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The Italian Pasta: The ultimate guide to the Italian’s pasta shape

Blog Pasta Tradizione Italiana


It's easy to say tonight we are eating pasta? But in Italy we know that this question leads to a series of doubts, and above all it leads us to a new question:

What kind of pasta, which shape?

Yes, the main Italian problem is that each pasta dish has a shape of pasta to match with it. We know that there are many pasta shapes and that each one of them should and must be used for a specific sauce.

But which are the current shapes available?

In Italy, we have different pasta shapes, but abroad the situation changes, in fact, the most common shapes such as spaghetti, penne, etc. are always available, while, if you are in an area with a high concentration of Italians there is the chance to come across a small shop or restaurant that produces fresh pasta and the variety of cuts increases.

The Italian pasta, the artisanal one, and the one that reflects the Italian food and wine tradition is drawn to Bronze and sees as its capital Gragnano - a small town in the province of Naples - due to the historical connection with the pasta that led to a very high concentration of pasta factories and for all these reasons Gragnano is the only place in the world where pasta recognized as PGI - you can read more about pasta production methods here.

But in addition to Gragnano artisanal pasta, there are as many regional shapes that lead us to have on the market a total of 300 formats and 1200 names included in the "Etymological vocabulary of Italian pasta" - there are many formats that change the name based to the example region: for example tonnarelli, spaghetti alla chitarra or guitars that are the same thing.

The pasta shapes - often called in Italian “tagli” (cuts) - are divided into two macro-categories, long pasta, and short pasta. Inside the long pasta we have the following formats:

  • Spaghetti: It is easy to talk about spaghetti, but we must keep in mind that there are at least 3 different types of spaghetti that vary according to their diameter: spaghetti Grossi, spaghetti, and spaghettini. To these are added the capellini, even thinner than the spaghetti and finally the square spaghetti, or more commonly known as spaghetti alla chitarra, with a square rather than round appearance. But it does not end here, in fact in some southern region spaghetti are called macaroni, while in the north macaroni are rigatoni. Spaghetti is a format of smooth pasta and very versatile in the kitchen, they go well with many types of sauces and condiments, from simple garlic, oil and chili (aglio olio e peperoncino) to the most sumptuous and complex seafood dishes such as the rock with shellfish or with the fruits of sea ​​- a great classic of Italian cuisine. Be beware of spaghetti because these are never and never used with ragù. 
  • Linguine: Very similar to spaghetti in shape, they differ in shape rather than having the cylindrical shape have a flattened section. In Genoa, the home of linguine, they are served with pesto but do not mind pairing them with a seafood dish such as linguine, mussels, and clams, a dish that manages to best express the potential of this cut.
  • Vermicelli: Belonging to the spaghetti family, although the vermicelli has a larger diameter and a very similar shape. Vermicelli lends themselves to very robust sauces, as they are more full-bodied, absorb more of the sauce and keep cooking well, and for this, they combine with more compound sauces that use meat. The first time that vermicelli appeared in a cookbook was in the thirteenth century, in Naples, where they were called "vermiculi".
  • Fettuccine: Fettuccine is a cut of pasta typical of the cuisine of central Italy - Roman and Tuscan cuisine -, they can also be homemade with eggs and flour, like a classic fresh pasta, and in some cases also in the green version with the use of spinach. This pasta format goes very well with winter seasonings, perfect with mushrooms or papalina but they also go well with fish seasonings such as prawns and artichokes.
  • Mafalde or Reginette: Mafalde or Reginette are a Campania pasta format, although over time this format has become known throughout the rest of Italy. They were named in honor of Queen Mafalda of Savoy, and are a long pasta - a sort of fettuccine - with knurled edges as if to replicate a royal crown. This dish goes well with different sauces/condiments, especially if red.
  • Ziti (long-shape): Ziti, a very complex format and not exactly friendly in size, are like huge bucatini, with a larger central hole and which, due to their long shape, are broken before immersing them in boiling water - commercially there are also the broken Ziti - Ziti spezzati - that make life easier. They are a typical Campania format, they are first boiled and then baked in the oven with Neapolitan ragù and mozzarella.
  • Bucatini: Last, but not least, the last of our list of long pasta is the bucatini. Bucatini is spaghettoni-type of pasta with a small central hole, known throughout Italy and the world to be combined with amatriciana. Bucatini is also used for two other Italian excellences such as cacio e pepe and carbonara.

While in the short pasta formats we find

  • Penne: The second best selling pasta format after spaghetti, also with its many variations: smooth penne, mezze penne. They adapt to an infinite number of seasonings and have become particularly famous with: penne all' arrabbiata, but also go well with a tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
  • Rigatoni: Rigatoni is a pasta format well known in the world, thanks to Carbonara. Rigatoni is striped, a feature that allows them to collect the sauce. They are very versatile in the kitchen, both with white and red condiments. Both are typical of Central Italy but now consumed throughout the peninsula and beyond.
  • Tortiglioni: They are a pasta format very similar to Rigatoni, and can be used in various white and/or red sauces.
  • Sedanini: Sedanini is small rigatoni, always striped and is also used to create baked pasta timbale. Some typical recipes of the Neapolitan cuisine see them also involved in soups.
  • Gramigna: Gramigna is a type of pasta typical of Emilia Romagna, often also called "straw and hay" due to the fact that it has two colors, yellow than the classic one, of durum wheat semolina and green for the one that also contains the spinach in the dough. The typical recipe of the gramigna is with the sausage ragù. The gramigna is composed of many "vermicelli", if we may use the term, a few centimeters long and so-called because it recalls the shape of the seed of the gramigna plant.
  • Fusilli: Fusilli is a type of pasta twisted on itself, similar to vines. In the past, they were produced on an artisanal level by twisting the dough around a wire and in some areas of Campania (Gragnano) and Molise they are still made like this. In Molise, they are part of the PAT (Traditional Agri-Food Products). A similar type of pasta is the Trapani busiate, although thinner and longer.
  • Conchiglioni: Conchiglioni is a pasta shape similar to conchiglie (shells) - hence the name. They lend themselves to collect the sauce and seasonings like a spoon. The conchiglioni, moreover, are also suitable for being cooked stuffed, for example, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and then baked in the oven.
  • Farfalle: Farfalle is the pasta format most loved by children, they convey cheerfulness and liveliness and are beautiful to look at. Because of their shape they are a little more complicated to cook in fact if the wings are cooked, the central staple remains a little hard, and if we wait for the center to be cooked, the outermost parts overcook. Butterflies adapt well to any seasoning, even to summer pasta salads.
  • Paccheri: The paccheri are a cut of pasta originating in Campania, its name derives from the Greek "all hand" - given their very large shape. The paccheri are like large rigatoni, smooth, but with a rough and porous consistency that absorbs the condiments very well. There are also two other formats belonging to the paccheri family: the mezzi paccheri, half paccheri, (always smooth but half the size of the paccheri) and the calamarata (¼ of the paccheri). These formats go very well with fish dishes with abundant sauce.

But it does not end here because in addition to these known formats or there are not all handmade pasta formats such as orecchiette, scialatielli, tagliatelle, and tortellini, but we will address this in the future because it deserves a separate mention.

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