We’ve already talked about how vital pasta is to Italian cuisine. So important that there are hundreds of Italian pasta types, different in shapes, sizes, and even the type of dough they’re shaped with.
But how many of the supposed 300 Italian pasta types have you ever tried, let alone used in your kitchen?
The pasta industry keeps reinventing and expanding its catalog every other day. Unless you’re opposed to pasta dishes on principle, you’re guaranteed to find at least one variety that fits your tastes and needs.
Want to cut down on carbs? You can easily swap the classic Italian pasta for the one made with lentils or chickpeas (like the ones from Probios, for example).
You have poor gluten tolerance and need to cut out all wheat-based products to better your health, including pasta? No need to sweat! The choice of gluten free pasta is vast and wide. You can easily find not only your preferred Italian pasta types but choose the grain that tastes the best to you while at it. Aside from the lentil and chickpea (both gluten free) pasta mentioned above, you can easily find corn or rice-based varieties. Le Veneziane, for example, has quite a nice collection), or even go straight for the manufacturers that have made gluten free pasta their primary product, like Farabella.
It’s clear that pasta lovers of the world have their freedom of choice and could very well find a way to add a new item to their pantry every week without repeating themselves. Yummy Bazaar's own Italian pasta selection attests.
There’s just one problem with this quick market expansion. While we cannot fault a manufacturer for wanting to create a new product or a pasta aficionado for wanting to try it (for example, plenty of people purchase gluten free pasta these days not because they struggle with gluten intolerance but because they want to find out what buckwheat, corn, or rice pasta taste like), we can worry that some classic Italian pasta types are becoming overlooked in a frenzy.
Think about it for a minute.
How many shapes of pasta can you name right now from the top of your head? There are supposed to be over 300 of them, and unless you’re talking to a scholar, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d name one-tenth of them right away.
A shame, really, considering there’s a reason for such variety in the first place. While it may seem like certain Italian pasta types look and taste similar, there’s a story behind their shapes and the sauces they’re paired with.
There’s nothing wrong with loving spaghetti, fettuccine, or penne, but there’s merit in switching it up every once in a while. Trying new shapes of pasta in your cooking will not only add an exciting new visual element to your dishes, but it may also help you find new flavors or experience the old ones in a way you never have before.
12 Rarely Used Shapes of Pasta You Need to Add to Your Pantry
Frankly speaking, the list of overlooked Italian pasta types can continue for quite a while. But for this article, we’ve decided to stick to the 12 we feel not only deserve the attention but manage to cover the ground between newbie pasta lovers and pasta enthusiasts with experience who have tested and tried multiple varieties and are looking for something new and unique.
If you’ve yet to delve into the world of Italian pasta and your experience is limited to the most famous and often-used shapes, then bucatini should be the first pasta you try.
At first glance, bucatini will seem very familiar. It resembles the most famous Italian pasta - spaghetti - a lot. It’s a long (about 10 to 12 inches long as a standard) and narrow (around 3mm in diameter) rod-shaped pasta with a typically smooth surface.
The crucial difference between spaghetti and bucatini is that the latter only seems to be shaped as a solid rod. Instead, it’s a tube-shaped pasta with a hole running throughout.
The hole is much smaller than, say, that of penne rigate. Bucatini still has comparatively thick edges. This combination allows it to suck up a lot of flavors without the pasta itself getting overwhelmed.
Bucatini is typically served with buttery and meat-based sauces as its chewy texture pairs well with bold flavors. Amatriciana (Italian tomato and guanciale-based sauce) is a classic pairing.
If there was a contest for “most beautiful shapes of pasta” out there, there’s a good chance campanelle would win. Campanelle in English translates to bellflower, and the pasta fully deserves the name.
It’s a short but sturdy pasta with a wide hollow center and twisted edges, shaped like flower petals. The tube in the center is wider on one and narrow on the other, making it particularly well-suited for flavorful, hearty sauces.
The sauce campanelle most often gets paired with is bechamel sauce. But it’s considered to be a versatile pasta variety and often gets paired with meat, fish, or a mixture of vegetables. Its uncommonly shaped center makes it particularly well-suited for chunky sauces since the narrower end tends to “catch” them inside the pasta.
Conchiglioni is one of the seashell-shaped Italian pasta types. Three main varieties are shaped ostensibly the same but used for different dishes based on their side.
Conchigliette is the smallest of the seashell pasta. They’re typically used for soups or salads but are considered too small to be served as an independent dish.
Conchiglie is the medium-size variety, the one that’s considered to be the standard. They’re typically used the same way as other short pasta varieties with rigged edges, often getting paired with meat-based or vegetable sauces (bolognese, pesto alla Calabrese, and marinara come to mind). On top, it’s customary to grate some pecorino romano (or parmesan if you don’t have pecorino romano on hand).
Conchiglioni is the largest of the seashell pasta varieties, often called jumbo shell and the one we’re particularly interested in right now. It’s typically used for stuffing and baking (and sometimes even deep-frying). Conchiglioni makes suitable substitutes for cannelloni, especially if you want to up the visual effect of your dish.
Pici di Toscana
Pici is a thick, spaghetti-like pasta that originated in Tuscany. It’s typically hand-rolled and often served fresh. The exciting thing about pici is that the recipe isn’t ubiquitous. While it’s not a classic egg pasta and is most often made with flour and water only, some family recipes add eggs, which is considered just as valid as the non-egg version.
The thick and chewy texture makes pici a good fit with flavorful sauces that can overwhelm more delicate Italian pasta types. Meat-based ragu sauce, porcini mushroom-based boscaiola, and spicy garlic-tomato aglione are all classic pici pairings.
There aren’t many options for dry pici pasta out there, but there are several trustworthy manufacturers like Morelli.
Mafaldine was named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, and it fully deserves its royal name. The easiest way to describe Mafaldine (sometimes called Mafalde or Mafalda, so don’t be surprised if you encounter either name on the packaging) would be “fancy fettuccine.” It’s flat and wide, similar to fettuccine, though significantly wider (around ½ inch, when fettuccine is only 0.25 inch in width).
Mafaldine’s most recognizable characteristic is the wavy edges that decorate each sheet on both sides.
The exciting thing about this Italian pasta variety is that despite its shape being a textbook pairing for heartier sauces, it’s usually served with more delicate ones.
White sauces made with soft cheeses (like Neapolitan ricotta ragu) are a classic, but mafaldine is often paired with seafood and olive oil and sometimes with lighter, herby vegetable sauces.
The easiest way to describe eicoidali would be “rigatoni’s smaller brother.” Where rigatoni is around 1.75 inches long and ½ inch in diameter, eicoidali is typically between 1.2 and 1.6 inches in length and 0.4 inches in diameter.
Otherwise, elicoidali is pretty much a split image of rigatoni. They’re both essentially wide tubes with thick ridged edges and chewy texture.
The most significant difference between the two would be the shape - no, not of the pasta itself, but the ridges on the outer side of the pasta. While rigatoni ridges can be either straight or spiraling, elicoidali ridges are always spiraling, typically more noticeably than rigatoni.
These spiraling ridges ensure more sauces sticks to elicoidali with each bite. Pairing elicoidali depends on how intense you like your pasta sauce since more of it will stick to this shape of pasta than others you’ve tried before. A classic pairing would be hearty meat-based sauce like bolognese or sugo di carne, but it would pair well with soft and buttery garlic sauce or white cream-based sauces as well.
Garganelli was invented in 1725 in the Romagna region and was initially used as soup pasta, most frequently served in a broth. It’s a type of egg pasta made by folding small square-shaped pasta dough pieces in a tube with a wooden twig the width of a pencil.
Its rigged edges and chewy texture lend themselves well to chunky flavorful heavy sauces, so garganelli pasta is typically paired with creamy or meaty ragu sauces.
Another classic option is to simply pair garganelli with some prosciutto and peas with a lighter sauce or olive oil.
Strozzapreti is quite possibly one of the most complicated shapes of pasta to describe. It’s as if someone has chopped thick spaghetti, opened it in half, and then slightly twisted it. Strozzapreti is strozzapreti-shaped. Nothing else can explain it quite right. If you know what it looks like, then you know.
Like pici, strozzapreti doesn’t quite have a set recipe since it’s often hand-made, and families have their own recipes. Its also quite popular across most of Italy, most notably Emilia-Romagna, Marche, Tuscany, and Umbria. One common factor all the regional recipes have in common is that strozzapreti is typically made with a mix of soft wheat and semolina flour. Otherwise, it can either be wheat pasta or egg pasta. Neither version is uncommon.
It’s supposed to be paired with chunky vegetable or meat-based sauces with a strong and distinct flavor, as the shape is ideal for carrying flavor like that through.
Interestingly enough, not many large companies produce strozzapreti. If you want to try it, you need a manufacturer that focuses on unique pasta varieties, like Camp’Oro.
Maccheroni alla chitarra
Maccheroni (or sometimes spaghetti) alla chitarra is a classic Italian egg pasta variety characterized by a distinct square cut. To make maccheroni alla chitarra, a unique wooden tool with metal wires is required. The metal wires look like guitar strings, hence the name. Chitarra means guitar in English.
Maccheroni alla chitarra is traditionally paired with lamb or pork ragu, but it works well with all meat-based sauces.
Oh, boy. This is not a name that has aged well. But regardless of what your first association may be, this is one of the Italian pasta types that definitely deserves your attention if you’re a foodie.
The name is actually entirely innocent. It means “little bundles” in Italian. Accordingly, the pasta dough is shaped into a purse and then filled with ricotta cheese, vegetables, or sometimes fruit pieces (pears are traditional).
Fagottini is a delicate pasta, and it’s preferable to pair it with understated flavors so the sauce won’t overwhelm it. Thin and light sauces are typical, and sometimes it’s served with broth instead of sauce.
Orecchiette has a unique texture, soft but slightly chewy around the edges. Yet the texture isn’t what attracts attention with orecchiette. It’s the shape. This pasta is shaped like small ears (sometimes complete with what could be viewed as veins).
It’s one of the oldest Italian pasta types (and likely the oldest on this list). It was invented in the 8th century AD in Puglia.
Since it’s from Puglia, it’s only natural that the most common sauce used with orecchiette is ragu alla Pugliese, a thick tomato-based sauce made with chicken, beef, or pancetta. That said, orecchiette pairs well with most meat-based sauces.
Pastina is the smallest among Italian pasta types, and it comes in a wide variety of shapes. They’re only about 1/16th of an inch in size. They’re not used for making independent dishes but as ingredients for soups and salads.
The most well-known shapes would be Acini de Pepe (literally “pepper seeds,” small round pasta), stelline (star-shaped pastina), and orzo (rice-shaped pastina, though there’s a debate if orzo is a type of pastina or one of the independent shapes of pasta that have been mistakenly crammed in with others).