Open your pantry and odds are you’ll see at least one type of pasta ready and waiting to whip up a scrumptious meal. This dinner-time staple is the perfect base for a range of flavors – from hearty tomato sauces to light olive oil and veggie dishes. You can also serve pasta cold in a salad for an easy lunch. It’s typically quick and easy to make but also holds loads of possibility for fancy dinner party dishes. The versatility of pasta has earned it its spot as a forever favorite.
To take your pasta dishes to the next level explore different noodle types. Each type of pasta has distinct characteristics and best uses. For the best results don’t reach for the same box every time. Instead, take a few minutes to learn about these common types of pasta to plan better meals.
Angel Hair Pasta
It’s easy to confuse angle hair with spaghetti because they both have a long, thin, round strand shape, but angel hair is super thin and lightweight.
Use it with: Because angel hair is so delicate it’s best used with thinner sauces. A nice toss with olive oil and garlic, pesto or a light marina is enough to add flavor without overwhelming this pasta.
The go-to pasta, these long round strands are thin but not as delicate as angel hair, meaning they can stand up to heavier, heartier sauces. For this reason, spaghetti is the perpetual partner of meatballs, meat sauces and other classic pairings.
Use it with: A tomato-based meat or marina sauce, sausage, meatballs, pesto … whatever your favorite pasta topping is odds are spaghetti can handle it.
A long, semi-flat noodle that’s a little wider than spaghetti, linguine is great for fork twirling. This strong noodle offers more surface area than its long, round cousins, meaning more room for yummy sauce.
Use it with: Linguine is awesome with seafood in wine-based sauces, such as calms linguine. Pesto is another amazing option since this sticky topping has plenty of noodle to cling to.
Fettuccine is actually an egg noodle. This long, flat noodle is wider than linguine and is best fresh if you can find it.
Use it with: This long, thicker strand is strong enough to stand up to heavier sauces, like a cream sauce. That’s why fettuccine alfredo is a popular dish.
Elbow macaroni is instantly recognizable by its short, curved shape. This tube noodle is small but fairly thick which makes it ideal for several uses where twirling pasta isn’t preferred.
Use it with: These hearty little noodles have the perfect pocket for soaking up and holding sauces so go with something gooey, like cheese or melted butter. The sturdy walls also make elbows perfect for baked pasta dishes.
Also known as bow tie pasta for its distinct shape this fun noodle is small but broad, giving you a lot of surface area to work with for sauces.
Use it with: Farfalle can be used with tomato sauces, but it really shines when tossed with Italian dressing, olive oil or balsamic and served cold as a pasta salad.
Fusilli / Rotini
This is the spiral pasta. This little noodles look like tightly wound corkscrews and are about 1-1.5 inches long.
Use it with: So many nooks and crannies to fill with yummy sauce! Whether you’re a tomato sauce fan or a gooey melted cheese person, slather it on – these fun hearty noodles can take it. Like elbows, spirals are also a great option for baked dishes.
Shells are fun because they come in a variety of sizes – from mini shells ideal for mac n’ cheese to jumbo shells for stuffing. The thin ridges on the outside of this curled, pocket-like pasta add a nice bit of texture.
Use it with: Shells are amazing at soaking up and holding whatever sauce they’re in for little pops of flavor. This makes them great for any type of sauce really, tomato, cream, cheese, anything thick enough to stay in place. The jumbo versions can be stuffed with ricotta and meat and smothered in red sauce for a heartier dish.
Probably the most popular of the tube-shaped noodles these two-inch long tubes aren’t overly wide meaning your sauces will stick pleasantly inside. Typically cut on an angle and often (though not always) ridged, penne is visually appealing and has a nice texture to further trap flavor.
Use it with: The shape and size of penne means it mixes really well with chunky tomato sauces, veggies or anything else that’s bite-sized for a flavorful, compelling, balanced mouthful.