It is undeniable that pasta has become the world’s favorite food. It is the go-to comfort food for many of us, as it’s quick, easy to make, and simply delicious. What more can you ask for?
Pasta is also a very versatile dish, as it can be both a quick meal option and a culinary masterpiece if you put some effort into it.
Pasta can be served with literally everything such as vegetables, meats, fish and seafood and of course cheese… the more the better. It’s not a secret that pasta and cheese are a match made in heaven.
Some people love the classic combinations like marinara and other tomato sauces, while others get creative with creamy, herby concoctions. If you want to impress your loved ones with a special but easy-to-make dinner, buy large pasta shells or tubes and stuff them with your favorite filling. Pasta offers a lot of room for experimentation and creativity.
We all love trying different pasta styles both at home and while dining out, but have you ever been intimidated by dozens of types and wondered which is which?
Well, you are not alone. Let’s learn about the most common types of pasta!
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Types of pasta
Oh, those infinite types of pasta and their tricky names! Luckily, we can divide them into several categories – short pasta, long pasta, stuffed pasta, and dumpling pasta. While long pasta can be both hand-rolled or made with an extruder, short pasta types are usually only made with an extruder to create those famous shapes.
Spaghetti is one of the most popular pasta types in the world; we all know it, love it, and can’t get enough of it.
It’s an easily recognizable type made of long, thin, cylindrical, noodle-type pasta.
It’s fun to know that the word “Spaghetti” comes from the Italian word “spago” which means “thin string” or “twine”.
Spaghetti has its own varieties, such as “Spaghettoni” which is a thicker form of spaghetti, and “capellini” which is very thin.
Lasagna is a type of thin, flat pasta, cut into wide strips usually with curly edges. It is used to create the popular casserole dish with the same name.
Lasagna originated in the middle ages in Italy and is linked to the city of Naples. Nowadays we think of lasagna as an appetizing dish with layers of wide noodles covered in a heavy tomato-based bolognese, however, the early lasagnas hardly looked like that, because tomatoes did not make their way into Europe until the 1500s.
Macaroni is a type of dry pasta, typically shaped like short, narrow tubes. The most popular dish made by macaroni is the good old mac and cheese. It was first introduced to the United States by President Thomas Jefferson who fell in love with the dish in Paris.
Since then it has become an ideal comfort food in the US as it is cheap to make and easy to ship and store, and certainly fills up a belly.
Tagliatelle is shaped like long, flat ribbons, very similar to fettuccine, and is usually about 6.5 to 10 mm long. The word Tagliatelle was derived from the Italian word “tagliare” which means “to cut”.
It is often referenced that the shape of Tagliatelle was created by a chef who was inspired by Lucrezia d’Este’s hairstyle at her wedding to Annibale II Bentivoglio, in 1487. However, this is merely a joke made by humorist Augusto Majani in 1931.
This type of pasta is mostly referred to as “fettuccine” in southern Italy and as “tagliatelle” in the northern parts.
Ravioli are small envelopes of pasta made of thin egg-based dough with a filling encased in the center.
Traditionally, ravioli are made at home and the filling varied by the area where they are prepared. In Rome, the filling would typically be made with ricotta cheese, spinach, and nutmeg while Sardinian’s prefer to fill it with ricotta and grated lemon rind.
If you are not into cooking you can find pre-made ravioli in stores with a variety of fillings.
You are most likely pronouncing this one wrong. So if you do not want to be corrected by frustrated Italians, you should pronounce it as N(Y)OK-ee. Now that this is settled, let’s learn more about this delicious type of pasta made of cooked mashed potatoes, flour, and eggs. This fun little dumplings can be served with a red sauce or even in a soup.
Due to potatoes as the main ingredient, Gnocchi tastes a bit different and is generally healthier than regular pasta.
Linguine is noodle-shaped pasta that is wider than spaghetti but not as wide as Fettuccine. The shape of the Linguine is more elliptical than flat and resembles little tongues which is exactly what the word means in Italian. It is usually served with pesto or seafood.
Tortellini are ring-shaped pasta traditionally stuffed with a mix of meat or cheese. The word “Tortellini” is the diminutive for “tortello” which means “cake”. Tortellini can be served with a variety of sauces and they are a great addition to soups.
“Buco” in Italian means a “hole”, that’s why Bucatini comes with a hole running in the center. This is a culinary trick to ensure that you get a little extra sauce with every bite. Isn’t it genius?
In Italian the word Fettuccine means “little ribbons’ and perfectly describes the shape of this famous pasta. It is very similar to tagliatelle and in fact, many people argue that these are the same.
Some types of Fettuccine are made with the addition of spinach that gives it a green color and a distinct taste.
Fettuccine is usually eaten with beef, but the most famous dish with Fettuccine is Fettuccine Alfredo made with butter and parmesan cheese.
Farfalle, also known as bow-tie pasta is one of the most fun-shaped pasta varieties. Farfalle resembles small butterflies and that is exactly what the word means in Italian.
To make it even more fun, Farfalle comes in a variety of colors, due to mixing certain ingredients into the dough. For example, red farfalle is made by adding beetroot, spinach is added for the green color, and cuttlefish ink for black.
Orecchiette looks like small ears and that’s exactly what the word means in Italian. In China, there is a similar type of pasta called “cats ears”. Orecchiette is made with just durum wheat and water, without eggs. This pasta is usually served with pork and crisp white wine.
Pappardelle is flat, large, very broad ribbons of pasta. It’s not surprising that the word Pappardelle means “to gobble up” in Italian.
This variety is very convenient to devour as the flat, wide strands easily curl around the fork, catching all the juices and chunky bits of sauce. You can serve it with traditional ragu sauce or make a vegetarian option with mushrooms.
Rigatoni is tubular pasta, that usually comes with ridged edges to perfectly capture sauces and grated cheese. Rigatoni is a popular pasta shape in Sicily.
History of Pasta
Pasta is one of the most accessible and popular food staples in the world. Today, nearly every country has created its own version of it.
The history of pasta is quite twisted and full of controversies. Commonly the birthplace of pasta is considered Ancient Rome. The key ingredients of fresh pasta are water and semolina flour, which is made of durum wheat, which thrives in Italy’s climate.
Back in the time pasta was made without eggs, as they were considered a treasure.
Unlike the store-bought pasta that can be stored for a while, the original pasta was made to be eaten immediately. The dried pasta originated due to the Arab invasions of Sicily in the 8th century, as there was a need for producing mass quantities of this product.
Later, in the the1300s, dried pasta was used on long nautical expeditions as it was very convenient in terms of shelf-life and nutrition.
These expeditions helped to spread pasta all over the world and gradually it became more advanced in shapes and technology.
Back in Italy, pasta was slowly making its way to the north of Naples where it was destined to become a culinary phenomenon in the 17th century.
Pasta’s best friend, the tomato sauce, however, was introduced much later, as back in the time tomatoes were considered inedible and even poisonous in several regions. For a long time, tomatoes bore the nickname “poison apple” as people thought that aristocrats die after tasting them. However, the truth behind this is that back in the time tomatoes were served on pewter plates, that were high in lead content. And since tomatoes were high in acidity, they leached lead from the plates resulting in poisoning.
Luckily, someone realized this, and tomatoes were pardoned.
Pasta’s spread across the world was also reinforced by a mass migration of Italians from their country in the time between the Italian Unification and World War I. During those hard times, Italians took pride in preserving and refining the art of pasta making.