With over 300 different pasta shapes and varieties, there’s bound to be some disagreement over which is best. The ingredients may be the same (flour and water, with maybe an egg or potato thrown in) but each shape lends the noodle a unique flavor and texture – and each shape is made to be paired with a specific sauce.
Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for long, handmade pastas like tonnarelli, tagliatelle and pappardelle. There’s something so decadent about the chewiness of fresh pastas (especially when served with a creamy sauce like cacio e pepe). But I’m also a fan of dried pasta shapes, like paccheri, farfalle and mezze maniche. The one shape I really can’t stand is fusilli. My mom must have made them too often at home and now I go to great lengths to avoid them!
I was curious if other people had similarly visceral reactions to pasta, so I asked some of my favorite food writers, photographers and eaters for their thoughts.
Eleonora Baldwin, Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino
“I’m with you on fusilli, they are my most hated pasta shape. It’s not a real coil, not a true sauce-grabber and the wings break off when I happen to overcook (happens in the best kitchens!). My favorite pasta shape is tonnarelli – a love which may stem from my cacio e pepe bias, which I know you understand 😉 Thick, eggy, chewy and bouncy, tonnarelli are also a fun pasta to make: I own a “chitarra” from Abruzzo and pressing golden sheets of dough through the strings before unravelling the square-sectioned noodles is a favorite Sunday lunchtime activity.”
Elizabeth Minchilli, ElizabethMinchilli.com
“My favorite pasta shapes are the ones that I first had as a child when we moved to Rome. For me that means boring old penne. There is something about the slick surface covered with things like arrabiata or simple tomato sauce that brings me back to Rome in the seventies. I, of course, never met a pasta shape I didn’t love but I make an exception for buccatini. I mean really? Who wants to fight with their bowl of pasta just to get the strands from the dish to your mouth? I personally blame buccatini for many ruined favorite shirts and sweaters.”
Toni Brancatisano, ToniBrancatisano.com
“I’m a long pasta girl and my favorite shape is spaghetti: I love twirling the noodles with my fork and the comforting, almost back-to-childhood nostalgia as it goes into my mouth. Spaghetti is pretty sensual if you come to think of it, even though we avoided it like the plague during early dating days! Definitely a pasta to eaten with people you love and feel comfortable with. And it epitomizes ‘la dolce vita’ – think Sophia Loren!
The only time I prefer a short pasta is for carbonara or amatriciana. I love a fat rigatoni because I like the surprise and joy of having the sauce, and especially the guanciale, hide inside the pasta tubes – a joy for the palate! It’s hard to choose a pasta I don’t like – they all seem to serve a purpose – although I’m not a fan of farfalle (why why why) or angel hair pasta.”
Maria Pasquale, HeartRome
“When I think of my favorite pasta, I immediately think of my least favorite!! I don’t like the smooth, short pasta varieties like penne lisce, they must be rigate (with ridges to collect the sauce). I’m not a big fan of fusilli or farfalle either. In Rome, rigatoni are my pick for carbonara and I love cooking orecchiette with broccoli and putting quadrucci (tiny square egg pasta) in my brodo con stracciatella to make Italian egg drop soup at home. I’m also a sucker for ricotta-filled ravioli and gnocchi – and a true Abruzzese at heart, I love a good chitarra, too!”
Barbara Toselli, Pane & Burro
“When it comes to choosing my favorite pasta shape, I have no doubt: hands up if you belong to the long pasta shape party like me! Spaghetti, spaghettoni, linguine, bavette, fettuccine… you name it, I love them all. I can’t say I don’t like short shaped pasta but the pleasure of rolling spaghetti around a fork into a pirouette that swirls in its sauce and forms into a perfect, small cocoon of goodness is incomparable.
Needless to say, my husband, of course, prefers short pasta shapes so I’m forced to compromise with him sometimes (which, in the end, is the essence of any good marriage…) BUT there is one short shape I’ll never like! Le mezze maniche. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t stand them. They don’t make any sense to me, kind of like a glass of non-alcoholic wine…”
Amelia Pane Schaffner, Z Tasty Life
“Favorite: Scialatielli – a handmade pasta from the Amalfi coast. I am from the Campania region and we enjoy this shape especially in the summer: sitting on a boat, overlooking Vesuvius, with a glass of chilled white wine. They are usually prepared with seafood, wine and tomato sauce but I like them vegetarian too, with zucchini and basil or “al limone”. What I love most about this shape is it’s “organic-ness”, the irregularity of being hand rolled, which gives it a nice body and chew. Plus it embraces the sauce you wrap it in, warmly like a hug.
Least favorite: Farfalle – bowties. They strike me as the worst of the industrially-made pasta. The reason I dislike them is because the middle – the pinched part – never cooks as well as the outside wings, so you get a double standard pasta shape: the middle is crunchy, maybe al-dente if you are lucky, and the wings tends to be overcooked. It’s hard to cook this shape evenly.”
Gillian Longworth McGuire, Gillian’s Lists
“I haven’t given a great deal of thought to my favorite pasta shape but if pressed, I would choose anything stuffed. As a child, Italian-American stuffed shells was an exotic favorite in my southern household and I am known to eat ravioli capresi for just about every meal when visiting the island of Capri. I love baked cannelloni and tortellini in brodo has become a Christmas tradition in our house. The fresh pasta shop inside my neighborhood market makes a daily rotating variety of ravioli, from the traditional ricotta and spinach to an exotic duck and orange peel, all of which make a regular showing on my Roman dinner table.”
Natalie Aldern Kennedy, An American In Rome
“One of my favorite shapes of pasta is strozzapreti – priest chokers. There are a lot of legends about how this elongated, twirled pasta got its name but my favorite is that the shape was designed to literally strangle priests. It dates back to a time when priests used to visit the village homes of their parishioners following Sunday mass and sit down with the family for a meal. To discourage the priest from coming back looking for a free lunch too often, the strozzapreti were shaped to get stuck in his throat. In reality, they are far from dangerous and are simply delicious.”
Erica Firpo, Ciao Bella
“By nature, I am not a pasta person, probably because I grew up eating pasta in its various incarnations every single day – so much so that I negated the entire concept of pasta by the time I was fifteen. I claim to not like it at all though there are a few homemade pastas that still make my heart swell: homemade gnocchi by my Zia Doria, she made ideal bite-sized morsels with the also perfect balance of potato and flour. For me she always served them with her ragù, a recipe she never revealed, though I do enjoy gnocchi burro e salvia. My quest to find gnocchi like Doria has been futile – no fresh pasta shop ever has them in that perfect morsel size, leading my obsessive nature to do it myself. So far, I am no Zia Doria. My other favorites are tajarin, flat ribbon like pasta from Piemonte, obviously al tartufo bianco (shaved white truffle), and tortellini in brodo from Bologna. Ironically, the only time I actually enjoy dried pasta is in a delicious spaghetti alla carbonara.
Pastas I can’t stand and just don’t get are farfalle, orecchiette, penne, cavatappi, fusilli, rigatoni, tortiglioni… I think you get my point.”
Dominique Barbeau, Foodies in Rome
“I am a huge fan of homemade stuffed pasta. I’ll never forget an agriturismo in Sicily where I ate homemade ravioli and each bite was an explosion of flavour. I also enjoy paccheri which have an interesting consistency which is a perfect match with seafood.
I rarely order gnocchi in a restaurant because they are usually over cooked and I struggle with bucatini which guarantee I’ll make a mess with whatever I’m wearing.”
Sara White, Verbalized
“I adore nearly every shape of pasta ever created, from the roughest hand-cut egg pasta to the packets of spaghetti lining supermarket shelves around the world. Right now, though, I’m having a moment with linguine. It’s basic, yes, but so good – pleasantly smooth but always with just a bit of bite, just the right width for picking up the exact right around of sauce, and surprisingly easy to twirl a manageable amount obediently around your fork without the risk of creating a splatter radius around your plate (bucatini and tonnarelli, I’m looking at you). I also love mezze maniche, which meet all the criteria for the perfect short pasta: good for grabbing sauce and scooping up crispy bits of guanciale, easy to spear with a fork, and very forgiving when I get distracted and forget to scoop them out of the pot exactly at their recommended al dente cooking time.
I have to admit that I’m perplexed by farfalle and fusilli, which always seem to go from aggressively, inedibly al dente to soft and flabby in no time at all, bending and breaking under the weight of even the lightest sauce while looking depressingly like the pages of an eighties-era cookbook brought to life or the saddest choice on a chain restaurant’s kids’ menu. Why anyone would actively choose these pasta shapes over one of the hundreds of others remains a mystery to me.”
Alice Kiandra Adams, Rustica Retro
“My favourite pasta shapes are the ones that go well with the sauce in the pan; that said, I have a preference for mezze maniche, classic spaghetti and I also love orecchiette and cavatelli when they have been made well. I remember trying to convince my father of the benefits of short pasta and how amatriciana ends up inside and out with rigatoni, making the whole dish a more satisfying affair. He still prepares linguine on repeat so I’m not sure I succeeded but I totally buy in to the classic pairings: amatriciana with bucatini or rigatoni, carbonara with spaghetti etc.
My favorite pasta at the moment is the fresh flour and water pasta from northern Lazio called Lombrichelli, which is similar to Umbrian Umbrichelli and Tuscan Pici. The classic pairing is alla boscaiola, with sausages and mushrooms, but I love cooking down some guanciale and zucchini to create a creamy sauce and then tossing in some freshly cooked lombrichelli and topping the dish with pecorino.
The two pasta shapes I don’t like are farfalle and fusilli: farfalle because the sauce just slips off and fusilli because they remind me of bad pasta salads at picnics and kids parties.”
Elyssa Bernard, RomeWise
“I love short pastas and luckily it’s pretty typical to find some sort of short, tube-shaped pasta in Rome. These are my favorite shapes because every sauce manages to sit inside and outside the pasta tube, giving it more of a three-dimensional taste-sensation. I adore rigatoni alla carbonara, bombolotti all’amatriciana, mezze maniche alla gricia, etc. Where cacio e pepe is concerned though, I do stick with its traditional long pastas like fresh tagliolini or plain spaghetti. I am a big fan of stuffed pastas too.
The one kind of pasta I cannot stand, and I am not sure why, is angel hair pasta. It turns out this was my Italian father-in-law’s favorite kind of pasta which I find intriguing since I almost never see it on a menu in Rome. As they say, “De gustibus non est disputandum” – to each their own!”
Rosemarie Scavo, Turin Mamma
“I eat pasta almost everyday and often find myself making it from scratch too, for the cooking lessons I give and for my family on special occasions. I can’t really say that there is any type of pasta that I dislike. Each shape has its beauty, backstory and ideal condimento. Having said that, when it comes to making fresh pasta, I’ll choose to make a batch of tiny, pinched agnolotti (or agnolotti al plin, as they are called in my adopted region of Piedmont) any day over its raviolo-shaped cousins, agnolotti.
When making ravioli and regular agnolotti, I’m never quite satisfied with the final shape(s!) I get and I struggle to remove the air bubbles after folding my sheet of dough over. This stuffed pasta is best left to my in-laws, who have been making them regularly since they were children. My plin, in contrast, are almost always much more uniform and that pinch action that’s used to create the distinctive pockets at their sides makes getting that pesky air out a lot easier. Serve with a good sugo d’arrosto (the gravy-like leftover juices from roasting meat) or burro e salvia (butter and sage).”
Sofie Wochner, Marigold Roma
“My very favorite pasta shapes are mezze maniche because they’re the perfect shape for the sauce to fill up. When cooked very al dente, the texture of this big fat piece of pasta filled with sauce is just heaven to me. I also can’t get enough of Domenico’s homemade tortelli filled with sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with confit tomatoes: it’s comfort food to an extreme if you ask me.
I’m not a huge fan of spaghetti, how weird is that, since its the most famous shape in the world. It really doesn’t do anything for me – we’ve just never hit it off, me and spaghetti. Luckily Domenico is a very considerate man who will prepare every other pasta shape other than spaghetti, even though spaghetti is his favorite shape. Obviously that’s what he eats when I’m not at home!”
Domenico Cortese, Marigold Roma
“Spaghetti has always been my favorite shape because it brings back sweet memories from my childhood in Calabria. I especially love spaghetti aglio, olio, peperoncino e mollica di pane – toasted breadcrumbs to add more texture to the dish. The one shape I really don’t like is bucatini: they just don’t seem to work on a plate and are complicated to eat.”
Cassandra Santoro, Travel Italian Style
“For the longest time, I was embarrassed to eat spaghetti while dining in Italy. I was never able to master the art of the fork twirl and I always became stressed out about this fact. I just knew that everyone was watching me as I ate! That’s when I discovered paccheri: this smooth, tube-shaped pasta from Campania was not only delicious but also easy to eat. I’ve finally mastered the Italian way of eating spaghetti but it’s paccheri that have always stuck with me through these years.”
Gina Tringali, Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine
“When it comes to my favorite pasta is boils down to consistency and the sauce and/or vegetable pairing. My Neapolitan half can’t live without hand-rolled cavatelli tossed with fresh tomatoes and basil. My Sicilian half stockpiles busiate during every Sicily trip. The corkscrew shape works well with most every combo especially with pesto trapanese, classic pesto, alla norma, frutti di mare, need I go on? And I loathe spaghetti. It is annoying. No matter how much of an expert twirler I may be, I nearly always end up with a Pollock like pattern on my white shirt – or worse, on a nearby diner’s lap.”