There are few greater joys in life than having a large bowl of pasta in front of you. When noodles and sauce (and sometimes vegetables, meat and cheeses) combine in just the right way, it's a magical experience. While Italian pastas are typically made from just a handful of ingredients: flour, water and eggs, they can be cut and formed into many shapes and sizes.
Certain styles of noodles work better for certain sauces. If you're looking to twirl up butter and parmesan, a spaghetti shape is best. For those who want to stab their fork at a plate of thick round noodles doused in a meat ragu, pick rigatoni. And be sure not to neglect quirkier shapes of noodles, like the kinds that look like ears, corkscrews, quills and bells.
And hey, haven't you heard? Science says that pasta (in small portions) may even help you maintain a healthy weight. That's reason enough to explore the 15 noodle shapes below, and whip up all sorts of satisfying meals (we won't tell if you decide to you eat pasta for breakfast).
This twisted pasta is also known as "priest stranglers." As legend has it, voracious priests would apparently eat the strozzapreti given to them by locals so fast, that they almost choke on it, BBC Good Food noted. The pasta is best paired with a light sauce like pesto.
Penne, which translates to "pen" or "quill," get its name because it is cut at an angle to resemble the tip of a quill. The pasta originates in Campania in Southern Italy, according to BBC Good Food. It's best paired with heavy meat sauces or baked in a cream sauce.
Macaroni are tiny curved tubes of pasta. And while they are frequently paired with a cheese sauce and baked, the noodles are great in minestrone, tossed with a meat sauce or paired with vegetables for a crunchy pasta salad Jamie Oliver magazine wrote.
The name of these noodles with a ruffled edge translates to "bells," Food52 wrote. The conical shape means that it has curves that can really cling on to heavier sauces like a creamy béchamel. The noodles are also skilled at holding onto a meaty ragù.
The name of these small, round, bowl-like noodles actually translates to "little ears," Food52 noted. The concave center of the noodles make them great at catching things like peas, pancetta and small shreds of cheese. Toss them with a lighter sauce, like olive oil, so that the pasta does not get overpowered.
Spaghetti is chef Giada de Laurentiis' favorite word to over-enunciated, and maybe the most classic noodle of them all. The pasta is long, thin and cylindrical, Food52 noted. The name itself comes from the word "spago" which means string. It's hard to beat a bowl of spaghetti topped with a classic marinara or bolognese, but the thin strands are also divine when paired with plenty of butter or olive oil.
Like spaghetti, Linguine is a very twirl-able noodle. Linguini has a flatter shape, which Jamie Oliver magazine said helps it lie a "little more luxurious on the plate." This shape pairs especially well with seafood and cream-based sauces.
Bucatini is spaghetti's bigger, thicker cousin. Most notably, the strands' hollow centers function like tunnels for sauces, Jamie Oliver wrote. Bucatini is most classicaly tossed in an amatriciana sauce, which is simply a tomato sauce spiked with guanciale and cheese.
Anyone who likes as much pasta in their mouth at one time as possible should chow down on a nice pappardelle. The wide ribbons of egg pasta are frequently paired with powerful, gamey ragus made with ingredients like boar, rabbit and mushrooms, noted Jamie Oliver magazine.
The widest noodles on the list, lasagna is literally a sheet of pasta. It's typically layered with cheese, meats, and sauces like tomato, pesto or a creamy and thick béchamel for an extra indulgent dish. Best of all, if you only have lasagna but want thinner noodles, it's possible to transform the pasta into pappardelle with a pizza cutter, Jamie Oliver magazine noted.
Orzo is rice-shaped pasta. The noodles are small and tiny like grains, and they readily absorb flavors, Food52 noted. It is a wonderful base for pasta salads and soups.
The corkscrew shaped pasta is great for thicker sauces that can get stuck in the corkscrew shape, Jamie Oliver magazine noted. Pair it with something like a meaty bolognese or a chunky pesto to maximize its texture.
Conchiglie are more commonly known by their translation of "seashells" or "shells," Food52 noted. The conch shell-shaped noodle comes in a number of sizes and is ideal for holding a lot of sauce and vegetables, thanks to its hollow insides. Try it in a baked pasta dish or pair it with tomatoes and corn for an easy summer pasta salad.
Those in search of a forkable and toothsome pasta should look no further than rigatoni. The wide, tubular pasta has ridges on the outside that are great for picking up sauces. The pasta is big, and unlike penne, is cut straight across, Jamie Oliver magazine noted.
Ravioli is a popular stuffed pasta. To make the dish, a small sheet of pasta is folded over a filling like ricotta or a bit of cooked meat, said Jamie Oliver magazine. The best sauces to pair ravioli with depend on the pasta filling, but they are great tossed in butter or with a bit of tomato sauce.