Popular pasta shapes and typesIt’s a vast world beyond fettuccine. Eclectic starchy carbo-nutrient and key meal staple in the Italian diet–whether home made or store bought–offers a mammoth choice in terms of different variations, sizes, colors, textures and shapes.
Regarded as a whole, pasta can be divided into three broad categories: pasta di semola di grano duro, made from durum wheat flour, water, and salt. Dried hard wheat pasta is the one most commonly sold in grocery retail stores. Then there's pasta all’uovo, which is made by mixing eggs and regular flour; and homemade pasta.
Homemade pasta is generally made with cake flour (which has less gluten) and eggs. Therefore, since durum wheat flour is not being used, the cooking time of homemade pasta is critical; if you leave it in the water to boil for too long, it will become wallpaper glue.
Extruded pasta all'uovo is made in smaller (usually neighborhood) factories by artisans whose chief concern is quality. The golden yellow pasta all'uovo is made with all purpose flour and eggs of corn-fed free range chickens.
Another pasta commonly extruded at local artisan pasta makers is the casareccia kind, (homestyle) which employs durum wheat flour, water, and salt (no egg).
Pasta that’s extruded is essentially forced through a bronze die, and then cut to the proper length and dried. The bronze die leaves helpful microstriations on the pasta dough, and the good thing about the rough surface of organic home produced or artisanal extruded pasta is that sauce and dressings will literally cling to the grain. Extra ridges, ripples and grooves are often added by commercial manufacturers to their pasta products to create that very same sauce-capturing effect. Conversely, smooth Penne and Ziti, for example, are intended for richer, chunkier sauces that don’t necessarily need to stick to the pasta.
Italians divide la pasta semantically into two basic groups: "long" pasta and "short" pasta. The long category includes Spaghetti, Spaghettini, Capelli d’angelo (literally, angel hair), Linguine, Fettuccine, Tagliatelle, Bucatini etc., intending all those foot-long strand, ribbon or noodle-type pastas.
The short pasta class includes Penne, Rigatoni, Gnocchi, Farfalle, Fusilli, Tubetti and so on.
Some shapes, that don't qualify for either of the long or short categories, are large enough to be stuffed and baked, and others, like soft egg Ravioli or Agnolotti, Tortelli, Cappelletti and Tortellini, come already stuffed.
Regional pastas would deserve a chapter of their own. Allow me to mention however that some regional pasta types have become enormously famous worldwide, like for example Orecchiette from Puglia, buckwheat Pizzoccheri of the Dolomites, Liguria's Trofie and the copious production from the Gragnano realm (near Naples). Some of the more modern varieties of regional pasta, like Scialatielli, and Paccheri (both hailing from Campania) are also quite popular.
In some very kitsch Italian grocery/souvenir stores you can even purchase sex-themed short pasta shapes for aphrodisiac Isabel Allende-style orgy dinners or for dinner guests with an extravagant sense of humor. The choices are boundless, multicolor selections and variety male/female packs. I once brought penises in zucchini & basil sauce at a girls' night company potluck dinner and never got invited back.
Soup pasta is another sub category of short pasta and it features Stelline, Corallo, Semini, Tempestina (a close bleb relative of tapioca), Farfalline, Anellini, Quadrucci, etc. These perform their best in chicken soups, vegetable broths and Minestrone. On a cold night, the next best antidepressant to chocolate, is a steaming bowl of clarified chicken stock with a fistful of any of these, loads of Parmigiano and a warm blanket.
"Italians have only two things on their mind. The other is spaghetti."
~ Catherine Deneuve (at the time when she was married to Marcello Mastroianni)
~ Catherine Deneuve (at the time when she was married to Marcello Mastroianni)
Pasta is the pinnacle of the Italian food pyramid and Mediterranean diet. The miriad varieties of pasta are therefore not surprising. Of the 650 plus existing pasta varieties, I have illustrated only the few pivotal examples of Italian home-style cuisine. Here they are:
Agnolotti, Ravioli – Pockets of pasta dough stuffed with ground meats and/or vegetables. Can be round, squared or crescent shape, and each in different sizes.
Bavette, Trenette, Linguine – flattened long strand pasta, whose section is a rather flat ellipse. They love pesto.
Bigoli – extruded tube-like pasta similar to bucatini. The implement used to make them (bigolaro) is a beautiful object that the bigolatore sits on while extruding.
Bucatini – hollow spaghetti-like strands, part of the spaghetti extended family, which are commonly used with moderately thick sauces. Amatriciana defines bucatini. And viceversa.
Cannelloni, Crespelle – large sheet, tube or rolled crêpe-shaped pasta usually stuffed with condiments, béchamel, meat and vegetables. Used primarily in baked pasta dishes. Often, but not always all’uovo, i.e. with eggs.
Capelli d’Angelo, Capellini – Angel hair describes the long, delicate, extremely thin noodles. Because they are so fine, capelli d’angelo must be served either in a very light sauce or in a simple broth.
Cappelletti, Tortellini – Cappelletti is Italian for "priests' caps," while Tortellini were inspired by a sexy belly button. Whatever their name, these are small, twisted or crescent-shaped stuffed pasta filled with a cheese and prosciutto mixture. And they are to die for with Ragù alla Bolognese, with heavy cream & prosciutto, or–like tradition requires–mostly swimming in broth.
Cavatelli, Conchiglie, Pipe, Lumache – short, narrow, ripple-edged and seashell/snail shaped.
Ditali, Tubetti – thimble, stout tube-shaped soup pasta. Ideal for Pasta e Patate soup.
Eliche – round pinwheel shaped pasta, literally "propellers". Kids worship them.
Farfalle – bowtie shaped pasta. Due to their particular bunched up shape, they take forever to cook, about 16 minutes.
Fettuccine – long ribbon pasta, usually egg-based. Lovely and chewy, I love fettuccine...
Fusilli – corkscrew twists, "short" type pasta, excellent with a sautéed zucchini & pesto sauce.
Garganelli – rolled up, thin tube section pasta from Emilia Romagna. Divine when paired with a sausage, black pepper and cream sauce.
Gnocchi – hand made potato pillows. The rubbery commercial kind, I don’t like.
Gnocchi di Semolino – flat hockey puck-sized tapioca and cornmeal dumplings. Delish.
Lasagne – rectangular shaped sheets of pasta. Layered with ragù and grated Parmigiano, or pesto and béchamel then baked in the oven for 10 minutes and you’ll be moaning with pleasure.
Maccheroni – medium tubular "short" type pasta. A neverending love affair.
Malloreddus – Sardinian cavatelli-like pasta. Again the best are handmade.
Maltagliati – unevenly mix-matched broken shapes of assorted pasta.
Mafalde – ripple edged, large ribbon pasta named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, which work quite well with rich sauces, like a braised wine and beef sauce.
Mezze Maniche – (literally, half sleeves) are stubby, fairly broad tubes that work quite well with chunky ragù, and mixed ortolana vegetable sauce (a simplified ratatouille). I own several necklaces made by my son with these.
Orecchiette – rough, ear shaped round shells, the size of a fingernail. The only truly viable ones are the homemade ones from Bari, but the store-bought kind, boasting the Puglia quality control stamp are OK too...
Paglia e Fieno – green and yellow colored fettuccine (the color is obtained with spinach and extra eggs added respectively to the dough).
Pansotti – meatless triangular shaped ravioli from Liguria. Stuffings include ricotta & spinach, mixed greens and shine when dressed in a creamy walnut sauce. Mmm...
Pappardelle – wide ribbon Fettuccine-type pasta. These broader strips are generally used for chunky sauces, like wild boar or hare ragùs. Most pappardelle are made with egg.
Penne – sharp edged tube section "short" pasta. Everybody loves penne.
Perciatelli – another (Neapolitan) name for bucatini.
Pici – Tuscan version of Venetian bigoli, again the best are home made. The most delicious I ever had were dressed in a rich boar sauce, served at a delightful restaurant in Siena called Gallo Nero.
Pizzoccheri – 3" long buckwheat tagliatelle. In Valtellina, home of Pizzoccheri, they are commonly boiled along with Swiss chard (Savoy cabbage) and cubed potatoes. This mixture is then drained and layered with chunks of local Casera cheese and grated Parmigiano, and then dressed with garlic and sage previously sautéed in browned butter.
Rigatoni, Sedani, Tortiglioni – large tube section "short" pasta, always ribbed. I make my spectacular Pasta alla Norma with these.
Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla chitarra, Spaghettini – long strand noodle-type pasta. The rulers of the pasta roost. The name of this blog is tightly connected to spaghetti...
Strozzapreti, Strangozzi – literally 'Priest Chokers,' are a hand-made cross between gnocchi, malloreddus and cavatelli.
Tagliatelle, Taglierini, Tonnarelli – thinner ribbon pasta than pappardelle, but thicker than fettuccine. These are obtained by flattening homemade pasta dough to a thin layer, then rolling like a giant burrito and consequently cutting it into curly tagliatelle ribbons.
Tortelli – Same shape as tortellini and cappelletti (see above), but in this case filled with either erbette (spinach or Swiss chard), potatoes, pumpkin; and most usually dressed in a simple browned butter and sage drizzle, or–only in the pumpkin tortelli case–pancetta fat drippings.
Trofie – hand rolled, chewy and slender squiggles. Usually boiled along with potato chunks and string beans and then tossed in with Ligurian pesto sauce. More mmm...
Vermicelli – thinner spaghetti, they cook in 5 minutes.
Ziti – long pipe-shaped pasta, broken by hand before cooking and usually topped with Ragù alla Genovese (recipe to be posted soon).
Each pasta shape has an ideal dressing. That much should be considered when choosing one particular type of pasta over another.
Go make some, hurry. I know you want it.
Image credits: riscossa.it - rachel eats - algont@wikimedia commons - sagrapappardella.net - buttalapasta.it - valeria verini - circleofmisse.com