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

Types of pasta infographic

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:

Short Pastas

Egg Noodle Pasta

raw egg noodle pasta in a pan
Brian Yarvin/Shutterstock

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.

Farfalle Pasta

green plate of bowtie pasta and chicken dish
Ezume Images/Shutterstock

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

close up plate of fiori pasta

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.

Fusilli Pasta

pasta salad bowl with fusilli pasta

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.

Gnocchi Pasta

gnocchi pasta on baking sheet

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.

Macaroni Pasta

white bowl of macaroni and cheese

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

penne pasta with pesto 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 Pasta

rigatoni pasta dish with chunky meat sauce

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.

Ziti Pasta


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.

Long Pastas

Capellini Pasta

plates of angel hair pasta and shrimp, shrimp scampi
Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock

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 Pasta

white plate of fettuccine pasta
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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.

Lasagne Pasta

plate of a big lasagne slice

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.

Linguine Pasta

white bowl of linguine dish
Tharanat Sardsri/Shutterstock

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 Pasta

close up shot of fork in spaghetti

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.

Stuffed Pastas

Cannelloi Pasta

plate of cannelloi dish
margouillat photo/Shutterstock

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.

Ravioli Pasta

close up of toasted ravioli and dipping sauce

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 Pasta

tortellini dish with green spotted napkin
AS Food studio/Shutterstock

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.

Tips, Tricks And Things To Know:

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:

  • Understand "al dente." This Italian term that refers to a cooking style of pasta that still maintains a bit of firmness. If you want al dente pasta, boil the noodles for one or two minutes under the minimum cook time listed on the pasta's packaging.
  • Maintain an ideal water-to-pasta ratio. Typically, anywhere between four and six quarts of water should be used for each pound of pasta.
  • Stir while cooking. No matter what type of pasta you're making, it's important to occasionally stir the noodles as they cook so they don't clump together.
  • Salt the water. By adding salt to your boiling water, you are seasoning the pasta itself as it cooks. Add about one tablespoon to the water.
  • Add the sauce immediately. After you drain your pasta, it's important that the noodles are not allowed to completely dry because the starch will make the noodles stick together. Typically, noodles should be the final step.
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