Despite a large number of variations and renditions, there are only three different types of pasta. The first step in mastering the numerous varieties, is understanding that each one falls under the umbrella of either -- long, short or stuffed noodles. Each type is exactly what the name describes
Long pasta is, well, long cut. Think of spaghetti. Conversely, short pasta is short-cut pasta and the most diverse type of pasta. It comes in a plethora of shapes and is used in many different dishes, from gnocchi to classic macaroni and cheese. Stuffed pasta is made when pasta dough wraps around some sort of filling to contain it -- think, ravioli.
Here are some of the most popular forms of pasta:
This versatile pasta can be baked, put into soups, used in pasta salads or topped with light or heavy sauces. Egg noodles are short, loosely twisted pasta and a common pasta choice for dishes such as beef stroganoff.
Also known as bow tie pasta, this short pasta gets its name from its unique shape -- the name is derived from the Italian word "farfalla," which means "butterfly." Farfalle comes in varying sizes, but is consistently thick and therefore durable for use with many sauces, though it's most common use is with cream sauces and tomato sauces.
Fiori pasta gets its name from the Italian word for "flower," because it is shaped as such. Its shape is similar to rotelle pasta, which resembles a wheel with spokes. Both types of pasta are thick and decorative and can be used in many ways, including baking with ground beef. They go well with meat, cream, vegetable or seafood sauces.
Also known as rotini, this type of pasta is shaped like a corkscrew or a tight spiral. Fusilli is a unique pasta in that it can be made by mixing other ingredients into the dough to affect the flavor, including tomatoes, spinach or cuttlefish. Because of this, it's a popular choice for pasta salads. It also easily bakes into casseroles.
No, gnocchi is not a stuffed pasta -- surprise! Gnocchi looks like little pasta roly polys and the noodles are basically noodle dumplings. The pasta can be made from semolina as many other pasta are, but gnocchi can also be made from wheat flour, eggs or potatoes. They are essentially lumps of noodles, but don't traditionally contain a filling.
As spaghetti is the classic long pasta, macaroni is the archetype short pasta. The possibilities are endless when cooking with macaroni and extend well beyond the classic mac n' cheese -- you can bake it, use it in pasta salads, mix it into soups, throw it in chili or top it with any sauce.
Penne pasta is identifiable by its hollow, tube-like shape with grooves and slanted ends. The pasta goes well with any sauce, but especially chunky sauces like meat or vegetable sauce such as pesto.
Rigatoni looks like penne pasta, but larger and without the slanted ends. This pasta is a favorite in southern Italy and perfect for anything from cream or cheese sauces to chunky meat sauces.
Whereas rigatoni pasta is tube-like, ziti more resembles a hose -- the noodles are thicker and the holes are smaller. Because the pasta is so thick, it goes well with meat dishes and meat sauces, which is why it is often baked into a casserole-like dish.
More commonly known as angel hair pasta, capellini is a much thinner cousin of spaghetti. This fine pasta is often curled into a sort of nest and can be served with lighter sauces, vegetables, seafood, and chicken. It's a popular pasta choice for dishes such as shrimp scampi.
Fettuccine is a popular pasta that resembles a length of ribbon. It's flat, thick and made of egg and flour. The pasta can be enjoyed with beef or chicken and thick sauces. Fettuccine is most widely known for the popular dish Fettuccine Alfredo, which has a heavy cream-based sauce coating the pasta.
It might come as a surprise that lasagne is a long pasta and not stuffed since its primary use is for separating the stuffed layers in a baked lasagne dish. Lasagne is one of the oldest forms of pasta and is wide and flat like a sheet.
Simply put, linguine is flattened spaghetti. It goes well with any sauces and is a popular choice as a base for stir-fry or for shrimp scampi if you want a pasta thicker than angel hair.
Spaghetti was first documented in the 5th century A.D. and is one of the most common pasta types in the world, and therefore is often the image one pictures when thinking of long pasta. This pasta is long and thin, like little cylinders. It can be used as a base for a plethora of recipes, but perhaps is best paired with tomato sauce, heavy meat and meat-based sauces.
Cannelloni pasta is much larger than most other pasta varieties. Each roll is hollow and can be stuffed with anything from spinach to beef and smothered in sauce. It's a popular dish in Catalonian regions.
This pasta is essentially a dumpling traditionally containing a meat filling within the pasta's pocket. A popular method of preparing ravioli is to stuff it with beef, toast it and serve with marinara sauce on the side for dipping. It makes a great appetizer for a larger meal.
Tortellini is a ring-shaped pasta with pinched ends that can contain meat, cheese or vegetables. Unlike ravioli, tortellini is traditionally served in a broth or cream sauce instead of plain on a platter.
Sometimes cooking pasta isn't as simple as throwing some dry noodles into a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. To make the best base for pasta dishes, here are some methods you should practice and terms you should become familiar with: