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The Ultimate Guide to Pasta Shapes

Picking the right type of pasta for your recipe can be an overwhelming task. Not anymore!

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Rotini, fusilli, orecchiette…picking the right pasta shape for a recipe can be overwhelming. But you’re about to become an expert. We break down some of the most popular types, beyond classic spaghetti, and tell you how to cook with them.

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Four-Cheese Sausage RigatoniTaste of Home

Rigatoni

One of the most popular types of pasta, tube-shaped  (meaning “ridged” or “lined”) is extremely versatile. Whether you’re serving up a light Garlic Chicken Rigatoni or using the noodles in a baked dish like Four-Cheese Sausage Rigatoni, it’s a pasta that can get tossed into any meal.

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Penne

Translated as “quills” or “feathers,” penne noodles are also tubular and ridged similarly to rigatoni. Those two features help sauces cling to the noodles. Use penne for any dish where you want the sauce to be the star, like Penne alla Vodka.

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Farfalle

You may know these shapes as bow ties, but in Italian, they’re actually “butterflies.” A kid favorite because of the fun shape, these noodles work well with chunky sauces (try this no-cook fresh tomato sauce) or as the main ingredient in a cold pasta salad (we recommend this summer strawberry salad).

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Spaghetti

We all know spaghetti! This long thin pasta gets its name from the Italian word spago meaning “twine” or “string.” We bet you have a box of spaghetti in your pantry right now. So get going and make a delicious spaghetti sauce or baked pasta dish.

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Toasted RavioliTaste of Home

Ravioli

When it comes to this pasta, less is more. Because ravioli are stuffed with anything from cheese to meat to veggies (or all of the above!), there’s already a lot going on. Keep the sauce simple with the classic sage and browned butter ravioli or toss in fresh spinach and olives for this Greek-style version. If you want to think outside the box, try fried ravioli, a St. Louis favorite.

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Fettuccine

You probably know it primarily from fettuccine alfredo (and the myriad ways to play it up, like with seafood). But you can also use these “small ribbons,” which are wider and flatter than spaghetti noodles, in any dish with a thick or creamy sauce.

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Shells

While the Italian word for this pasta is conchiglioni, you’re most likely to hear this pasta referred to as “shells.” This pasta comes in various sizes, with and without ridges. Smaller versions are often used in pasta salads or in a cheese sauce, but we think Stuffed Pasta Shells make the most of this unique shape.

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Orzo

Nope, it’s not rice! Orzo is actually a rice-shaped pasta that gets its name from the Italian word for barley. You’ll find this tiny pasta (also called pastina) in many pasta salads and soups. You can even substitute it for rice in recipes like stuffed peppers.

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Linguine

Similar to fettuccine, linguine (which means “little tongues”) is a long, flat noodle. Because it’s slightly narrower than fettuccine, linguine is often served with lighter sauces or even simply with olive oil or pesto. It’s also commonly used in seafood dishes like our Lemony Shrimp & Mushroom Linguine.

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Chicken and Spinach Pasta SaladTaste of Home

Rotini

Common among home cooks, the corkscrew noodles can be used in a variety of dishes but are most often eaten in the form of pasta salad. Want to try it yourself? We recommend our Chicken and Spinach Pasta Salad.

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Lasagna

One of the oldest types of pasta, these wide sheet noodles are a staple in many American households in the popular dish featuring layers of pasta, sauce and cheese. While traditional four-cheese lasagna is always a delicious option, you can switch it up with Southwest lasagna or even a breakfast version using bacon and eggs.

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Capellini

Also known as angel hair—the literal translation is “little hairs”—these super-thin strands are only about 1/15 of an inch thick and pair best with a light sauce, simply tossed with olive oil and herbs or seafood (like Lemony Scallops with Angel Hair), so as not to overpower the pasta.

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Gemelli

Don’t let the name fool you: Despite the fact that gemelli means “twins,” each piece is actually just one twisted piece of pasta dough. Think outside the pasta box with this Chorizo Pumpkin Pasta, or keep it classic and simple with One-Pot Chicken Pesto Pasta.

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Tortellini

These little bites, often filled with a variety of meats or cheeses, are similar to ravioli. Their unique shape and sturdy structure, however, make them a great fit for soups (this Spinach and Tortellini Soup recipe is great for a cold day) or salads (toss them in this homemade Caesar salad).

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Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.

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