips of pasta that resemble flattened spaghetti, linguine is often used in conjunction with clam-based sauces or in other seafood dishes. But it’s fairly versatile! It works with slightly “wet” sauces, from tomato- to cream-based and beyond.

8. Macaroni

Think of the hollow space inside these small, bent tubes of pasta like a vehicle for gooey deliciousness. Cream sauces, melty cheeses or tomato sauces without many chunks can all stuff themselves in macaroni, yielding flavorful results. And of course, let’s not forget about classic macaroni and cheese! (Try our beefy-cheesy macaroni for a protein-packed twist on the classic.)

9. Manicotti

Similar to cannelloni, manicotti are large, ridged tubes of pasta that practically beg for a filling. It's frequently stuffed with ricotta, then baked with tomato sauce.

10. Orecchiette

Orecchiette translates as “little ears,” and the small pasta shapes do indeed resemble little cartoon ears, or perhaps misshapen bowls. When making orecchiette dishes, consider slightly thicker sauces or juicy ingredients like broccoli and sausage, which can fill the little vessels in the pasta shape with flavor.

11. Pappardelle

These flat ribbons of pasta are almost like fettuccine, but significantly wider and built to hold up to sturdy sauces. So bring on the thick, chunky meat sauces for this workhorse pasta.

12. Fettuccine

Fettuccine are flat ribbons of pasta, somewhere between linguine and pappardelle in width. Since this is a fairly sturdy pasta, it can hold up to thicker sauces and works well with chunks of meat or vegetables. And, of course, there's always the classic Fettuccine alfredo!

13. Pastina

These tiny spheres of pasta can get lost in sauce. Keep it simple by serving it with a light topping, such as olive oil or butter, some seasoning, and maybe a shake of Parmesan cheese. It’s also great in soups, like a classic chicken noodle!

14. Penne

These medium-sized, ridged tubes of pasta feature edges cut at a diagonal. Penne pairs well with a number of sauce types, including cream-, tomato- or meat-based sauces. Try to keep the consistency of sauces less chunky though, as you want that the sauce to flow into the hollow tubes of pasta and imbue them with flavor. Our recipe for penne alla checca is a great starting point.

15. Rigatoni

These medium-sized tubes of ridged pasta tend to be slightly larger and fatter than penne, with flat ends. The larger hollow space means that it’s well suited to slightly chunkier or more textured sauces — think meat sauces, cream sauces and dishes with vegetables. (You could even bake it into a pasta pie!)

16. Rotelle

Shaped like little wagon wheels, these cuties are often referred to as “wagon wheel pasta.” Thick but not-too-chunky cream and tomato sauces work well with rotelle, and it's also well suited to pasta salad dishes.

17. Rotini

These small- to medium-sized, tightly-wound spirals of pasta are best used with sauces that can seep into those nooks and crannies. We love it with cream or tomato sauces, though it's also great when baked in casseroles.

18. Tagliatelle

These flat ribbons of pasta fall somewhere between fettuccine and pappardelle in width, and work well with oil, garlic and seafood dishes. But they're also thick enough to stand up to heavier, meaty sauces.

19. Torchio

These elegant twirls of pasta are perfect for sauces that will get caught up in their bell-like shape. Think thicker (but not too chunky!) cream- or tomato-based options.

20. Ziti

Choose sauces or toppings that are thick enough to “stick” to the smooth sides of these medium-sized tubes of pasta. Ziti is famously employed in baked ziti, which is a casserole made using tomato sauce and cheese.

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20 Popular Types of Pasta + When to Use Each One