Ingredient Spotlight on Italian Pasta

Hello, hello! Welcome to Djalali Cooks. Today’s Ingredient Spotlight is another reader request. I decided to go ahead with it this week before Thanksgiving because even though Thanksgiving food might be everywhere right now, there’s always room for pasta. So today, we will explore some pasta shapes and some recipes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it might serve as a handy guide, or inspiration to try different pasta shapes. Here we go: Ingredient Spotlight on Italian Pasta.

Italian pasta comes in so many shapes and sizes. Tubular, Twisted, Long and Short Cut, Rippled, Ridged and Radiator-shaped! Let’s start with a look at Tubular pasta shapes.

Tubular Italian Pasta

Tubular pasta often comes in two ways: there is tubular pasta with a smooth surface, then there is Rigate, which has a ridged surface. The ridges are there to collect and hold on to more sauce.

Rigatoni & Tortiglioni

Rigatoni is a familiar pasta shape, widely found at the super market. Rigatoni is a short, wide tube that can vary in length and diameter. I tend to veer more toward the fatter, shorter variety. Tortiglioni is very similar to Rigatoni. It’s a ridged tube, but the ridges are larger, deeper and twist around the surface – hence the name Tortiglioni, which comes from the verb ‘torcere’: to twist. The other difference between the two pasta shapes is that the diameter of Tortiglioni is smaller than Rigatoni.

Large tubular pastas like Rigatoni and Tortiglioni are best with robust sauces and ragùs like bolognese. You can substitute Rigatoni for Tortiglioni easily in any recipe in which you’d use Rigatoni. Try one of the recipes below with Tortiglioni!

Penne Rigate

Perhaps one of the most familiar shapes, Penne is named for how its pointy ends resemble the nib of a fountain pen or quill. Like Rigatoni, Penne has a smooth surface or a ridged surface – in which case its called Penne Rigate. The pointed, angular ends of Penne help draw sauce into its tube. This makes Penne perfect for robust, creamy, tomato sauces, such as a Vodka sauce. Because of its tubular shape and its ridges, Penne Rigate is also swappable with Rigatoni.

Pipe Rigate

I am really excited to try Pipe Rigate, it is an interesting shape that I haven’t used before. Because of its snail shell shape – with one end open and one end closed – a robust, meaty sauce like bolognese will get trapped inside. Again, a perfect pasta to sub in for Rigatoni.

Short Cut Italian Pasta

Conchiglie Rigate

The ever-popular Conchiglie Rigate are what we often refer to as “shells”. Pasta shells are incredibly versatile because they work perfectly in every kind of sauce you can imagine. Conchiglie Rigate come in a variety of sizes; from small and medium (think: shells and cheese) to large and jumbo. The large and jumbo shells are called Conchilione, which are perfect for stuffing and baking in sauce and cheese. Also consider swapping Rigatoni for Conchiglie Rigate in any recipe in which you’d use Rigatoni.

Fusilli, Cavatappi and Radiatore

Twisted pastas are fun shapes that, similarly to tubular pasta, are excellent at holding onto sauces. Shapes like Fusilli and Radiatore are perfect for pasta salads, when the sauce (or dressing) is thin; the deep twists and ridges collect dressing for flavor in every bite. Their deep ridges are also great for thicker sauces too.

I love Fusilli in a pasta salad. Its spiraled ridges maintain an al dente texture for a nice, bouncy bite. Try Mediterranean Tuna Salad with Fusilli – the spirals of the Fusilli capture flakes of moist, oil-packed tuna for great texture and flavor in every bite!

Cavatappi or Cellentani pasta is a twisted tubular pasta. It’s great substitute for macaroni in a mac and cheese recipe. It works great in any pasta bake, so consider subbing it in for Rigatoni. Or, try it instead of Bucatini in Amatriciana.


Another twisted pasta that I love is Campanelle. Campanelle is a twisted, flute-shaped pasta with frilly edges. Again, it’s great at holding on to all kinds of sauces. Think creamy sauces, or chunky vegetable sauces; the frilly edges capture dairy-based sauces really well. Camapanelle also works nicely in casseroles or pasta bakes. I really like it in place of egg noodles in Chicken Noodle Soup.

Long Cut Italian Pasta

There are a lot of long cut pastas, with a lot of variations. Flat wide noodles like Pappardelle; narrow flat noodles like Fettuccini; round noodles like Spaghetti; and thin round noodles like Capellini (Angel Hair). Toss in tubular long noodles like Bucatini and consider that every difference in width and thickness constitutes a different name and you have a a lot of similar long cut pastas.

Flat Pasta

Because it’s easy to find in the US, my choice for a wide, flat pasta is Pappardelle. I can find it in a super thin variety that I really like for lighter dishes like Summer Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes. Or a bright and herby Pork Ragù with Lemon and Fennel. The wider, flat long cut pastas are especially great for thick bolognese sauces because they hold up well under a thicker sauce.

Tagliatelle (or Tagliarelle, which is a thinner version of Tagliatelle), Fettuccini and Linguini are also flat, though narrower in width than Pappardelle; with Tagliatelle being flatter than Fettuccini and Linguini. Flat, narrow pastas are great with thick dairy-based sauces, like Alfredo. But they also work really well in thin sauces, like butter sauce, or crushed fresh tomatoes. A good rule of thumb is the thinner the pasta, the thinner the sauce.

Round Pasta

We are all familiar with round pastas like Spaghetti, Vermicelli and Capellini (Angel Hair). Spaghetti comes in different diameters: Spaghettini is a thinner version of Spaghetti, while Spaghettoni is a thicker version. Though in the US, we mostly find regular ol’ Spaghetti. Because I like my round pasta dishes to feel a little more special, I like to use Bucatini in place of Spaghetti. The hollowed out center of Bucatini makes the bite of the pasta a little more bouncy.

Stuffed Italian Pasta

Just a quick entry on stuffed pasta; we are pretty familiar with Ravioli and Tortellini. But there’s also Agnolotti; a semi-circular or rectangular-shaped filled pasta, similar to Ravioli. Look for it in a well-stocked refrigerated pasta section of your grocery store. Also, if you’re looking to change up a pasta bake or for a different take on Lasagne, try a Tortellini or Ravioli pasta bake.

A Note on Buying Italian Pasta

Aside from stretched pasta like Orecchiette, most of the supermarket pasta we have available in the US is extruded pasta. Meaning the dough was pushed through a die to give it its shape. A lot of mass produced pastas are extruded using a teflon die that gives the pasta a smooth exterior, which actually inhibits the absorption of water during cooking. Not only that, since the surface area is smoother on a microscopic level, sauce doesn’t cling as well to teflon extruded pasta in your finished dish.

When shopping for pasta, look for look for the words “Bronze Die” or “Bronze Cut” on the package. This one detail really makes a big difference in the overall taste, bite and quality of your pasta – and the resulting dish you create.

More Pasta Tips

  • Never add oil to your pasta cooking water. While oil will keep your pasta from sticking together, it will also keep the sauce from sticking to the pasta in your finished dish.
  • Use a very large pot to boil your pasta. The ample space in a large pot (and occasionally stirring the pasta) will keep the pasta from sticking together.
  • Salt your water. Do not make the water “salty like the ocean” though, because if you’ve ever gulped ocean water, you know it does not taste good.
    • For every one pound of pasta, use 4-6 quarts of water and season with 2-2.5 tablespoons of Diamond Kosher Salt. If you use Morton’s Kosher Salt, use 4 teaspoons. Don’t use table salt, which adds a metallic, sharp taste.
    • Wait to add the salt until your water is boiling to ensure the salt doesn’t just sink to the bottom of the pot. And then wait to add the pasta until the water is boiling again.
  • Cook the pasta to just before al dente when you plan to toss it in sauce. When tossed in sauce over a low heat, the pasta will continue cooking for another few minutes, bringing it up to al dente perfection.
  • Do not rinse your pasta after cooking. A rinse in cold water will stop the pasta from finishing its cook, resulting in underdone pasta.
  • Pasta cooking water is your friend. A ton of recipes call for reserving at least one cup of pasta cooking water to use in the finished sauce. The starchy pasta water has a thickening power. When the cooked pasta is tossed with cooking water, a little butter or fat from pancetta or guanciale, the result is a creamy sauce that coats the pasta.

Well, I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed this Ingredient Spotlight on Italian Pasta. Thank you so much for joining me today. Let me know what your favorite pasta shapes are; and what pasta dishes are your favorites. Take care and be well, everyone! xo Kelly

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  • Susan Erway
    November 17, 2021 at 9:15 am

    I appreciate the info on the Teflon die vs the Bronze die. Who knew? All those recipes look and sound delicious!

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 17, 2021 at 10:12 am

      Thanks, Susan! Yes, interesting tidbit of info, indeed. Thank you for stooping by today and leaving your comment! xo Kelly

  • Betsy
    November 17, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Kelly, thanks for this great pasta tutorial. I’ll save the whole thing for reference. I learned to look for the Bronze Cut pasta, and I also have been salting my pasta water with just plain salt. So some great tips. I need to go back and re-read and click on the recipes. Thanks again for taking a break from the Thanksgiving foods. . .after all, many of my turkey leftovers involve pasta!

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 17, 2021 at 10:15 am

      Hi Betsy! My chicken noodle soup made with leftover turkey would be wonderful! I am happy you appreciate the break from the Turkey Day food, Lol – I was in need of a break too! Thank you so much for stopping by today, I do hope you revisit this post and the pasta recipes! Have a good one, xo Kelly

  • Terry
    November 17, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Wow who knew there were so many different types of pasta. I liked this spotlight. It will most definitely be very useful ???Mom

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 17, 2021 at 10:16 am

      Hi Mom, I am glad you found this useful! It’s really fun to play around with different pasta shapes. I think a new and different pasta shape can make an old and familiar recipe feel exciting and new again. xo Kelly

  • Mari
    November 17, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Thanks for this wonderful spotlight on pasta. I had no idea there were that many different shapes, and I haven’t seen most of them at my regular grocery haunts, although specialty shops and Amazon are always great resources if you don’t live near an Italian grocery store. I’m glad to know that oil is not a good idea when making pasta, because I always forget to toss it in anyway. My old standbys are Penne, Fusilli, Fettuccine, and good old elbow macaroni! I confess to being five years old when I’m looking at pasta. I adore the smaller ones like Ditalini and Anellini, Mafalda, and Orzo. There are so many wonderful shapes and sizes to be had, and so many wonderful recipes to try. I am enchanted with the beautiful Campanelle. I have never seen it before, and it looks like it holds up well in cooking. The chicken soup looks wonderful, and it’s definitely on my list. I haven’t seen any gluten free Campanelle, but when I find it, I will buy it. For other gluten free people, the best imported pasta brands I have found are isiBisi and Le Veneziane. When I don’t feel like affording that, many stores have good domestic brands, and the store brands are usually pretty good. Thank you again for always suggesting recipes with the Spotlight series. Actually seeing the possibilities realized, is very helpful and it gives us some good ideas. I’m so glad I checked in today, and now I can catch up on what I’ve missed. Things have not settled down as we had hoped. The new normal has been a slippery slide, but hopefully it will settle down. Happy chilly Wednesday Kelly, Alex, Terry and blog sisters. Stay warm and happy. I have just finished my Christmas shopping, so my next project is clearing out my husband’s room and the bird room. For some reason those two rooms collect all the boxes and odds and ends that I haven’t got a home for. It isn’t a huge amount, but it annoys me greatly because I don’t like clutter. Then I will wrap presents and make more clutter elsewhere! I’m a versatile clutter bug.?

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 17, 2021 at 10:55 am

      Hi Mari, I am glad you checked in today! I have to commend you on finishing your Christmas shopping. I don’t have much left to do this year, but this is the first time I have had my act together, on which I blame the slow shipping of 2021.

      I like smaller pasta shapes too, though I rarely reach for them…I should work on that! I wish you success in your clearing out and organizing efforts. Have a wonderful Wednesday! xo Kelly

  • Sally Burke
    November 17, 2021 at 11:45 pm

    Hi Kelly
    My oh my, the time it must have taken you to put this blog together, I commend you for your dedication. The main pastas used in our home are Spaggettini, linguine and Fettuccine with the occasional lasagne. I cheat and do our pasta in the microwave (not the lasagne) which actually works quite well, cooking the pasta perfectly. My sister in law passed on the container and it has been in use ever since. I didn’t know about the Teflon v. Bronze cut, I have just checked the two brands I normally use and neither indicate how they are cut. Again you have given us all a great deal of useful information. Thank you ?
    Happy cooking ?‍?

    • Kelly Djalali
      November 18, 2021 at 7:32 am

      Hi Sally, Yes, writing about Italian pasta is like opening a can of worms. There is so much information, it’s hard to know when to stop! I have never heard of cooking pasta in the microwave before, but it must be a whole lot faster than boiling a pot of water! Some of the pasta I have in the pantry doesn’t state how it was extruded, and I wonder if that information is omitted, one can assume it was not cut with a bronze die… I am happy you enjoyed this post – thanks so much for stopping by today! xo Kelly