Are you stuck in a pasta routine? Spaghetti, fettuccine, macoroni? And not much variation outside of these? Then I recommend that you locate a great Italian grocer and experiment with other pasta types. Here are some smaller, shaped pastas to begin with. Or browse all of our Pasta recipes.
This pasta pic is from L’Abruzzese Pasta, an Adelaide-based pasta maker. From left to right, maccheroncini al pettine, cavateli, caserecci, fusilli paesani, olive leaves, mixed olive leaves, orecchiette, lumaconi, elbows.
Long pasta, like spaghetti, but thicker with a very thin hole through the middle of the pasta. This shape is typical of the centre of Italy, in particular of Rome and surrounding areas. Characterised by its thickness and its central hole, Bucatini is great with full bodied sauces or seasoned with tomatoes, vegetables or a cheese sauce. Not to be confused with Ziti, Bucatini is thinner with a thinner hole.
An interesting shaped pasta, roughly an inch and a half long, that resembles an open pea pod (or, depending on your viewpoint, a small canoe).
Described by some as miniature ‘hot dog buns’, cavatelli are small folded pasta shapes that come originally from the Puglia region (on a map, this is the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’). Cavatelli literally means “little hollows”. Cavatelli is one of the most unique and delicious pasta shapes. It is made from an eggless semolina dough, and they are thick and chewy, with ridges to hold onto robust sauces. Cavatelli is the perfect comfort food.
A small, rolled type of pasta that, like cavatelli, comes from the Puglia region. Great for pasta salads.
Foglie D’Ulivo (Olive Leaf Pasta)
A newly fashionable pasta, and rumour has that it originally came from Basilicata in Southern Italy, from an Apulian pasta. While the town of Bari’s famous Cavatelli is round and made with one finger, in the West longer cavatelli is made by using two fingers, and further inland it is made with three fingers for an even longer shape. Foglie di olivo belongs to the second type and it also has some spinach added to obtain the green colour suggesting leaves.
There is not yet a traditional way of using this pasta, but simple sauces with olives seem to work best.
Long ago, Maccheroni Calabresi was made for Sunday lunches where time with family was enjoyed, or for holidays. It is a typical Calabrian pasta shape produced by hand rolling the dough around a thin iron tool or wire, called a ferru. The dough is stretched and rolled around the ferru to produce a hand-made rolled tube of about 10 – 12 cm in length. Some Maccheroni Calabresi are shorter, some longer. Serve with a great, rich tomato pasta sauce.
Orecchiette means ‘small ears’, and it is a curious and different type of pasta, also from the Puglia region of Italy. A great small pasta for scooping up sauce, orecchiette goes well with heavier sauces as well as salads and lighter sauces. Try our recipes for Orecchiette here.
Orzo and other Rice-Shaped Pasta
This small pasta looks like rice, or grain (orzo means barley in Greek), so it is often used as an alternative to rice. it is also a great basis for a salad, and in soups like minestrone See our Orzo recipes here.
Orzo is also used to denote barley in some recipes, so you may need to do a little detective work to determine whether it means orzo pasta or barley.
Italian Rice shaped pasta comes in different sizes – punte d’argo pasta, riso, orzo, rosmarino and risoni. Often used interchangeably with orzo, risoni means big rice, but it is made from pasta.
One of the most famous Italian pasta shapes and loved across Italy, Penne, which means pen in Italian, gets its name from its shape. The tube-shape with angled ends was inspired by the quill of an old style ink pen. It still resembles a pen – next time you have a bowl of penne, check it out: the end of each piece is similar to the tip of a fountain pen.
The large diameter and ridges of Penne Rigate make it ideal for retaining sauces on the entire surface, both inside and out. Penne is perfect with pesto, vegetable-based sauces, refined dairy-based sauces (like a mushroom cream sauce), tomato sauces, or spicy sauces. It is also delicious in baked pasta dishes, known as pasta al forno. It is also often found in pasta salads.
The simplest penne recipe suggests combining penne with tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and parsley.
There are two types of Penne – lisce which is a smooth cylindrical shaped pasta, and rigate which is a furrowed pasta with ridges on the ends and surface. Apart from these two popular types of penne, a wider variant exists, which is known as pennoni or big quills.
Ziti, the ever-popular tube-shaped pasta, gets its name from the word zita, or bride. In Naples, Ziti is the classic pasta served for weddings as the zita’s pasta. It is a long pasta that is hollow. Ziti is often broken into shorter lengths and baked with a tomato sauce and cheese (pasta al forno). Try Ziti with fresh, light sauces – like olive oil or a simple fresh tomato sauce.
What are your favourite pasta types?
Olive Leaf Pasta with Tomatoes, Baby Zucchini and Herbs