Understanding different pasta varieties

In all of its cheap and carbohydrate-heavy glory, pasta noodles are a staple to the college diet.

Pasta understands when you have friend drama, bills to pay or midterms; pasta asks for nothing more in return aside from some rudimentary cooking skills, a sexy sauce and maybe some Parmesan cheese.

While boiling water is the easy part, it’s what you do with those slippery, wet noodles that sit steaming in your sink that ultimately make or break your pasta game. Everything simmers down to the sauce.

Most of us have cooked pasta hundreds of times, but the theory behind the shape and size of each noodle is a lesser known area of knowledge.

Each pasta shape, from pointy penne to stringy spaghetti, actually has a recommended type of sauce pairing— and it extends beyond the classic Bolognese and creamy alfredo.

The list below may only skim the surface of pasta varieties, but it covers what we usually have stocked in our home kitchens.

Long & Skinny Pasta

Bucatini, spaghetti and angel hair pasta. Photo credit: Grace Kerfoot

Long, thin pastas are arguably the most iconic and popular pastas of our time. Since these pastas are slightly more delicate than their ribbony cousins, such as fettuccine, they pair well with light cream sauces or just good some olive oil and garlic.

Short & Shapely Pasta

Orcchiette, shells and rotini noodles. Photo credit: Grace Kerfoot

Ever wonder why pasta salads are nearly always made with bow ties? Since the size ratio and surface area of bow tie pasta relatively matches classic pasta salad add-ins, like chicken or broccoli, it makes forking up each bite uncomplicated and enjoyable.

Short Tube Pasta

Elbow pasta noodles make for a great pair with thicker and hardier sauces. Photo credit: Grace Kerfoot

Like cross sections of PBV pipe, tubular pasta can stand up to heartier meat sauces like ragu or bolognese, cooked vegetables or time in the oven nesteled in a cassarole dish. The hollow pockets of tubular pasta— such as penne, elbow or rigatoni— are also ideal candidates for holding rich and cheesy pockets within their hollow. Anytime you want the most sauce per bite, tubular pasta is your friend.

While our primary goal for eating pasta is to absolve hunger, each shape and style of this beloved carbohydrate has an intention. We may not all be pasta experts, but knowing the ins and outs of pasta shapes can put anyone a step forward in being culinary educated, regardless of what saucy path we choose to go down.

Grace Kerfoot can be reached at [email protected] or @gracekerf on Twitter.