Types of Pasta

Who doesn't love pasta. This classic is crowd's favorite. Pasta may very well be one of the most popular carbohydrates in the culinary world. It can be served on its own with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of herbs, or it can be topped off with a meaty tomato sauce. Fold into casseroles or soups, or toss into salads for a heartier main dish. With so many different types of pasta shapes and names, you can choose from a variety of noodle types with striking designs, various sizes, and different textures for your menu.


Use the following links to explore the types of pasta shapes and colors out there, common terminology, and cooking tips so you can make more informed purchases for your menu!

Types of Pasta

Different shapes of pasta
Close up of dry angel hair pasta

Angel Hair

Description: Very fine, delicate strands
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 2 - 3 minutes
  • Dry: 3 - 5 minutes

Best for: Tossing with light sauces
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Light tomato, olive oil, light cream, butter, seafood

 

 

Close up of dry capellini pasta

Capellini

Description: Stick-shaped, long, and thin strands
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 2 - 3 minutes
  • Dry: 3 - 5 minutes

Best for: tossing with chunky pomodoro sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Hearty tomato and meatballs

 

 

Close up of dry cavatappi pasta

Cavatappi

Description: Corkscrew-shaped pasta that have ridges scored into the shape to better adhere sauce
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 6 - 8 minutes
  • Dry: 9 - 11 minutes

Best for: Baked dishes, salads, or tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Pesto, sundried tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, peas, cream sauces, and hearty pomodoro

 

 

Close up of dry egg noodles

Egg Noodles

Description: Very hearty, rich in flavor, and deep in color
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 5 minutes
  • Dry: 6 - 8 minutes

Best for: Adding into thicker stews, soups, sauces, and casseroles
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Thick stews, stroganoff, butter, chicken broth

 

 

Close up of dry fettuccine pasta

Fettuccine

Description: Long, flat egg noodles that are about 1/4" wide
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Alfredo, cream, cheese, meat, seafood

 

 

Close of dry fusilli pasta

Fusilli

Description: Short, thick, spiralized pasta
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 2 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce or making a cold pasta salad
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Alfredo, cream, cheese, tomato, fresh or sauteed vegetables, meat

 

 

Close up of frozen gnocchi

Gnocchi

Description: Cylindrical, soft dumplings usually made with potatoes
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh / Frozen: Place gnocchi in boiling water. Once they are fully cooked, they will float to the surface. Wait 10 - 15 seconds, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon

Best for: Tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomato, cream, pesto, cheese, meat

Close up of dry lasagna noodles

Lasagna Noodles

Description: Long, wide, and flat noodles
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: At room temp, build into lasagna
  • Dry: Cook 6 - 8 minutes, then build into lasagna

Best for: Building lasagnas
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Cream, cheese, meat, and vegetables

 

 

Close up of dry linguine pasta

Linguine

Description: Long, flat noodles about 1/8" wide
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 2 - 3 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomato, pesto, olive oil, seafood

 

 

Close up of dry macaroni pasta

Macaroni

Description: Short, C-shaped tubes
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 6 - 8 minutes

Best for: Baked dishes, salads, soups, macaroni and cheese
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Cheese, butter, broth

 

 

Close up of dry orzo pasta

Orzo

Description: Small, rice-shapped noodles
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 4 - 6 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Salads, soups, and cheesy pasta dishes
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomatoes, olives, parsely, mushrooms, olive oil, cheese, broth

 

 

Close up of dry penne rigate pasta

Penne Rigate

Description: Small tubes that are typically 2 - 4" long, available in white or tri-color
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Chunky tomato, meat, cream, vegetables

 

 

Close up of dry pot pie squares

Pot Pie Squares

Description: Square, flat noodles usually measuring 1"
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 8 - 10 minutes
  • Dry: 12 - 15 minutes

Best for: Chicken pot pie soup
Ideal ingredients: Broth, celery, onions, carrots, peas, chicken

 

 

Close up of dry rotini pasta

Rotini

Description: Spiral-shaped to retain sauces and ingredients, available in white or tri-color
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 4 - 5 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce, pasta salad
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomato, cream, vinaigrette, meat

 

 

Close up of dry rigatoni pasta

Rigatoni

Description: Short tubes about 1 1/2" long and 3/4" diameter, with ridges
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 5 - 6 minutes
  • Dry: 11 - 13 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce, baked dishes
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Chunky meat or vegetable, cream, cheese

 

 

Close up of dry shell pasta

Shells

Description: Small shell shape with an open cavity that collects sauce, seasoning, and meat
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Baked dishes, salads, macaroni and cheese
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomato, cream, cheese, vinaigrette, meat, vegetable

 

 

Close up of dry spaghetti

Spaghetti

Description: Thin round strands that are about 10" long, available in white or wheat
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 2 - 3 minutes
  • Dry: 9 - 11 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Tomato, pesto, meat, seafood

 

 

Close up of frozen tortellini

Tortellini

Description: Ring-shaped pasta that are typically stuffed with meat, cheeses, or vegetables
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 5 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 11 minutes

Best for: Tossing with sauce, soups, pasta salad
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Alfredo, cream, cheese, garlic, tomato

 

 

Close up of dry ziti

Ziti

Description: Medium-width tubes that are at least 2" long
Cooking Time:

  • Fresh: 3 - 4 minutes
  • Dry: 10 - 12 minutes

Best for: Baked dishes
Ideal sauces and ingredients: Light tomato, olive oil, cream, cheese

 

 

Dry Pasta vs Fresh Pasta

Close up of dry pasta

Dry Pasta

Dry pasta is made from semolina or "00" flour and water. These ingredients are mixed into a paste, pushed through molds, and cut into different types of pasta shapes. The noodles are then put through a drying process that extracts all the moisture. Since dry noodles do not contain moisture, there are a few benefits to buying them:

Benefits of Dry Pasta

  • Longer shelf life than fresh noodles (can last up to two years if the packaging is unopened)
  • Can also be cooked al dente, whereas fresh pasta has a softer texture once it's been cooked
  • Best for soups, casseroles, and dishes with heartier sauces

 

Fresh pasta on a table with flour

Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is typically made from white flour, and eggs are substituted in place of water to provide extra moisture. These noodles are made with a pasta machine or cutter. The shaped noodles are then left out to partially dry. Once you're ready, add your fresh pasta to boiling water and cook just like dry pasta, but for less time.

Benefits of Fresh Pasta

  • Has a fresher, more authentic, and flavorful taste
  • Faster cooking time
  • Best served with delicate sauces, olive oil, or creamy alfredo

Pasta Color Comparison

Now that you understand the difference between the various pasta types, you're faced with another decision: color. Like bread, you can also choose between white and whole wheat pasta. Tri-color pasta is also a readily available noodle type. When making your own, try adding spinach, squid ink, pumpkin or butternut squash puree, and even beetroot powder or puree to your pasta dough for an even trendier dish.
Close up of white pasta

White Pasta

  • Made from 100% durum wheat semolina
  • Neutral, appetizing color that contrasts well with all types of sauces

 

Close up of wheat pasta

Wheat Pasta

  • Made from whole wheat flour for higher protein content
  • Higher nutritional content than white pasta, making it appealing to health-conscious customers

 

Close up of tri-color pasta

Tri-Color Pasta

  • Offers a mix of white, green, and red noodles for an enhanced visual appeal that’s ideal for pasta salads and kids' meals
  • Includes spinach and tomato infused noodles for slight diversity in flavor

 

Glossary of Pasta Terms

If you've ever looked at a recipe or Italian menu, you may have been confused by some of the vocabulary used to describe pasta. Before we start going over the types of pasta noodles, it's important to understand some basic terms you'll run into.

If you've ever looked at a recipe or Italian menu, you may have been confused by some of the vocabulary used to describe pasta. Below are some basic terms you'll run into.

  • Al dente: Meaning "to the tooth" in Italian, this term refers to fully cooked pasta that is still a bit firm, which gives it an appealing texture.
  • Al forno: A pasta, pizza, or other Italian dish that is baked in the oven.
  • Alfredo: A white sauce made with cream, butter, parmesan cheese, and black pepper.
  • Asiago: Asiago is a popular hard Italian cheese that's used for grating. Add it to sauces or use it as a garnish.
  • Bolognese: Bolognese is a ragu pasta sauce native to the Bologna region of Italy. Traditionally, it contains finely chopped meats, onions, celery, carrots, and tomato paste.
  • Carbonara: Carbonara is a pasta dish that is made from eggs, a hard, grated cheese such as Pecorino or Parmesan, and a cured meat, traditionally guanciale.
  • Durum: Durum is a hard wheat that's high in protein and gluten. It also has a low moisture content and a long shelf life.
  • Fra diavolo: A spicy, tomato-based pasta sauce with crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Ini and Oni: If you're trying to choose between fusillini, fusilli, and fusillioni, the pasta names that end with the suffix -ini will be the smaller versions, and the pasta names that end with the suffix -oni will be the larger versions.
  • Pomodoro: Pomodoro is simply a meatless tomato sauce.
  • Primavera: meaning "spring" in Italian, Primavera is consisted of al dente pasta tossed with an equal amount of sauteed spring vegetables and drizzled with a light olive oil.
  • Rigate: The term rigate means "with ridges." These noodles have greater texture, so they'll cling to sauces, seasonings, meats, and vegetables when lifted from the plate.
  • Semolina: Semolina flour is the course flour used to make dry pasta. Made from durum wheat, its high gluten and protein content provides great resistance and elasticity, thus giving dry pasta the ability to hold its shape when cooking.
  • Soffritto: This cooking term means "under-fried." Typically, vegetables are lightly fried in oil before they're added to the sauce for further cooking.

Pasta Cooking Tips

When creating a pasta-based dish, it's important to prepare all other ingredients in the recipe, including sauce, vegetables, seafood, and meats, first. Since pasta is best served as soon as it's cooked, you can simply add the finished noodles to your already-prepared dish. When cooking your pasta, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use 4 - 6 qt. of water to every 1 lb. of pasta.
  • Boil water and cook pasta in a pasta cooker to eliminate the use of a colander.
  • Add 1 tbsp. of sea salt per 1 lb. of pasta to boiling water to add flavor to noodles.
  • Add 1 tbsp. of olive oil per 1 lb. of pasta to boiling water to prevent noodles from clumping together once drained.
  • While cooking, frequently stir pasta with a wooden spoon to prevent clumping.
  • If you want al dente pasta, set your timer for one minute less than the minimum cooking time specified on the package.
  • Immediately after the timer goes off, fish a few noodles out of the pot using a pasta server or slotted spoon to see if they're cooked al dente or soft enough for your preference. If done, drain immediately.
  • Rinse cooked, drained pasta in ice water to prevent it from cooking further.
  • Wondering how much pasta per person? Try using 2 oz. of dried pasta per person for a small course, and 4 oz. of dried pasta per person for a main course.