29 Pasta Shapes and How to Use Them

A glossary of pasta shapes and names — and delicious recipes to try them.

best pasta shapes
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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.

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1 Angel Hair

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.

Get the recipe for Cool Chicken and Noodle Salad »

2 Bucatini
mozzarella stuffed turkey meatballs in pasta in a bowl being twirled and lifted with a fork

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.

Get the recipe for Mozzarella-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs »

3 Campanelle
two bowls of campanelle pasta with brown butter and corn in grey dishes on yellow background
Con Poulos

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.

Get the recipe for Brown Butter and Corn Pasta »

4 Cavatappi
close up of creamy chicken mushroom pasta in a skillet
Judy Kim

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.

Get the recipe for Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Pasta »

5 Ditalini
classic minestrone soup with a ladle in a blue dutch oven on a wooden board
Con Poulos

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.

Get the recipe for Classic Minestrone »

6 Elbows
stovetop mac 'n' cheese in a blue bowl on black plate

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.

Get the recipe for Stovetop Mac 'n Cheese »

7 Farfalle
hands holding a fork and a bowl of brussels sprout and basil bowties in a white bowl on grey wooden background

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.

Get the recipe for Brussels Sprout and Basil Bowties »

8 Fettuccine
a dark gray bowl of creamy fettuccine with leeks and ham with a gold fork, dark blue napkin and a glass of sparkling water
Mike Garten

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.

Get the recipe for Creamy Fettuccine with Leeks and Ham »

9 Fusilli
two cheese roasted veggie fusilli on a white plate

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.

Get the recipe for Two-Cheese Roasted-Veggie Fusilli »

10 Gemelli
creamy lemon pasta with chicken and peas in blue bowls on a blue background

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.

Get the recipe for Creamy Lemon Pasta with Chicken and Peas »

11 Gnocchi
ricotta gnocchi with toasted garlic and walnuts in a blue bowl on a blue background

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.

Get the recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi with Toasted Garlic and Walnuts »

12 Lasagna
spatula lifting a slice from a lasagna with meat sauce in a blue casserole dish

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.

Get the recipe for Lasagna with Meat Sauce »

13 Linguine
shrimp and zucchini scampi in a white skillet and on a white plate on a white background

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.

Get the recipe for Shrimp and Zucchini Scampi »

14 Manicotti
manicotti with sauce in a blue casserole dish

These large tubes are traditionally stuffed with ricotta and baked with sauce and mozzarella for their namesake dish.

Get the recipe for Cheese Manicotti »

15 Orecchiette
creamy corn pasta with bacon and scallions in a white skillet on a blue background

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.

Get the recipe for Creamy Corn Pasta with Bacon and Scallions »

16 Orzo
pesto zucchini orzo in a bowl on a colored background

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.

Get the recipe for Pesto Zucchini Orzo »

17 Paccheri
summer squash, mint, and pecorino pasta in a white bowl on blue background

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.

Get the recipe for Summer Squash, Mint and Pesto Pasta »

18 Pappardelle
tuscan ragu pasta on a white plate and twirled on a fork

Pappardelle is a great choice for heartier pasta dishes. They're wide and carry toppings and sauce well. A little goes a long way.

Get the recipe for Tuscan Ragu Pasta »

19 Pastina
a white bowl of galaxy noodle soup being spooned

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.

Get the recipe for Galaxy Noodle Soup »

20 Penne
spanakopita penne bake in a white casserole dish on a blue background

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.

Get the recipe for Spanakopita Penne Bake »

21 Ravioli
lemon ricotta ravioli with creamy herbed mushrooms on a black plate and marbled background

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.

Get the recipe for Lemon-Ricotta Ravioli with Creamy Herbed Mushrooms »

22 Rigatoni
a white bowl of rigatoni with vodka sauce on a blue and white speckled plate with a fork and salt and pepper shakers
Mike Garten

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.

Get the recipe for Pasta with Vodka Sauce »

23 Rotini
chickpea pasta salad layered in a glass jar with a hand screwing on the top

These spirals soak up sauce and dressing, making them perfect for salads. Plus, cheeses and small ingredients nestle in their layers for maximum flavor.

Get the recipe for Chickpea Pasta Salad in a Jar »

24 Shells
baked pesto shells and greens in a white casserole on a blue napkin on a grey background

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.

Get the recipe for Baked Pesto Shells and Greens »

25 Spaghetti
one pot spaghetti in a white skillet and on a plate on a white marbled background

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.

Get the recipe for One-Pot Spaghetti »

26 Spaghettini
spaghettini with lemon and ricotta in a bowl and in a serving platter

A thinner version of spaghetti, spaghettini is good for lighter recipes where the sauce is the star.

Get the recipe for Spaghettini with Lemon and Ricotta »

27 Tagliatelle
a blue serving platter of  pasta primavera with two silver serving spoons on a white towel
Mike Garten

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.

Get the recipe for Pasta Primavera »

28 Tortellini
chilled tortellini romesco in a blue bowl

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.

Get the recipe for Chilled Tortellini Romesco »

29 Ziti
easy peasy shrimp ziti with a fork on a white plate

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.

Get the recipe for Easy Peasy Shrimp Ziti »

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