You love eating pasta…but did you know that the type of noodle you choose is just as important as getting it into your mouth as fast as possible? (And no, we don’t just mean we prefer rigatoni to ziti.) Traditional Italian pasta dishes are based on a highly scientific equation of sauce + noodle shape = deliciousness2, and the type of sauce—loose! creamy! chunky!—is actually what dictates the pasta choice. To help you stock your pantry with all the essentials, we’ve come up with the 11 types of noodles you should always keep on hand to be ready for whatever delicious sauce life throws at you.
You say “spaghetti,” we say, “truly versatile and in our pantry at all times.” The name comes from the Italian word for twine, and it’s a staple for many classic pasta dishes like carbonara, cacio e pepe and aglio e olio. If you’ve ever seen numbered boxes of spaghetti in the grocery aisle, those numbers refer to the pasta’s thickness (and the smaller the number, the thinner the spaghetti).
Use it in: Long, thin pasta begs for lighter cream- or oil-based sauces, but classic tomato works too. You can’t go wrong with one-pan spaghetti and meatballs.
Swap it: Angel hair is like spaghetti but skinnier; spaghetti rigate has ridges and bucatini is thicker and hollow; all make excellent replacements for spaghetti.
Cavatappi, or corkscrew, is basically a helix-shaped version of macaroni. It’s a relatively new type of noodle, only dating back to the 1970s (and it was actually invented by Barilla).
Use it in: You’ll find cavatappi used most frequently in tomato-based pasta dishes, especially ones with cheese. But we wouldn’t say no to taking it out of the box (heh) like in this avocado and black bean pasta salad.
Swap it with: Fusilli is similarly corkscrewed; macaroni shares a tubular shape.
Tagliatelle translates to “to cut” and the long, flat ribbons are often cut by hand in their home region of Emilia-Romagna. The texture is usually porous and rough, and while you can find it dried, it’s particularly delicious when made fresh.
Use it in: The most traditional sauce pairing for tagliatelle is Bolognese, but any meat sauce will work, as well as creamy and cheesy sauces.
Swap it with: Fettucine is almost identical but slightly narrower.
Maybe the most ubiquitous noodle on the block, the tubular pasta is named after a pen or a quill, because it was intended to imitate the shape of fountain pens when it was created. You’ll find two main types: lisce (smooth) and rigate (ridged). Its tube shape makes it well adapted to all kinds of sauces.
Use it in: Penne is ideal for loose, creamy sauces and recipes with finely diced ingredients, as well as stuffed or baked dishes like this penne with five (or six) cheeses.
Swap it: Mezze rigatoni is short and wider; paccheri is extremely wide and smooth.
Is maccheroni just the fancy, Italian word for macaroni? Yes, yes it is. The short, tube-shaped pasta comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes—some are ridged, curved or pinched at one end—depending on how it was extruded. We won’t dive two far into its etymology, because all you need to know is that the name is thought to originate from the Greek root for “blessed.”
Use it in: Gooey, creamy, cheesy sauces are a match made in heaven for maccheroni’s hollow insides. Ten-minute macaroni and cheese in a mug, anyone?
Swap it: Mini penne is a similar size and shape; conchiglie is equally good at catching sauces
Whether you consider it bowties or butterflies, farfalle is one of the oldest and most popular pasta shapes still around. It comes in a wide range of sizes, but the medium variety is most common in and out of Italy.
Use it in: Farfalle pairs with creamy sauces, meat sauces and anything that will nestle itself in the nooks and crannies of the bowties. Thanks to its chewy texture, it’s also a beloved choice for cold pasta dishes, like this salami, artichoke and ricotta pasta salad.
Swap it with: Fusilli has the same sauce-grabbing abilities; radiatore has a similar chewy bite.
Conch shells…conchiglie…get it? These shell-shaped guys are pros at picking up all sorts of sauces in both their hollow insides and ridged outsides.
Use it in: Pair conchiglie with thick, creamy sauces to ensure every bite is delicious. Or stock up on jumbo shells and make this spinach and three-cheese stuffed number.
Swap it: Conchigliette is a miniature version of conchiglie; maccheroni pairs with similar sauces.
8. Fusilli (aka Rotini)
Thanks to its nooks and crannies, fusilli falls into the same category as farfalle, it just also happens to have a Seinfeld episode named after it. The corkscrew-like pasta is ideal for picking up bits and pieces in chunkier sauces. And fun fact, what Americans know as fusilli is actually called rotini.
Use it in: Since its grooves are relatively small, fusilli pairs best with small, finely chopped ingredients (like pesto or Ina Garten’s baked pasta with tomato and eggplant).
Swap it: Fusilli bucati is a similar corkscrew shape with a hollow center.
You might not know it by name, but you’ve probably had it in a can of Spaghetti-Os. Anelli translates to “small rings,” and it’s part of a group of tiny pasta shapes called pastine, which are ideal for bulking up simple, brothy soups.
Swap it with: Ditalini are smaller and chubbier; farfalline are adorable tiny bowties.
Rigatoni is popular in Sicily and Central Italy, and you can probably guess that the name means “ridged.” Rigatoni is a pantry staple because it’s versatile and pairs easily with kid-friendly meat sauces (or just plain old butter).
Use it in: Those ridged sides are ideal for picking up grated cheese, which is why we like to use it in place of ziti in this easy one-pan baked ziti recipe. Its wider width makes it a fine pair for hearty, chunky meat sauces.
Swap it with: Mezze rigatoni is shorter; penne rigate is skinnier; ziti is smoother and narrower.
Lasagna (plural lasagne) is wide, flat and essential for making, well, lasagna. It’s thought to be one of the oldest types of pastas, dating back to the Middle Ages.
Use it in: Lasagna isn’t really used for anything but the eponymous casserole, but the dish has as many variations as there are pasta shapes. Ragu and bechamel are common, but spinach-based sauces, ricotta and other vegetables are equally tasty.
Swap it: Unfortunately, there aren’t any pasta shapes similar to lasagna. What can we say? She’s one in a million.