There are literally thousands of
different types of pasta in different shapes, sizes and colours. The
shapes have evolved over the years to make the most of different
types of sauces, some pastas holding chunky, ragout types better than
others, and there does seem to be an unwritten code about which sauce
should be served with a particular shape or variety of pasta.
The colours, apart from red,
which is flavoured with tomato and the green flavoured with spinach
seem to be more an affectation born outside Italy, as appearance is
not as important to the discerning Italian diner as the taste. Other
colours include gold, coloured with saffron ; flecked with added
herbs ; mauve, with beetroot ; brown with mushrooms ; black, coloured
with squid ink.
There are four basic types of
pasta : tubular ; ribbon ; stuffed ; speciality and the add to
variety they can be either long or short..
Pasta Lunga (long pasta)~
Usually made from plain flour and water paste, long
pastas usually go well with smooth, clinging sauces that hold well together.
Spaghetti - probably the best known pasta,
usually served with Bolognese or Neapolitan sauces in UK, but is
excellent tossed in a good olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkled with
freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or freshly torn basil.
Spaghettini - the 'ini' means small, and these
thin spaghetti are ideal with thinner, spicier sauces.
Capelli D'Angelo - 'Angel Hair'. As its name
suggests, these are very fine thread spaghetti and are used mainly in
soups and broths. The egg variety make a lovely dessert pasta, like vermicelli.
Linguine - 'Small tongues'. Very popular in
USA, their flat, slippery shape holds sauce well. A classic sauce
Bucatoni/Bucatini - From central Italy, these
are slightly thicker than spaghetti, with a hole through the middle,
a little like drinking straws, their name deriving from bucati, or
bored. Another name for them is periatelli and the large version are
called bucatoni. They go particularly well with the more robust
sauces such as sardine and fennel, or a spicy tomato sauce.
Fusili Lungi - 'long springs' - Like long
telephone wires, they take nice chunky sauces, maybe with lots of
colourful peppers and chunks of courgette and tomato.
Pasta Fettuce (ribbons)
Usually made with egg, the first flat shape of these
pastas hold sauce well, having a greater surface area than the 'cord'
pastas. They take most of the sauces designed for long pasta, plus
creamier, clingy ones.
The best known is probably Tagliatelle in this
country, its domensions - a width of exactly 8mm - are taken so
seriously that the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna, from where it
originates, have the perfect example of taglietelle caste in gold.
Legend has it that it was devised to celebrate the golden locks of
Lucretia Borgia, and its classic sauce partner is, of course, Bolognese,
although in Verona it is accompanied by chicken livers and in the
Marches, a mixture of nuts, chocolate and cinnamon. Their thinner
siblings, Tagliolini, mere 2mm wide, are mainly used in soups.
Another Bolognese favourite is Parpardelle,
also sometimes called Larghissime - 'very wide' which, at 2cm,
it isbeing the widest ribbon pasta and can be either straight or saw
edged. It is delicious served with game, such as hare, as it is in
Tuscany, or with large chunks of poultry or offal in the sauce.
Feccucine, medium sized ribbon noodle at 5mm
are well suited to creamy sauces such as Alfredo or a pesto. There is
a slightly lighter version from Liguria called Trenette, using
less eggs with a softer dough, which also works well with Pesto.
A combination of spinach and egg fettucine are known
as Paglia e Fieno, 'Straw and hay', and they are usually
served with a cream based sauce.
Tonnarelli, are the smallest of the ribbons at
1.5 mmsq and is a little like square spaghetti. In Abruzzio, where it
comes from, it is called 'Maccheroni alla chitarra' or 'Guitar
macaroni', because apparently the traditional method of making it is
to press the dough through a guitar-like, wire-stringed tool with a
rolling pin - 'Chitarra' means guitar. Like spaghetti, tonnarelli go
well with meat sauces and ragu.
A very popular type of pasta in Italy, as the cavities
for trapping the solid bits in the sauce. In addition to the
different sizes and shapes come the lisce (smooth) or rigate
(ridged). Ridging is not merely a decorative affectation, by the way.
It is a very effiecient way of increasing the overall surface area of
the pasta, ensuring a covering of even more sauce.
Refers to their pointed, nib-shaped ends, and come in
varying sizes : Penne ; Penne ziti and Pennoni.
They go well with a wide range of sauces, but especially the
all'Arrabbiata from Lazio.
Cavatappi - corkscrews are hollow, stretched
spirals that trap sauces beautifully and are very nice with a herby
tomato and mushroom sauce.
Elicoidali - Helixes - are straight-edged tubes
with curved ridges, Narrower but interchangeable with Rigatoni,
large and chewy, a popular, classic shape which is slightly curved
with sauces trapping ridges. Millerighe - Thousand ridges -
are similar to rigatone except that they are straight and not curved.
All are good with chunky, meaty sauces like all Norcina, a
spicy pork sausage concoction or with lamb ragu. Garganelli
are perhaps the tube pasta for the 'connoisseur'. The only tube pasta
made traditionally by hand from egg dough and a speciality of
Ella-Romagna. They are sometimes flavoured with nutmeg or parmesan
and are exceptional with sauces which contain long vegetables which
have been cut to mirror the size of the pasta, such as green or
french beans or a creamy prosciutto and asparagus sauce.
Tube pasta, then, come in every size, from the small Boccolotti
and Chifferi - also known as Gomiti in some areas
because they are a bent elbow shape -mainly used in soups, to the Gigantoni
- from the Italian for giants, with extra suffix 'toni' which
means extra large, which are usually stuffed and baked like Canneloni.
Pasta Ripiena (Stuffed Pasta)
Perhaps the most famous of the stuffed pasta are Ravioli.
The real ravioli, though, are noty the squidgy squares served in a
sloppy sauce from cans, but neat little parcels whose fillings vary
from region to region. They may have originated in Liguria, where
sailors' wives set a tradition of stuffing pasta squares with
foodstuffs to eat while their men were away at sea - a little like
the Cornish tin miners' wives creating the Cornish Pasty. An even
smaller version of the ravioli are Raviolini.
Agnolotti are round pasta, stuffed with meat or
spinach and ricotta from Piedmont, created originally as a method of
using up leftovers. Agnolini are half moon shaped,
meat-stuffed pasta from Emilia-Romagna, cooked in chicken stock. All
the 'pillow' pasta are delicious bathed in a smooth tomato and herb
sauce or simply tossed in butter.
Tortellini are the small stuffed pasta from
Bologna, reputed to have been made to resemble Venus' navel whilst
Tortelloni are the larger versions. Confusingly, Tortelloni is
also the name given to a large, flat ravioli-type pasta, called Tortelli
in Emilia, usually stuffed with ricotta and spinach.
Cappelletti, or 'little hats'. another
speciality of Bologna are just like tortellini, but made with square
pieces of pasta, giving a characteristic 'pick' to the little 'hats'.
A larger version from Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, is Cappellacei, which
are usually filled with a pumkin stuffing.
Canelloni, another of the familiar varieties
here - large tubes of pasta stuffed with any of a variety of
ingredients : Bolognese ; ricotta and spinach ; and even fish, then
baked. This dish is thought to have originated in Piedmont and can be
a true tube or simply a rolled rectangular sheet of pasta, such as
those used in Lasagne, the classic dish to which it gives its
name, layers of flat sheets of pasta, meat and cheese sauce, also
known as 'Lasagna al Forno', oven cooked lasagna.
The Italian Riviera has contributed Pansoti,
little triangles stuffed with ricotta and greens and served with
walnut pesto, whose name means 'little bellies'.
New shapes are being invented all the time, taking
into account how the surface area may be increased to hold sauces,
how crevices can be added to trap the chunkier pieces of food and how
decorative or appropriate a shape can be to partner a partcular sauce.
Conchigilie - Their name means shells and that
is exactly what they look like, ranging through the tiny Conchgliette
for soups, medium bite size shells for sauces, to giant shells,
served stuffed and baked.
Gnocchi also look a little like shells,
although their ridges are wider and they hold sauce well. Gnochetti
are less tapering with blunter ends and are also known as Riccioli,
or curly. Another member of the gnocchi family, from Sardinia. Gnocchi
Sardi are smaller and thinner. However, all these pasta gnocchi
are not to be confused with the original, potato dumplings which bore
that name, which are served with pesto or in broth.
Lumache - 'Snails' are so named because of
their snail-like shape and, like the conchiglie family, they come in
all sizes, growing to the large Lumacone or 'fat snail', which, like
the other giant shapes is usually served stuffed and baked.
From Apilia in the south, come Orecchiette,
'little ears'. Traditionally made by hand from plain hardwheat dough,
they are pressed by hand to form a ridge, and resemble small bowler hats.
Fusilli, the spirals sometimes referred to as Fusilli
corti, 'short springs', Eliche or 'propellors' with a
slightly looser spiral and Fusilli Bucati, which have a hole
running through them, are all very versatile as shapes and lend
themselves well to vegetable sauces.
Similar shapes are Gemelli - 'twins' - because
they look like two pieces of pasta wrapped around each other, Casareccia,
'twists' and Radiatori, which look like little radiators and
are all variations on the basic twist theme. Perhaps the most
bizarrely name of this family are the Strozzapreti 'Priest
stranglers', which take their name from a folk legend which tells of
a gluttonous priest who choked to death whilst eating them.
Ruote de Carro - 'Cartwheels' are very popular
in Sicily, again available lisce (smooth) or rigate (ridged) and lend
themselves well to chunky, rich sauces such as Peperonata -
peppers and onions.
Farfalle - 'bow-ties' are super sauce catchers
and go well with plain tomato and butter sauce, but even better with
salmon, fresh or smoked or tuna.
The very smallest shapes, Risi, resembling rice
grains, Corallini, small rings, Ditalini, small thimble
shapes and Stellini, small star shapes are all almost
exclusively used in soups and broths and are rarely to be found
accompanied by a sauces, except when served to small children, tossed
perhaps in a simple butter and cheese dressing.
As already mentioned previously, these are but a few
of the varieties and imaginative chefs and food manufacturers are
adding new shapes, colours and flavours all the time to marry with
ever more exciting sauces and ragus.