The Shape of Pasta

by Buck Reed

Italian pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, just as the people who eat them do. The shapes and sizes are not only regional, but also reflect greatly on the regional ingredients used in the dishes they help create. You will find stuffed pastas all over the country but, in the north, you will find raviolis stuffed with butternut squash and served with a butter sage sauce; whereas further south, you will find them stuffed with meats and vegetables and paired with a tomato sauce.

The following is a basic idea of some various pasta shapes, as well as where they are from and how they are used.

Penne, Campania: Classic shaped pasta Penne means “pen” or “quill,” which describe the shape as a tube cut on a slant to look like a writing instrument. Like most tubular pastas, these go great in baked dishes or thicker sauces that are not chunky.

Rigatoni, Lazio: Lazio is home to meat, so it stands to reason that this larger version of Penne with ridges would pair very well with sauces loaded with chunks of chopped meat (also great as a baked pasta dish).

Ziti, Sicily: Ziti is tube-shaped like Penne and works great in baked dishes, and since it is often produced with ridges, works well with thick, meaty sauces that the chunks of meat latch onto the pasta.

Orecchiette, Puglia: Puglia is well known for olive oil, so it stands to reason this ear-shaped pasta easily holds onto sauces based on this oil. It is often prepared with sauce of broccoli rabe, chilis, and olive oil.

Gigli, Tuscany: Home to Florence, this pasta is shaped like a lily, which is the emblem of this city. Its ruffled edges make it perfect for holding onto thick, creamy sauces. It should be noted this is one of the newer pasta shapes and is just now gaining in popularity.

Farfalle, Lombardy: In the United States, we call it a “bow tie,” but in Italy, its name comes from the Italian word for butterfly or “farfalle.” This pasta works well in soups and salads, and served with smooth sauces as there are no ridges or crevices for chunks to latch onto.

Bucatini, Lazio: Bucatini is a close relative of spaghetti, long and thin, but unlike its cousin, it is hollow inside. It has a versatility that makes it a great partner to almost any sauce it is matched with.

It is not so much memorizing the different pasta shapes and then knowing how to prepare and serve them in the correct way. Like anything else in life, it is a matter of knowing what you are looking up, the information you need to find, and using that information to get the results you want. Taking it a step further, you will be able to create a new sauce using totally different ingredients and then working backwards to find the correct pasta to serve your new creation with. Look at you…getting all creative in your kitchen!

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