Pasta is one food we can't get enough of. It comes in so many shapes and types that it keeps things interesting. Some pasta shapes are long, and others are short; some are stuffed, and others are hollow. While almost all pasta shapes and types can be used in a pinch for an easy weeknight dinner, some are better suited to different types of recipes. Thinner pastas work great with lighter ingredients like fresh tomatoes, while wider, thicker pastas are great with heartier sauces like classic fettuccine alfredo.
In the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, our food editors have developed thousands of pasta recipes. They range from healthy pasta recipes to cozy lasagna. Here are the common pasta shapes and types you should know — most paired with a recipe that highlights the best way to use it. Plus, we sprinkled in some fun facts about how some pasta shapes were created and got their names, thanks to insight from pasta company Barilla.
This long pasta shape is amongst the thinnest and works well when tossed in a thin sauce, oil or dressing. It also goes by capellini, which directly translates to "little hair," and in this case means thin hair.
This long pasta is best known for its signature hollow shape — aka its buco, which means hole in Italian — that you can slurp out of like a straw. It's good for recipes that require twirling and minimal poking with a fork, like hearty sauces with meatballs.
Named for its resemblance to handbells, this shape captures small ingredients, like corn and peas, in the best way so you can get a full bite of your favorite recipe in every forkful.
Cavatappi are like longer, more spiraled elbows. They're relatively thick with ridges, which make them good for carrying sauces and toppings. They're great for pasta salad dishes that are served warm or cold.
These "little thimbles" are perfect for soup. They're small enough to spoon up and big enough to match the size of larger cuts of veggies and beans.
This pasta shape tends to interlock when cooked, making it great for cheesy recipes peppered with small ingredients that you can fork up at the same time.
The name comes from the Italian word for butterflies. This shape is short and flat with little pockets that trap small amounts of sauce and bits of ingredients for added pops of flavor without being too overwhelming.
Fettuccine is wider than linguine but less wide than tagliatelle. It's thin and flat but still provides a bite, so it's good for heartier recipes.
These spirals are thinner and a little more firm than rotini, which tends to be soft and bouncy. They're great for eating with fork-tender veggies and toppings.
Gemelli means twins in Italian, which is representative of the two intertwining strands that make up this fun shape. They're firmer than most other spiral shapes — good for piercing with a fork.
Unlike pasta that's made mostly from wheat, gnocchi uses potatoes or ricotta to create a soft and fluffy dumpling. The best ones are airy and not dense. They'll fill you up quickly.
These long, flat noodles are best layered in casserole dishes with sauce, cheese, ground meat or vegetables. Their ridges help hold different types of ingredients. No-boil varieties that are wide and flat are similar to the shape originally made by the Romans, according to Barilla; they make the lasagna-making process easier though the results don't come out as saucy as we like.
These noodles are thin — but wider than spaghetti — and good for recipes that benefit from a little more substance. They take a little more effort to chew than thinner noodles, so they work well with bigger sauces.
These large tubes are traditionally stuffed with ricotta and baked with sauce and mozzarella for their namesake dish.
We love these "little ears" with thicker sauces that allow them to nest together and deliver the most flavor. Use with sauces and ingredients you can't get enough of like cream and bacon bits.
This small pasta is popular in Greek cuisine and is super versatile. It's bigger than rice but can be used similarly in pasta salads and soups.
When you want the pasta to be the star of the show, use these silky, larger-than-rigatoni shapes that pair nicely with light and fresh toppings.
Pappardelle is a great choice for heartier pasta dishes. They're wide and carry toppings and sauce well. A little goes a long way.
These tiny stars are best in broth. When served on their own, they hold onto liquid and have an almost creamy consistency, especially when combined with butter. They're typically a child's introduction to the world of pasta in Italy, according to Barilla.
Short and most often ridged, this pasta shape is great for thick sauces. It also has angled edges that slide onto the tines of your fork easily.
Ravioli barely needs an introduction. This popular pasta is often stuffed with cheese, but the types of fillings you can use are limitless. It's best served with a simple sauce. It can also be topped with soft ingredients you can easily scoop up.
Rigatoni is bigger and wider than ziti and includes "riga," the Italian word for ridges. It can handle heavy toppings from rich sauces to meat and veg.
These spirals soak up sauce and dressing, making them perfect for salads. Plus, cheeses and small ingredients nestle in their layers for maximum flavor.
We love how shells often nest inside each other when cooked — a little like orecchiette. They're great tossed in sauce and baked or paired with ground meat. Barilla says that large shells are inspired by the shellfish near Naples and Genoa.
A classic that needs little explanation. It's long and thin like spaghi, the Italian word for lengths of cord, according to Barilla, which also says it's the most popular shape in Italy. It's super versatile and best for twirling and eating with soft toppings that can easily be picked up with a fork.
A thinner version of spaghetti, spaghettini is good for lighter recipes where the sauce is the star.
Tagliatelle is wider than both linguine and fettuccine, but thinner than pappardelle. Its width allows for proper twirling and scooping up of larger-cut ingredients at the same time.
Some may consider this stuffed pasta to be miniature ravioli, but it has a toothier bite thanks to its pinched ring shape. It can be used in soups, warm pasta dishes or cold pasta salads.
Ziti is similar to penne but without the ridges and angled edges. We find them to be softer than penne but still able to stand up to toppings. They're traditionally served at weddings in Naples, according to Barilla – zita means bride.