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Italian Pasta

Italian Pasta

Italian pasta is made of durum wheat semolina flour. It comes in many different variations and types.

Pasta is nowadays sold dried or fresh. Dry pasta has a shelf life of up to three years. Fresh pasta depending on packaging can be kept for several weeks.

Yellow color is typical for pasta made with eggs, red may come from tomato paste, red peppers or beets, green comes most often from spinach.  Some pasta dishes, especially pasta salad, look excellent with the tri-color pasta. 

Examples of popular pasta dishes

There are many types of pasta. The basic distinction is between the long and the short shapes.

Popular short shape types of Italian pasta

Fusilli pasta Penne pasta Rotelle pasta Farfalle pasta
Fusilli pasta Penne pasta Rotelle pasta  Farfalle pasta 


Popular long shape types of Italian pasta

                 Spaghetti pasta                       Linguine pasta                                Pappardelle pasta                                                                 Tagliatelle pasta     
 Spaghetti pasta Linguine pasta Pappardelle pasta Tagliatelle pasta


Examples of colorful pasta

Farfalle pasta in different colors         Uncooked tagliatelle pasta in three colors Uncooked pappardelle pasta in three colors
 Farfalle pasta  Tagliatelle pasta

 Pappardelle pasta


Short Pasta Types

Cavatelli: Made from ¾ -1 ¼ inch pieces of dough pressed and pushed with the thumb to make a curved and slightly hollowed oval shape. It is ideal with vegetable sauce, rich tomato sauces and seafood. Replace with orecchiette, pasta gnocchi or sardi.

Conchiglie (shells): There are three sizes. Conchiglie is the most common of the shell pastas and is of the medium size with a ribbed surface that collects a lot of sauce. You can use pasta gnocchi or orecchiette instead. Conchigliette is the smallest; usually used in soups. Substitute ditalini or stelline .Conchiglione is the largest and is often stuffed.

Ditalini: One of several tiny pasta shapes that are mainly used in soups, ditalini is a tiny tube-shaped pasta that can either have a smooth or ribbed surface. You can use any of the tiny pastas, such as the little star pasta, setline, or orzo.

Farfalle: The name means butterfly in Italian, which refers to its pretty shape. It is best with thick or chunky sauces, which catch in the folds. You can also use a similar-sized pasta, such as fusilli or penne.

Macaroni: Very similar to elbow macaroni but without the curve. Macaroni, otherwise known as straight macaroni, is a small tube pasta usually used in soups and bakes. The best substitute is elbow macaroni; you can also use cotelli or garganelli. 

Orecchiette:  Orecchiette means little ears in Italian, and the name of the pasta is a typically literal description of the shape – although some brands look  more like curls than ears. It is best with thick or chunky sauces. You can substitute cavatelli, conchiglie or pasta gnocchi.

Orzo: In Italian, orzo means barley and the pasta is so-called because of its similarity in appearance to grains of barley. It is mainly used in clear soups, but it can also be used as a substitute for rice in risotto. It is a little bigger than risoni.

Pasta Gnocchi: Not to be confused with the potato dumplings of the same name, pasta gnocchi is, as the name suggests, a pasta of a similar shape to potato gnocchi. The curves of the pasta make is especially suitable to being served with thick or chunky sauces. Some suitable replacements are cavatelli, conchiglie or orecchiette .

Penne: A popular quill-shaped tube, sometimes ribbed and sometimes plain. It is usually about 1 ½ inch long. It is best with thick or chunky sauces. You can replace it with a pasta of a similar size, such as fusilli, garganelli, passatelli or rigatoni.

Rigatoni: There are many sizes of this tube-shaped pasta. The largest size is usually stuffed and baked, but the other sizes are all interchangeable. The ribbed walls of the pasta catch the sauce. You can substitute large fusilli, penne or rotelle.

Risoni: This  is small pasta that looks very similar to arborio rice. It is best used in soups, bakes and casseroles or when used in a risotto instead of rice. Stelline, orzo or ditalini with work well in the same recipes.

Rotelle: Otherwise known as a ruote, this pasta has a very distinctive wheel shape. Traditionally it is served with a tomato sauce, but it is suitable for most sauces. If you need to replace it, use a pasta of similar size, such as cresti di gallo, farfalle or rigatoni. 

Curly Pasta Types

Cotelli: Otherwise known as cavatappi, these hollow tubes of pasta are formed into curls or ringlets. Cotelli is nest with thick or chunky sauces as the chunks of the sauce get caught up in the curls. You can substitute a similar-sized and shaped pasta, such as cresti di gallo, elbow macaroni or fusilli.

Cresti di gallo: Named after the Italian word for “cockscombs”, the name of this pasta is a reference to the similarity in shape to the crest of a rooster. Its basic structure is similar to elbow macaroni with the addition of a ruffled frill on the outside edge of the pasta. It can be replaced by rotelle or cotelli.

Elbow macaroni: The name elbow macaroni is an American term for short curved hollow tubes of pasta. It is part of the macaroni family, with a curve in the middle. Elbow macaroni is usually eaten with sauces based on meat, sausages and tomato. The closet substitutes for elbow macaroni are straight macaroni, cotelli or garganelli.

Fricelli: These small tubes of pasta are formed into pretty spirals. They are not always readily available, but you can substitute cavatelli, penne, fusilli or garganelli.

Fusilli: This corkscrew-shaped pasta can range in size from 1 ½ to 12 inch long; we have used pieces that are about 1 ½ inch. Fusilli is most often available in dried form. It is commonly served with meat dishes and simply tomato sauces. You can replace fusilli with farfalle, penne, cotelli or garganelli.

Garganelli: this pasta is made with an egg dough that has grated Parmesan and nutmeg added to it. The outside surface of garganelli is ribbed. The ribs are formed by cutting the pasta into 1 ½ inch squares, wrapping the squares around a conical tool, then pressing them onto a ribbed wooden block. Garganelli is commonly served in a broth or with Bolognese sauce but it suitable for a wide range of pasta sauces. Penne, fricelli or fusilli can all be substituted for garganelli.

Long Pasta Types


Angel hair pasta: Also  called capelli d’angelo, this pasta is only available in dried form and it is the thinnest of all spaghetti pastas. Resembling strands of long, blonde hair, its fine texture is best suited for use in broths and with extremely delicate, light, smooth sauce. Angel hair pasta can be replaced with capellini, spaghettini or vermicelli.

Bucatini: Similar o thick spaghetti but with a hollow center that helps it cook more quickly than spaghetti. Bucatini means small hole in Italian. It is traditionally served with carbonara and Amatriciana sauces. You can substitute linguine, spaghetti or one of the longer fusilli pastas for bucatini.

Fettucine: This pasta is slightly narrower and thicker than the very similar pasta, tagliatelle. It is usually served with rich, creamy sauces or simple fresh flavors, because the thickness of the strands helps it to carry the accompanying sauce. You can use tagliatelle instead.

Fresh spinach fettucine: Also known as fettucine verde due to its rich green color, it is made by the addition of cooked, well-drained spinach to the dough before it is kneaded. The most popular of the colored pastas, its color makes it an attractive companion to both red tomato-based sauces and white cream-based ones.

Fresh basil fettucine: While it is uncommon to find herbs in pasta as they are usually included in the sauce, there are some regional specialties which incorporate finely chopped herbs, such a basil, in the pasta dough. When using a herb-flavoured pasta, choose simple sauces whose flavors won’t compete with or overshadow the flavor of the pasta.

Linguine: The Italian word for ‘little tongues’, linguine is a long pasta also known as bavette. It is good with pesto or seafood sauces. Substitute bucatini, fettucini, spaghetti, tagliatelle or long fusilli, remembering that if the recipe asks for fresh pasta, use fresh and if it asks for dried, use dried.

Spaghetti: The name of this very popular pasta comes from the Italian word ‘strings’. Nowadays, spaghetti is made all over the world. The commercial making of spaghetti involves pushing the pasta dough through an extrusion system to make the noodles. Out of all the hundreds of pasta shapes, spaghetti is the most versatile. It is suitable for a large number of sauces and it comes in 2-3 different thicknesses, one being thin spaghetti, also known as spaghettini.

Spaghettini: Very similar to spaghetti, but even thinner, these so-called ‘little lengths of cord’ make an ideal match for delicate, oil-based sauces such as the Italian classic aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) or fish and shellfish sauces. Spaghettini is often only available as dried pasta. Substitute other long, fine pastas such as angel hair pasta or vermicelli.

Tagliatelle: Slightly wider than fettucine, these very thin, flat ribbon noodles are the northern Italian name for fettucine. In fact, the two are interchangeable. Tagliatelle, not spaghetti, is the traditional accompaniment to Bolognese sauce. Unlike other pasta shapes, both fresh and dried tagliatelle are made with addition of egg to the pasta dough. Like other ribbon pastas, it is at its best when accompanied by light cream or butter-based sauces, or fresh flavors. You can substitute lasagnette or fettucine.

Vermicelli: Meaning ‘worms’ in Italian, it is very fine, long pasta best eaten in broth-based noodle soups or with fine –textured tomato, butter or cheese sauces which cling well to its length. Vermicelli is thinner then spaghetti. Replace with spaghetti or angel hair pasta.