From angel hair to ziti, we’re covering the most popular types of pasta from A to Z in this helpful guide to pasta varieties!
Where Did Pasta Come From?
The term “Pasta” is uniquely Italian, but pasta probably didn’t originate in Italy. It likely came in the form of noodles from somewhere in Asia brought by traders many centuries ago. Some sources credit Marco Polo with bringing pasta back from China, but this is likely centuries too late as trade routes between Asia and Europe predated him. Now, what happened with those noodles once they got to Italy is another story. The many types of Italian pasta we know today are due largely to the ingenuity of the Italians.
How is Pasta Made?
Pasta is generally made with flour, eggs, and water though the egg is omitted in many pasta types, and other ingredients such as rice flour or legumes are occasionally used. The most common flour used is semolina, a coarse flour produced from durum wheat.
There are two ways to turn the dough into pasta:
- The first way of making pasta is rolling and cutting. This is pretty self explanatory as the dough is rolled flat and cut.
- The second way of making pasta is extruding. With extruding the soft dough is forced through a die that produces the desired shape.
When Yankee Doodle “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” what was the song referring to? Scroll to the bottom of this post for the answer!
Different Pasta Shapes & Sizes
There are a number of ways that culinary experts categorize different kinds of pasta, but generally around size.
Long Pasta is made by either the rolling & cutting method or extruding. Long pastas are generally best served with thinner toppings because the chunks of meat or vegetables in a thick chunky sauce won’t stick to the long smooth pasta.
Short Pastas are made by extrusion, and go well with thicker sauces as their shape allows them to hold the sauce better. Think shells or wheels which have nooks and crannies to hold the sauce.
Stuffed Pastas are just what their name suggests, think tortellini or ravioli. The pasta is folded to enclose meat, cheese, vegetables, or whatever creation you or the producer can dream up.
Sheet Pasta is again self explanatory. Lasagna noodles are the classic sheet pasta cut thin but wide strips for use in layered recipes.
Dumpling Pasta can be considered its own category. The venerable gnocchi, made with potatoes, being the prime type. Scroll down to our Gnocchi description for a great recipe using sweet potatoes.
Stretched Pastas are generally disk shaped pastas in which the dough is…well, stretched.
Soup Pasta. Many don’t see this as a pasta category, or perhaps just a subcategory of other types of pasta. Pastas best used in soups tend to be very small and easily eaten with a spoon, or very thin like angel hair pasta.
Types of Pasta
There are probably over 300 types of pasta and easily 1,200 pasta names, as so many have an Italian name and one or more regional names. Italian pasta names generally end in “ini, elli, illi, etti, ine, and elle which all denote “small”. Pastas deemed “large” end in “oni or one”.
Here are 51 common types of pasta (click the links below to jump around this guide, or scroll to explore all of the varieties)! Once you pick the perfect pasta, be sure to try it in one of our easy vegetarian pasta recipes!
- Alphabet Pasta
- Angle Hair
- Egg Noodles
- Faux Pasta (Vegetable Noodles)
- Jumbo Shells
While we are organizing these 50 types of pasta in alphabetical order, it does seem somewhat appropriate to start on the lighthearted side with alphabet pasta. People can get pretty uptight about their pasta, but how many remember alphabet soup as a child? The Heinz company made it starting around 1930 before discontinuing it in 1990 for reasons unknown, but they brought it back in 2005. Alphabet pasta, however, predates the soup. It appeared in Paris groceries around 1877 made from macaroni or vermicelli. Why shouldn’t pasta be fun?
Angle hair is a thin variant of capellini (Italian for little hairs) which is in turn a thin version of spaghetti. In Italy angel hair is known as capelli d’angelo. It has been eaten in Italy since the 14th Century, and is, of course, today popular worldwide. It is most commonly used with seafood and lite sauces. It also goes well in soups.
Bucatini is a hollow tubed pasta typically 10-12” long and made from durum wheat flour and water. The hollow center is not large enough to stuff, but is large enough for some sauces to flow into creating an entirely coated noodle. Bucatini derived its name from the Italian word Buco or “hole”. And, if you are having your green minded friends over for pasta drop an uncooked bucatini noodle in each glass as an earth friendly straw. Other than as a straw, bucatini can be used like you would spaghetti. Give it a try in this Miso Pasta or our favorite Vegetarian Carbonara.
Campanelle is Italian for “bell flower” or “little bells”. Campanelle is best served with a thick sauce as its cone shape with ruffled edges holds thick sauces well. Campanelle is also known as Gigli pasta and comes from the Tuscany region of Italy. While campanelle is not a stuffed pasta variety, it is sometimes filled with ricotta and other cheeses then covered in meat sauce.
Cannelloni are hollow pasta tubes made from lasagna sheet pasta that is rolled into tubes and stuffed with ingredients that vary by region within Italy. Without detailing each regional preference, cannelloni often contain some combination of ricotta or other cheeses, ham, minced meats, or spinach. The pasta is then generally oven baked covered in tomato sauce. In the United States the more common name for cannelloni is manicotti.
Cappalletti is a ring-shaped pasta that resembles a hat which is cappello in Italian. The small dough hats are filled with cheese, typically ricotta and parmesan, and sometimes pork or other meats. The stuffed pasta is then often served in a lite broth.
This is a North Italian stuffed pasta, but contrary to the name it is not filled with caramel. The name is a nod to its double twisted shape that looks like a caramel candy wrapper twisted at both ends. Caramelle pastas are generally filled with a soft cheese like ricotta, and are most often handmade.
Casarecce hails from Sicily where it is often eaten with seafood. The name means “homemade” in Italian, but it can be made with an extruder. These short noodles have a groove down their middle giving the impression of rolled-up scrolls.
We added cascatelli pasta for contrast as it is literally only a year old vs many of the Italian pastas we discuss that reach 2,500 years. Cascatelli was developed by Dan Pashman, a food podcaster in the United States. This is a short pasta with a sharp curve and ruffles. The ruffles hold sauce with ease which is likely the reason for this unique shape. Dan derived the name from the Italian word cascate which means “waterfalls” an appropriate name given the odd shape. Oh, and yes you can get them on Amazon.
This pasta is similar to elbow macaroni but longer and larger, and is similarly made by extruders. Cavatappi is Italian for corkscrew which is exactly what this pasta looks like. This eggless pasta is often colored, and is used in pasta salads, salads, soups, and casseroles. It can certainly be used in any macaroni and cheese recipe like our favorite Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese Recipe.
Cavatelli is Italian for “little hollows” which is appropriate for this hot-dog bun shaped pasta. In Italy this pasta is served or cooked several ways. It is often cooked with olive oil, broccoli, and garlic. It can also be made with ricotta cheese in the dough, and is popular in seafood dishes.
You no doubt know this Italian pasta by its common name “shells”. Conchiglia is the Italian word for seashell. The shape is great for holding sauce. Shells are sometimes colored with tomato paste or spinach pigments, and is generally made from a hard variety of durum wheat which allows the pasta to retain its shell shape in all manner of cooking. Shells are also sold in a miniature version called conchigliette ideal for soup recipes.
Ditalini is Italian for “small thimbles” and is also called Tubettini or “small tubes” which is probably a more apt description of these small macaroni noodles. The small size makes these a good soup option. They are easily eaten by spoon and the size doesn’t lend itself to holding sauce well. They are also good in pasta salads.
Egg noodles originated in China and can’t be traced to Italy like most pasta. Unlike pasta, they are, as their name suggests, always made from eggs. These are a good inexpensive go-to noodle for casseroles like Creamy Mushroom Stroganoff, or Asian cuisine like chow mein or our Thai Inspired Khao Soi.
Elbow pasta is macaroni, but not all macaroni has to have the elbow shape. Made with durum wheat, cut into short lengths, and made through extrusion, elbows are the ubiquitous pasta we all grew up with. Well I say all because everyone I know grew up with a father whose go to dinner when Mom worked late was Kraft Mac & Cheese. As the 99 cent Kraft special shows, elbow pasta really is ideally suited for use with cheese. They are small enough to be eaten with a spoon, and their hollow core holds in cheese sauce. Want something a bit fancier than Dad’s Wednesday night fare? Try this Truffle Mac and Cheese recipe. Less fancy, but oh so good is this camping meal prep version – Campfire Mac & Cheese!
Farfalle is the Italian name for bow-tie or butterfly pasta as it is the word for “butterfly”. Like so many other pastas, there is a larger version (Farfalloni) and a small version (Farfalline). Italian is a fun language. This is a North Italian pasta that was likely developed in the 1500s. Some sources say that it was accidentally invented by people making stuffed pastas. When the filling was gone they folded the leftover dough into what became the bow-tie shaped pasta we know today. Regardless of its origin, farfalle is a great pasta for most applications. Use it in casseroles, just top it with tomato sauce, or perhaps use it in pasta salads to leverage their “cute” shape. Give it a shot in this pasta with radicchio and goat cheese.
Faux Pasta (Vegetable Noodles)
Okay, you won’t find faux pasta listed among the different types of pasta, pasta variations, or really anything to do with pasta. The very idea of fake pasta is a problem for many pasta lovers, but we know there are a lot of people who are trying to limit their carbohydrate intake, and pasta is loaded with carbs. If this is you there are alternatives to pasta that do well with all manner of sauces, baking, etc. Consider making your noodles, be they spaghetti style or lasagna sheet style, out any of these vegetable options:
- Zucchini: How to Make Zucchini Noodles (4 Ways), Zucchini Pasta with Creamy Avocado Pesto, or Zucchini Lasagna.
- Spaghetti Squash: Spaghetti Squash Mac and Cheese
- Butternut Squash: Butternut Squash Pasta with Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
- Sweet Potato: Sweet Potato Fettuccine in Gorgonzola Sauce
- Asparagus: Asparagus Noodles with Pesto
- Carrot: Carrot Noodles
- Eggplant: Eggplant Lasagna
This much loved pasta is often used with cream sauces like alfredo sauce. I have friends that say you can really use it in just about any recipe calling for a long noodle such as linguini. I am not a pasta purist, but they are different kinds of pasta and have different super powers. So what is the story of Fettuccine vs Linguini? Linguine came from Genoa and is a flat narrow pasta made from just flour and water. Fettuccine is flat and wide and made from eggs and flour. Linguine is typically used with lite sauces and fettuccine heavy. I love it in this Porcini Pasta!
Fileja is a long twist shaped pasta from Southern Italy. This unique shape comes from wrapping a flat sheet of pasta (durum wheat, salt, and water) around a rod. In Italy it is more often made fresh at home than bought commercially.
Fiori is an extruded pasta in the shape of a flower. It is actually pretty close in appearance to wagon wheel pasta. Fiori is the Italian word for “flowers”. Use this in any application you want to leverage its unique look like in soups or pasta salad.
Fusilli is an Italian pasta (from Campania) shaped into a corkscrew. A fuso is a “spindle”, so it is possible the name fusilli was derived from fuso. It isn’t quite as clear as some other Italian pasta names which translate directly into the pasta’s shape. Like many other pastas, a variety of colors are made and sometimes whole wheat flour is used. You can use fusilli in any recipe that calls for spaghetti with the advantage that the curls will hold sauce better than traditional spaghetti. Fusilli has several sub-variants. Fusilli Bucati is a hollow version of fusilli, and Fusilli Napoletani is made the same way, but consists of a flat noodle.
Garganelli pasta is formed by rolling a square piece of pasta around a rod. This creates a unique shape that resembles penne pasta except that it doesn’t have the angled ends that extruded penne pasta has. Garganelli dough is also made with eggs while penne is generally a flour and water pasta. The hollow tubes of pasta, while not filled, are excellent for holding sauce, chunks of meat, or anything else that might be added as a topping.
Gamelli comes from the Italian word for “twins” which is appropriate as this pasta appears to be two noodles twisted around each other though it is actually a single strand of pasta. This short pasta is commonly used in baked pasta recipes, casseroles, and cold salads.
Gnocchi are rather the oddball in the pasta world as they are not a noodle, but a dumpling made with potatoes, flour, and egg. Some Italian recipes call for ricotta cheese vs egg, but whatever recipe you use we strongly recommend you make your own. There isn’t anything wrong with store bought, but it’s just fun to make your own gnocchi! The key is the balance between potato, flour, and egg. If you want to try a heretical, at least to pasta purists, but healthier version of gnocchi, give this Sweet Potato Gnocchi a try.
These are just large sized conchiglie pasta described above, and also known as shells. We list them as a separate pasta, however, as their size gives you the option of stuffing them ideally with some form of cheese filling.
Nothing says Italian like lasagne. Lasagna can be made with an almost endless number of major and minor variations. The large, flat sheet noodles, for example, can be flat or with curly edges. In Northern Italy they are generally made with eggs, but in the south they are not. Here at LiveEatLearn we like to know our food history, and lasagna has history.
We believe that some form of lasagna was created by the ancient Greeks and brought to Rome after Greece was conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. The Romans conquered everybody in time. It came to America in the 1800s with a large wave of Italian immigrants.
There are hundreds of great lasagna recipes at your fingertips, but we really like our own Vegetarian Lasagna Recipe.
Linguine originated in Genoa and is a flat narrow pasta made from just flour and water. Linguine is typically served with thin tomato or cream sauces. It is often served with seafood such as mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, or just about any seafood. Another common accompaniment to linguine is pesto which is a favorite in Genoa. Spice up your linguine with your own Homemade Pesto Genovese or try this Lemony Gremolata Linguine Recipe.
Macaroni is a short tube-shaped pasta made from flour and water without eggs. Macaroni is great in pasta salads, casseroles, and of course in Macaroni and cheese. Try it in our favorite Truffle Mac & Cheese.
Mafaldine is also called Reginette which is Italian for “little queens”, or Mafalda. It is a ribbon shaped pasta with ruffled edges that is about ½ an inch wide. In Italy it is used in a variety of baked pasta recipes or simply with tomato sauce and meatballs. It is said to have been invented in the 13th Century, but renamed after young Princess Mafalda of Savoy who had curly hair, and sadly perished in Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944.
Manicotti means “little sleeves” in Italian. Manicotti, however, is the Americanized version of Cannelloni. These large hollow noodles are generally meat or cheese filled before baking in the oven covered in tomato sauce and cheese. The difference between Manicotti and Cannelloni is that Cannelloni is made by wrapping sheets of pasta around the filling. Manicotti is an extruder pasta that is then filled. Pretty much a difference of semantics.
Italian for “half moon”, mezzelune is yet another Northern Italian pasta named for its shape. Similar to Ravioli, it is a stuffed pasta made by folding pasta over filling and crimping the edges. They are typically made with white, wheat, or durum flour mixed with eggs and olive oil. Traditional fillings include ricotta, mozzarella, spinach or mushrooms. Mezzelune was readily adopted in the Tyrol region of Austria where it is called schlutzkrapfen and often filled with meat, beets, or sauerkraut. Further afield, the mezzelune concept can be seen in Polish pierogies and Chinese wontons.
This pasta derives its name from the Italian word for “little ears” which pretty well describes its somewhat unusual appearance. This is a difficult and time consuming pasta to make using traditional methods as they are created individually using pressure from a finger to create their unique shape. In Italy they are commonly served with pork or all manner of vegetable sauces as their cup-like shape holds chunks well. The origin of Orecchiette is not clear, but appears to have been introduced in Southern Italy in the 12th or 13th Century.
Orzo is Italian for “barley” which describes the look of this tiny pasta that looks much like rice, but masks the fact that it is pasta. Orzo is a good soup pasta often used with chicken. Orzo is commonly used in a variety of salads. Give it a shot in this Creamy Vegan Orzo with Carmelized Onions Salad or perhaps this Argentine inspired Chimichurri Orzo Salad.
Paccheri originated from Campania (Naples Region). They are large tube shaped pasta that can be stuffed or eaten as they are with sauce. When filled the italians generally leverage the large opening to stuff paccheri with shrimp or octopus. It is also often stuffed with ricotta cheese and used in place of lasagna noodles.
Pappardelle pasta is a long egg and flour pasta that can be cut up to an inch wide. It is native to Tuscany where it was created in the 14th Century. In Italy it is traditionally eaten with heavy meat sauces.
Passatelli means “passing through” in Italian which is appropriate for the way this Northern Italian pasta is made. It is made from eggs, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs (often stale), and sometimes nutmeg, but no flour other than that which went into making the bread. This pasta was born out of necessity in lower income homes where stale bread couldn’t be discarded. It is made with a potato ricer or a specific tool known in Italy as a Passatelli iron. It is said to be a bit difficult to get the dough consistency just right so that it doesn’t fall apart, and it is generally served in a light broth which is easily absorbed by the doughy noodles.
Pastina translates to “little pasta” as it is likely the smallest pasta made. In Italy pastina refers to the smallest of pastas, but in the US it refers to a single variety – Stellina. In Italy it is mostly used in soups, baby food, or as a rice substitute.
Penna is the Latin term for “quill” which is appropriate to penne pasta whose ends are cut at an angle resembling a fountain pen. Penne is the ubiquitous tube-shaped pasta with ridges that is used in so much American cooking. Unlike so many pastas, penne pasta is a relative newcomer to Italian cuisine having been invented in Genoa in 1865. Penne’s hollow shape and ridges hold thick sauces well, so despite its larger size it goes well in recipes like this Truffle Macaroni and Cheese or Baked Ziti!
Pici comes from the Tuscany region of Italy where it was traditionally a pasta made from only flour and water. Eggs were or weren’t added based on the taste and budget of the family making it. It is a thick hand-rolled and cut pasta. Pici is believed to be of Ancient Etruscan origin. These were the people of Southern Italy before the Romans moved in. That makes pici about 2,400 years old. While pici is traditionally handmade at home, you can buy Handmade Pici on Amazon from two different manufacturers.
Radiatori is shaped, as its name suggests, like a car radiator. It was developed sometime between the 1920s and 1930s. Let’s face it, the Italians have always loved cars, and make some of the finest high end and high performance cars in the world. Radiatori is just a natural fit with the culture. While this is kind of a gimmicky pasta (like Alphabet Pasta), the many ridges in radiatori are perfect for holding in thick sauce and mixing with vegetable chunks. Available on Amazon, these might be a good one to serve in a pasta salad for your Grand Prix watch party.
Ravioli is another pasta we probably don’t need to write about as its use is widespread. It is usually made with an egg and flour pasta. The cut squares of pasta are filled with meats, vegetables, or ricotta cheese then sealed. We assert that ravioli is best served in a light tomato sauce so that the sauce does not take center stage over the fillings. Ravioli likely appeared in Italy in the 14th Century, and has been popular since. In Italy the family making of ravioli is arguably as important as eating it as a family.
Rigatoni is a large hollow pasta with ridges. Rigato is Italian for ridged, thus the name. It is very similar to penne, but bigger and without the angled ends. This Southern to Central Italian pasta is large enough to hold all manner of fillings, and holds its shape well in baking. Try it in this Vegetable Bolognese with Rigatoni.
Rotelle are almost as quaint as alphabet pasta. Rotelle is Italian for “little wheels”, and the pasta is often sold as wagon wheels or mini wheels. Like other pastas that are neither smooth nor linear, rotelle holds thick chunky sauce well. It would be good in this Campfire Mac & Cheese which you can do as a meal prep prior to a camping trip particularly if you have the kids along. Kids tend to like the wagon wheels, so it is also a good pasta to put into soups or salads!
Rotini is a pasta of Northern Italy that is very similar to fusilli. Both pastas are corkscrew shaped, but fusilli is twisted around a rod and rotini is shaped by an extruder. Both can be used in any recipe in which you want a corkscrew, sauce holding, pasta. Rotini is great in pasta salads, and can often be found in spinach infused green or tomato infused red color.
Stelle pasta together with alphabet, wagon wheel, and fiori pastas is a decorative style pasta. Stelle is shaped like a small star with a hole in the center. Its small size makes it ideal for soup as are the other decorative pastas.
Spaghetti is the long thin pasta we all grew up with. In the United States the most popular use is with meatballs, tomato sauce, and perhaps vegetables. Try our favorite Vegetarian Carbonara if you want to go meatless, or try it in this unconventional (but delicious) Spaghetti Pizza!
The name of this pasta was derived from the Italian word tagliare which means “to cut”. Tagliatelle is an egg pasta dating to the 15th Century from Northern Italy. It comes in long flat ribbons looking much like a slightly wider version of fettuccine. The traditional Italian way to eat Tagliatelle is to eat it fresh (rolled and cut by hand) with meat sauce. If you don’t want to make your own fresh pasta, you can certainly buy it dry in either the traditional yellow color or green containing spinach. Give it a try in this Porcini Pasta.
Testaroli is an ancient pasta that dates to the Etruscans which means it is likely 2,400 or more years old and pre-dates Rome. It is one of the oddest kinds of pasta in that it is not made from a dough, but rather a pancake-like batter. The batter is made of flour, water, and salt and poured onto a hot flat cooking surface or pan, covered, and baked. Once cooked, it is sliced into diamond shaped pieces, and in Tuscany most commonly eaten with pesto.
Tortellini hail from Bologna in Northern Italy in the Emilia-Romagna area that is known for filled pastas. In Italy they are filled with prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano, meats such as chicken or pork, ricotta, and spinach among a host of other regional favorite fillings. The variously filled tortellini are then served in tomato sauce or in soups.
This is a long thin pasta just a bit thicker than angel hair pasta. You can use it in any recipe that calls for angel hair pasta. Like angel hair, consider it for seafood and soups. Vermicelli in Italian means “little worms” which like so many other pastas seems appropriate given the appearance of this durum wheat and egg pasta.
Ziti is a thin tube-shaped pasta that holds up in the oven (perfect for Baked Ziti). It isn’t large enough to be stuffed, but holds sauces well due to its hollow core. Ziti is an extruded pasta typically about 10” long that you should break before cooking. Classic American baked ziti is made from some combination of parmesan, ricotta, vegetables, various meat options, and of course a meaty tomato paste. In Sicily it is considered a wedding dish. In fact ziti is the plural of zito which means “bride” or “groom”.
In the 18th Century English Army, the slang word for a senior officer’s fancy uniform shoulder boards was macaroni. The British Army sang Yankee Doodle to mock the Colonial Army. They were saying in the song that America’s simpleton soldiers put a feather in their hats and considered themselves professional soldiers.
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