15 types of pasta you need to know about, and how to serve them

15 types of pasta you need to know about, and how to serve them

How are spaghetti and linguine different? And what is al dente? This guide answers it all

Varieties of pasta
There are around 350 different varieties of pasta Image Credit: Shutterstock

Pasta, we’d like to think, isn’t just a food, it’s an emotion. And the ever effusive Italians have outdone themselves with over 350 varieties of the world’s most popular food. Yes, pasta has left behind meat and rice in the popularity contest according to a global survey by Oxfam.

But as beloved as the Italian noodle is, there’s no denying that its myriad shapes, variants and sauces throw for a loop even the most clued in gourmands. Because just like every Italian city has a different dialect, each Italian city has its own signature pasta too.

Is penne better in arabiatta? How is arabbiatta sauce different from ragu? And what sets apart fresh egg dough pastas from dried ones?

We roped in Chef Davide Marzullo, Chef de Cuisine at Bellavista – Grosvenor House, Dubai’s Italian eatery to answer all our and all your bubbling pasta-related questions. We've also included a list of 15 types of pastas you should presently know of and what sauces they create a dream team with.

1. Calamarata

Type: Tubular pasta

Region: Naples, Campania

Calamarata Image Credit: Shutterstock

This thick, ringed pasta is named for the calamari (squid) rings it resembles. A popular pairing with seafood, it’s a Neapolitan speciality and traditionally is made with squid. It can also be made with clams and broccoli as its hollow shape allows to accommodate a bite of vegetables and seafood within the pasta.

2. Rigatoni

Type: Tubular pasta

Region: Sicily

Rigatoni Image Credit: Shutterstock

The grooved sides of this tube-shaped pasta form little furrows that chunky meat sauces (like ragu) and vegetable-based sauces settle into. Cheese too adhere well to the rigatoni. What differentiates it from penne is its square-cut edges and shorter length. The rigatoni also retains its shape under heat, making it ideal for pasta bakes and cheese-infused casserole dishes. Can’t find rigatoni in your friendly neighbourhood supermarket? Penne and ziti make seamless substitutes.

3. Penne

Type: Tubular pasta

Region: Campania

Penne Image Credit: Shutterstock

The one we instinctively reach for on supermarket shelves, this cylindrical pasta’s edges are cut diagonally to resemble the nibs of pens – hence the name. The penne comes in two variants – penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed). And its versatility is the reason we all know and love it; it’s a delight when tossed up in creamy Alfredo sauce, stirred in gritty pesto, or drenched in chili-flecked arrabiatta.

4. Fusili

Type: Shaped pasta

Region: Campania

Fusili Image Credit: Shutterstock

These corkscrew-shaped pasta derive their name from the Italian word for spindle. These twirly pasta is made from winding thin strips of pasta dough around a rod and letting them dry out. Pick them for your pasta-bake or salad for the pizazz they add with their groovy shape, but also for their ability to cradle sauces in the grooves. Chunky pesto, rich cheesy sauces are also perfect pairings.

5. Papardelle

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Tuscany

Pappardelle Image Credit: Shutterstock

A wider cousin of the tagliatelle, these broad pasta strings teams up best with seafood as the Tuscan coast is known for its fresh catch, says Chef Marzullo. Usually made of an egg-based pasta dough, pappardelle can be both also thrown in a tomato-based seafood sauce enhanced by the briny juices of fresh mussels and clams or in a white sauce made of olive oil, garlic and pasta water and zero cream – the Italian way.

6. Tagliatelle

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna region

Tagliatelle Image Credit: Shutterstock

This is the pasta that was solely created for the purpose of being consumed with a rich ragù (slow-cooked meat sauce) that’s now known as Bolognese. Yes, originally this flatter and wider ribbon pasta was the combination to the beloved pasta sauce we love to eat with spaghetti. In fact, the tagliatelle is somewhat of a flagship pasta of the Emilia-Romagna region – Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce proudly displays a single solid gold ribbon of tagliatelle made in the pasta’s original proportions of 1mm x 6mm. Besides the Bolognese, the tagliatelle is a delight when swirled into creamy sauces or sprinkled with cheese thanks to its absorbent surface.

7. Tagliolini

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Piedmont, Turin

Tagliolini Image Credit: Shutterstock

The tagliolini is 1/3 in width of the tagliatelle and made from egg dough, which means this is your go-to pasta when time is short and appetites are ravenous. This pasta has a relatively short cooking time in comparison to other ribbon pastas, which makes it the right fit for soupy broths (think Italian ramen). Chicken soups and beef broths are made heartier with a serving of taglioni swirling in it and rank high on the list of winter comfort foods. As far as sauces go, the tagliolini’s served sautéed in a decadent butter and white truffles – a speciality of the Piedmont region called Alba. In Torino, it's had with porcini mushrooms in a white sauce.

8. Spaghetti

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Sicily

Spaghetti Image Credit: Shutterstock

Spaghetti owes its popularity to being a jack of all trades. It pairs very well with carbonara or the classic spaghetti pomodoro. It’s also a proper delicacy when stirred into a pot of arabiatta, which says Chef Davide is the most famous Italian sauce. Originally from Sicily, it’s now used across all Italian regions and is considered to be first among the dried pastas, having been invented in 12th century Arab-ruled Sicily.

And if you’re wondering why the definitive spaghetti and meatballs don’t feature on here, that’s because it’s an American adaptation popularised by Italian-American immigrants staunchly refuse to acknowledge.

9. Fettuccine

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Rome, Lazio and Tuscany

Fettuccine Image Credit: Shutterstock

Translating to ‘little ribbons’ and similar to but narrower than the tagliatelle, these flat noodles are the pride of Rome. In fact, the Italian capital has an entire day – February 7 – dedicated to fete and adore the pasta and its perfect match, the Alfredo sauce. Al dente fettucine is blanketed by a luscious sauce of butter and parmesan and while it’s often written off as an American creation, this popular pasta dish firmly has its roots in Rome and is the brainchild of restaurant owner Alfredo Di Lelio who created it for his pregnant wife Ines in 1907.That’s a 100-year legacy right there! If Lelio’s divine creation ranks as too cheesy for your palate, try it with beef or chicken-based ragù sauces.

10. Linguine

Type: Ribbon pasta

Region: Genoa, Liguria

Linguine Image Credit: Shutterstock

Linguine borrows its name from the Italian word for ‘little tongues’ and they’re best slurped up in a fresh, breezy clam sauce. A Sicilian preparation serves this noodle-like pasta that’s slightly thicker than spaghetti with tuna and capers. It’s also a lip-smacking meal when swirled into a nutty pesto and potato sauce – a classic Genoese recipe. In the Campania region, a zesty lemon sauce takes centre stage; it’s blended with parmesan cheese or cream.

11. Farfalle

Type: Shaped pasta

Region: Lombardy

Farfalle Image Credit: Shutterstock

These bow-tie shaped pasta means ‘butterfly’ in Italian and come it two types – one with crimped edges (called farfalle rigate) and the other with straight edges. Why is it shaped so? Well, for no reason in particular except creativity and fun, explains Chef Marzullo. Often that creativity extends to dyeing it naturally with beetroot, spinach and squid ink. Sauté them in cheesy carbonaras or chunky tomato that will all cling to the pasta well thanks to its unique shape and wide surface area. It also works with herby oil-based sauces such as pesto and is easy to scoop up with sauces that feature vegetables or seafood, which also makes them a great addition to salads.

12. Macaroni

Type: Tubular pasta

Region: Milan, Lombardy

Macaroni Image Credit: Pixabay

The macaroni of the mac-n-cheese fame, this elbow-shaped pasta needs no introduction. Its narrow shape helps it withstand heat and retain its robust shape, making it the first port of call for baked pasta dish recipes. Those very same tubes capture sauces and molten cheese, ensuring every mouthful is flooded with sauces. But they only work with light and thin sauces, including soups and broths and not meatier, chunky versions because of the slender structure.

13. Tortellini

Type: Ring-shaped stuffed pasta

Region: Emilia-Romagna

Tortellini Image Credit: Shutterstock

Stuffed with fillings such as meat (prosciutto), greens (spinach, parsely) cheese (Parmesan, ricotta), these pasta parcels from Bologna are a delight on their own, served with delectable sauces, or even in chicken broths and soups. Braised simple butter and sage sauce also plays up their intrinsic flavour.

14. Lasagna

Type: Sheet pasta

Region: Naples, Campania

Lasagna Image Credit: Shutterstock

The personification of comfort food, lasagna seems incapable of doing any wrong. Bake these flat rectangular sheets of pasta layered with meaty ragu and béchamel sauce. This casserole-friendly pasta dish also works wonders with vegetables if you’re looking to stray off the beaten path. Or stay put staunchly with tradition and do it the Neapolitan-style and stack pasta sheets with levels of boiled eggs, meatballs, sausage, salami, ricotta cheese. There’s a reason why this pasta, one of the oldest types, has survived since its first appearance in ancient Greece and then subsequently ancient Rome – its exemplary versatility to couple up with any sauce and filling and transform into an explosion of gooey, saucy, deliciousness.

15. Orecchiette

Type: Shaped pasta

Region: Puglia

Orecchiette Image Credit: Pixabay

These concave, handmade pasta are a signature creation of Puglia. Italian for little ears, this pasta’s hollow shape makes it an ideal receptacle for sauces or bits of vegetables and meat.

Make like the Puglianese and toss it up with turnip greens or broccoli called orecchiette alle cime di rapa. It’s also complimented by a full-bodied tomato and basil sauce topped off with a dusting of ricotta cheese.

Dry pasta vs Fresh pasta

Fresh handmade pasta
Fresh handmade pasta Image Credit: Pexels

Fresh pasta is often handmade from a dough of egg, wheat flour and water. Dry pasta, also known as extruded pasta is made from semolina dough that’s forced through a mould (extrusion) and made in various shape.

You can also make pasta from fresh dough without eggs. Semolina flour and water is a famous pasta dough basic and it keeps longer than egg dough pasta.

Does one have a benefit over the other?

Not really, explains Chef Mazrullo. “The main difference is that the sensation on your palate is different – if it’s made from egg dough or semolina dough or dry flour, each gives a different mouth feel.”

“Most pastas can be hand-made but it will look different to the readymade dry ones. You need a good pasta-making machine. To shape pasta by hand you need to be experienced.

“The dry pasta is used for daily use as it’s easy to store. If you use fresh eggs to make them you can still keep them in the fridge for a couple days, if you use pasteurized eggs, you could keep it up to six days in the fridge.”

It all boils down to choice, says Chef Mazrullo. However, fresh pasta is much richer in taste and way more nutritious since it has a lot of egg yolk.

Fun fact: The Emilia-Romagna region uses a lot of pasta made from egg dough compared to other regions.

Master the al dente cooking

Al dente cooking
Cooking pasta al dente Image Credit: Pixabay

We’ve all heard the term al dente being casually thrown around on cooking shows, recipes, food blogs and menus. But what exactly does the Italian term that’s supposed to personify the perfect pasta mean?

“Al dente is the feeling of pasta where it doesn’t completely melt in your mouth and it has a bit of a bite to it,” explains Chef Mazrullo. “It gives the pasta enough body to chew and it’s firm. Al dente pasta is in fact easier to digest.”

The secret to cooking the perfect pasta, says Chef Mazrullo, is undercooking it. “Take it out from the water when it’s a little undercooked than what you want. If you cut a string of spaghetti you should be able to see a little white spot in the middle. You should then finish cooking your pasta in the pan with the sauce. This allows you to prevent overcooking and have an al dente texture that we Italians love so much,” he explains.

In summary, Chef Mazrullo advice when it comes to pasta is to just follow your instinct and experiment. “You can use every kind of pasta with every sauce. Italians have a traditional way to make certain sauces with certain pastas. But doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself.”

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