The Survival Guide to Pasta Shapes in Italy: How to Order like You Know What You’re Doing

If you think all pasta is the same, you’ve got it completely wrong! From different shapes to varied widths and lengths, there’s a whole world to discover!

The most important thing to understand when it comes to pasta is that each shape is best paired with a certain type of sauce due to its form and consistency. If you really want to look like a local, don’t, under any circumstances, cut your spaghetti or use a spoon to twirl it with your fork! For more of these expert tips, continue on to find our pasta shapes guide, where we dive into seven of the most famous pasta shapes in Italy.  

There's a time and place for every form of pasta. Our pasta shapes guide will walk you through what to eat and how to eat it in Italy.

1. Spaghetti

When someone thinks of spaghetti their mind immediately goes to the romantic scene in Lady and the Tramp, where the two dogs share a plate of spaghetti and metaballs.

And while meatballs aren’t exactly the best (or most traditional!) pairing for spaghetti, one thing’s for certain: This type of thin, long pasta is delicious with practically any sauce!

The most famous spaghetti dishes are the fresh tomato sauce with basil and parmigiano, as well as the delicious spaghetti alle vongole—spaghetti with clams.

First up in our pasta shapes guide: spaghetti.
You can’t go wrong with spaghetti alle vongole. What’s not to love about pasta and fresh Italian seafood?

2. Linguine

Loved by many, linguine are a long-shaped pasta with a flat surface originating from the Liguria region of Italy. They’re ideal served with any kind of creamy sauce as the flat surface perfectly captures the richness.

Usually, they’re best served with seafood—think creamy linguine agli scampi, which is pasta with cherry tomatoes and prawns, or the famous pasta al pesto!

Our pasta shapes guide will show you how to tell your spaghetti from your linguine.
Linguine tastes especially heavenly with a rich, creamy sauce.

3. Paccheri

Whenever I think of paccheri, imagery of summer, the seaside and a refreshing breeze at a seafront restaurant all come to mind. Originating from the Campania region, this short, tube-shaped pasta goes great with seafood.

The pasta, which comes both smooth or ridged, is best accompanied by rich and succulent sauces, and they can also be stuffed! But traditionally, they’re served with fish.

From paccheri ai gamberi (with shrimp) to paccheri ai frutti di mare (with seafood sauce), there are a lot of variations with this delicious pasta shape!

Paccheri is one of the lesser-known options in our pasta shapes guide, but it's one of our faves.
Paccheri can come in many delicious forms. Photo credit: Dale Cruse

4. Tonnarelli

Let’s go back to Rome for a second. If you want to order one of the most delicious Roman pastas—cacio e pepe—the tonnarello is its perfect match.

After all, it’s a pasta all’uovo, which means pasta made with egg, giving it the perfect consistency to soak up creamy sauces like the one in cacio e pepe. Whether it’s a tonnarello cacio e pepe or a tonnarello all’amatriciana, you can’t go wrong with this type of thick, long pasta!

Our pasta shapes guide will help you learn the difference between tonnarelli and spaghetti—they look similar, but they're not!
No matter how you serve it, tonnarelli always tastes delicious Photo credit: Diego

5. Bucatini

This pasta shape derives its name from the hole—buco in Italian—running through its center. While it has Sicilian origins, the most famous pairing for this pasta is bucatini all’amatriciana!

The hollow shape allows the sauce to find itself inside the pasta, giving each bite maximum flavor. If you’re in Rome, head to the Testaccio neighborhood for some of the best bucatini all’amatriciana in the city.

One of our favorites in this pasta shape guide is bucatini, particularly bucatini all’amatriciana!
Bucatini all’amatriciana is one of Rome’s most iconic dishes. Photo credit: Joy

6. Tagliatelle

Now let’s travel to the Emilia Romagna region. This region is a foodie’s haven, with its world-famous dishes and ingredients like Bolognese sauce, tortellini in brodo, mortadella and so much more. But did you know it’s also known as the motherland of tagliatelle?

This long-shaped pasta all’uovo (egg pasta) derives its name from tagliare or “to cut.” Once the dough is rolled, the tagliatelle are cut into pieces of 8 millimeters, which, not coincidentally, is the 12,270th part of the height of one of Bologna’s famous landmarks, the Asinelli Tower.

Obviously, tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce (tagliatelle alla Bolognese) is a match made in heaven! And if you’re into truffles, tagliatelle al tartufo is a must-try!

One of the most iconic options in our pasta shapes guide is tagliatelle, particularly when it's served Bolognese style.
Bolognese-style tagliatelle should be on everyone’s foodie bucket list. Photo credit: WordRidden

7. Trofie

Let’s go back further north to the Liguria region of Italy. This seaside region is known for its stunning Cinque Terre, seafood and world-renowned pesto sauce!

And of course it’s known as the birthplace of trofie, a short and twisted pasta all’uovo perfectly accompanied by smooth and light sauces that cling to its rolled shape.
The best way to eat them? Either Genovese style with a pesto sauce, beans and potatoes, or with a light sauce made with seafood.

Trofie might not be the best known option in our pasta shapes guide, but don't miss this hidden gem.
We’re hungry just looking at this trofie and lobster dish! Photo credit: City Foodsters

If you’re craving pasta now, you’re not alone. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a morning full of Roman foodie fun (including three kinds of pasta!) on our Testaccio Neighborhood Food & Market Tour. And yes, there’s plenty of wine as well to complete the authentic Italian lunchtime experience.

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