Consider this your essential guide to all the different types of pasta noodles and pasta shapes you may come across.

By Real Simple Editors
August 24, 2020
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Any pasta lover or Italian food fanatic knows that picking the right types of pasta can elevate your good pasta recipes into great pasta dishes. (There’s a reason that restaurants keep many different types of pasta in stock; the perfect noodle exists for every sauce or dish.)

Grocery store shelves and restaurant menus are filled with different pasta names and shapes, but there are a few basics—and a few unique types of pasta—that everyone should know, especially if they make eating pasta a regular habit. (Once you know your preferred noodle, picking the best pasta brands is easy too.)

Here, we have more than 20 different types of pasta, with pictures, a handy chart, cooking times, and best uses and sauce pairings, so you can find your perfect pasta and pair it with a dish that makes it shine. (Or, if you have a favorite pasta sauce, you can find the perfect type of pasta to serve it on.) Whether you’re just learning how to cook pasta or you make homemade noodles, there’s something to be learned from our guide to tasty, irresistible pasta noodles.

Different types of pasta noodles

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1

Very fine, delicate noodles.

Cooking time: 3 to 5 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, cream, butter, seafood.

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2

Short, C-shaped tubes.

Cooking time: 6 to 8 minutes.
Best for: Baked dishes, salads, soups.
Ideal sauces: Cheese, butter.

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3

Pinched in the middle to look like bow ties. (The Italian word farfalle means “butterflies.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce, salads.
Ideal sauces: Cheese, olive oil, butter.

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4

Spaghetti-length, flat egg noodles about ¼ inch wide. (The name translates as “little ribbons.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Meat, cream, cheese.

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5

Spirals about 1½ inches long. Fusilli means “little spindles.” Rotini means “twists” or “spirals.”

Cooking time: 8 to 10 minutes.
Best for: Baked dishes, salads.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, seafood.

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6

Large shell shapes, with a ridged exterior and a big, open cavity.

Cooking time: 11 to 13 minutes.
Best for: Stuffing, baked dishes.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, cream.

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7

Spaghetti-length, flat noodles about 1/8 inch wide. (The word means “little tongues.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, olive oil, seafood.

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8

Small concave disk shapes. (The name means “little ears.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Meat, cream, seafood.

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9

Pasta in the shape of rice (or barley, from which it gets its name).

Cooking time: 9 to 11 minutes.
Best for: Salads, soups.
Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, vinaigrette.

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10

Flat, long noodles about 5/8 inch long. (The name supposedly means “gulp down.”)

Cooking time: 7 to 10 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, meat, vegetable.

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11

Small tubes 2 to 4 inches long cut on the diagonal, with or without ridges. (The name means “quills” or “feathers.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Chunky tomato, meat, vegetable, cream.

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12

Tubes about 1½ inches long and ¾ inch in diameter, with ridges. (The name means “large grooves” or “large stripes.”)

Cooking time: 11 to 13 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce, baked dishes.
Ideal sauces: Chunky meat or vegetable, cream, cheese.

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13

Small shell shapes with an open cavity.

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Baked dishes, salads.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, meat, vegetable, cream, cheese, vinaigrette.

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14

Thin, round strands about 10 inches long.

Cooking time: 9 to 11 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with sauce.
Ideal sauces: Tomato, pesto, meat, seafood.

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15

Medium-width tubes 2 or more inches long, with smooth sides. (The name derives words for “bride” or “bridegroom.”)

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Baked dishes.
Ideal sauces: Light tomato, olive oil, cream, cheese.

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16

Short, small tubes. Translated from the Italian, ditalini means “little thimbles.”

Cooking time: 8 to 10 minutes.
Best for: Soups, like minestrone, because it cooks quickly.
Ideal sauces: Tomato-based soups.

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17

Gemelli is the word for “twins.” Each piece looks like two thick noodle strands twisted together.

Cooking time: 12 to 13 minutes.
Best for: Oil-based sauces that can drizzle down the strands.
Ideal sauces: Light tomato sauces, dairy-based sauces, or oil-based sauces.

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18

A large, tubular type of pasta. The root word, pacca, means “pat” or “slap”—the sound the pasta makes when tossed with sauce.

Cooking time: 7 to 10 minutes.
Best for: Rich, heavier sauces or seafood. It is also commonly stuffed with ricotta cheese or other ingredients and baked.
Ideal sauces: Tomato and oil-based sauces, which coat the sides in a slick layer.

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19

A cone-shaped type of pasta noodle with ruffled edges. Campanelle means “bells.”

Cooking time: 10 to 11 minutes.
Best for: Heavy, creamy sauces. The thick ruffles stand up to a heavier topping.
Ideal sauces: Dairy-based sauces such as béchamel, vegetable sauces with chunky vegetables, meat sauces, fish-based sauces, or hearty tomato-based sauces.

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20

Lumaca is the word for “snail.” Lumaconi (essentially meaning “large snails” have one side pinched closed.

Cooking time: 11 to 14 minutes.
Best for: Hearty sauces filled with vegetables. The pasta’s hollows scoop them up. They can also be stuffed and served as finger-foods.
Ideal sauces: If stuffed, they can be served on their own. If not, try robust meat, vegetable, or tomato sauces.

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21

A short or long, ruffly pasta named for the Italian princess Mafalda of Savoy. Reginette means “little queens,” and mafaldine means “little mafalde.”

Cooking time: 9 to 12 minutes.
Best for: Tossing with wilted greens or bacon. The shapes complement each other.
Ideal sauces: Light, simple sauces, seafood sauces, or meat sauces.

realsimple.com; illustrations by Melinda Josie