7 Underrated Pasta Shapes That are Way More Exciting Than Penne
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your bowl of spaghetti is straight up boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s delicious and elegant and just what you need when you’ve got a serious craving for carbs, but I’m here to tell you that your favorite pasta dish could be way more exciting. Whether you’re entertaining and aiming to impress, or you’re just looking for simple ways to elevate your home-cooked meals, experimenting with unfamiliar pasta shapes is just the solution.
Aside from pure aesthetics and visual intrigue, there is actually a rhyme and reason to why you should use certain shapes in certain situations. When you match the right shape with the right sauce, you have just booked yourself a first class reservation to pasta nirvana. Here are some pasta shapes that I’m obsessed with, and think you should definitely be, too. If your local grocery stores only stock the #basics, worry not. You can always look online for latest and greatest shapes.
The first time I came across this shape was at the The Rose restaurant in Los Angeles, and not to be dramatic, but my mind was blown into a million tiny pieces. “Mouthfeel” is an awful, awful word (in my opinion), but the mouthfeel of that carbonara dish was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. This tiny, squat, spiral-like pasta shape is supposed to reflect that of a radiator (hence the name). With a somewhat similar build to fusilli and rotini, this ruffled shape is great in a dish with a thick sauce (those frilly edges trap a luscious, creamy sauce like it’s nobody’s business), as well as casseroles and salads.
Any band geeks out there? Because these adorable trumpets are calling your name (ha ha ha). Its name, which literally translates from Italian to “little bells,” reflects its curly shape; the dough curls around itself just like petals on a flower. Like radiatore, this shape is a Sauce Trapper™, so be sure to use it in thick-sauce dishes, casseroles, and salads.
You love spaghetti, and you love linguine, so the natural next step is...bucatini. Thick and long-stranded, bucatini sets itself apart from other noodles because it has a hole that runs right through its center—in other words, it’s like a toothier, hollow version of spaghetti. This shape is basically asking to be paired with a creamy, buttery sauce, like a carbonara or cacio e pepe. As a host, this a great option, as guests are always super entertained and tickled by its hollow core.
Watch Now: How to Make One-Pot Chicken with Cavatappi
So, not to brag or anything, but I did take Italian in high school, and I just so happened to remember off the top of my head that this name translates to “twins” (thank you, thank you). Despite the fact that it appears to be two separate strands of pasta twisted around one another (like its misleading name might imply), it’s actually one single strand twisted into a spiral. This shape is better for a lighter sauce (it ranks a bit lower on the sauce-trapping ability scale), as well as salads and soups. This size of pasta is also perfect for dishes that have large beans or roasted vegetables in them, as they’re a similar size to the noodle, thus making it easy to grab all the components in one, balanced forkful.
Where the mac ‘n’ cheese lovers at? This shape is your new BFF. Its name translates to “corkscrew,” (I did not know this off of the top of my head, sadly) and the body of the noodle somewhat resembles the helix of a DNA strand (science!). Cavatappi’s tubular and spiral shape make it the perfect match for a baked, cheesy casserole or a hearty tomato sauce.
If you’re a seasoned fettuccine connoisseur, consider pappardelle to be your next noodle to conquer. Its broad, flat, and long noodle shape make it a wonderful candidate for serving as the base of a hearty pasta dinner. Consider topping these noodles with a rich beef ragu, braised short ribs, or crispy chicken thighs.
In Italian, the word “ditalini” means “small thimbles,” but the best way that I can describe the shape of this pasta is similar to those plastic beads that you put on the ironing board and melt into groovy shapes and patterns (if you were born in the 90s, you know what I’m talking about). If that description was extremely unhelpful to you, just think small, short tubes. Because it’s pretty hard to get a solid grip of these with a fork, they’re best in a brothy, you’re-going-to-want-to-use-a-spoon-for-this situations.