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A guide to pasta shapes and filled pasta

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A guide to pasta shapes and filled pasta
Do you know your linguine from your lumache? Or your ravioli from your rigatoni? Learn all about them with our guide to pasta shapes and filled pasta
Pasta, one of Italy's finest exports, is a welcome and delicious feature in any afternoon or evening meal. But while many people know their spaghetti from their fusilli, some other pasta shapes and types of filled pasta are slightly more obscure. Use our guide to pasta shapes and filled pasta to refine your knowledge of this mouth-watering staple.

Know your pasta

Once you know the basics of pasta identification, it will be easy to choose from the huge variety on offer. In general, the thinner pasta suits lighter sauces while the larger pasta shapes with holes or ridges are perfect for capturing morsels of the chunkier sauces.

A pasta primer

Pasta comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and many have several names that may be simply regional or peculiar to a particular manufacturer. Here are some helpful Italian terms to help you decipher the labels.
"Pasta comes in a variety of shapes and sizes"
  • Pasta di semola grano duro indicates that the pasta is made from durum wheat flour, and all’uovo that it is enriched with eggs
  • The word endings to pasta names can indicate the size or the shape of the pasta: -oni is large, for example conchiglioni (large shells); -ette or -etti are small, as in spaghetti, cappelletti (small hats) or orecchiette (small ears); and -ini are even smaller still, such as ditalini
  • Spinach makes pasta verde (green); beetroot makes pasta alla bietola or rossi (red); and squid ink is added to make pasta seppia or neroli (black)
  • Although the description “fresh” implies greater nutritional status, both fresh and dried pasta offer the same benefits

Filled pasta

Many ravioli parcels covered in parmesan cheese
Filled pasta can be bought dried, but fresh is superior—the flavour and quality of dried stuffed pasta, particularly the filling, can sometimes be disappointing. These are the classic shapes:
  • Agnolotti are rectangular or crescent-shaped envelopes, traditionally filled with meat
  • Cappelletti are small, stuffed hat-shaped pasta
  • Ravioli are small or large square, round or oval parcels
  • Tortelloni are large stuffed squares. Tortellini are little stuffed rings, made by folding circles or squares in half, then pinching the corners together

Pasta shapes: A-M

A bowl of farfalle pasta covered in pesto, with tomatoes and lettuce leaves
  • Campanelle are bells with frilly edges, as are ballerine
  • Cannelloni are large tubes that are filled and baked
  • Capelli d’angelo, which literally means “angel hair”, are long and extremely thin strands
  • Casarecce are rolled lengths of pasta forming an s-shape at each end
  • Conchiglie are shells; conchigliette are a smaller version, while conchiglie grande are jumbo ones for stuffing
  • Ditali are thimbles or tubes; ditalini are small ones. 
  • Farfalle are in the shape of bows, also described as bow ties or butterflies. Small bows are called farfallette or farfallini
"Conchiglie grande are jumbo pasta shells that can be stuffed"
  • Fettuccine are long, flat ribbons, 5mm (1⁄4in) wide. Fusilli are spirals or corkscrews, also called coils or springs. They may be long or short. Another name is rotini
  • Gemelli are short, narrow spirals or twists with hollow ends
  • Gnocchi are fluted shells. Another name for these pasta shapes is cavatelli
  • Lasagne are flat rectangular or square sheets that are usually baked. Lasagnette are wide, flat noodles with ruffled edges; reginette are similar
  • Linguine are long, flat ribbon noodles—similar to, but thinner than, fettuccine
  • Lumache are described as snail-shaped

Pasta shapes: N-Z

A bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, topped with parmesan cheese and basil
  • Macaroni are smooth, thick tubes. They may be as long as spaghetti, or “short-cut” and straight or curved (elbow macaroni). Cavatappi are ridged spiral macaroni
  • Orecchiette are small ear shapes
  • Pappardelle are flat noodles about 2cm (3⁄4in) wide
  • Penne are short, straight tubes, cut diagonally on the ends. They may be ridged (penne rigati) or smooth
"Macaroni may be as long as spaghetti or short, and straight or curved"
  • Radiatori look like little grills
  • Rigatoni are short, ridged tubes, fatter than penne
  • Spaghetti, the most familiar form of pasta outside Italy, are long, string-like strands. Spaghettini are thinner
  • Tagliatelle are long, flat ribbon noodles, like fettuccine
  • Vermicelli are a finer version of spaghetti
Banner photo: A guide to pasta shapes and filled pasta, from linguine to lumache (credit: Engin Akyurt (Pexels))
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