We got some help from Lorenzo Boni, executive chef for Barilla America pasta, to break down 10 of the most popular cuts and how best to pair them.

1. Spaghetti

Most popular pasta cut. Pairs well with most sauces, other than creamy ones, which can cause it to clump and stick together. The base of many traditional Italian recipes, such as carbonara, aglio e olio and puttanesca.

TIP: Drain spaghetti when it’s a bit undercooked; then toss for a few minutes over heat with some of the water used to cook it, along with whatever sauce you are using. This will more effectively combine it with the sauce.

2. Angel Hair

Very thin, long noodles; popular in northern Italy. Pairs well with olive oil–based sauces, as well as any light, smooth tomato sauce, or just plain butter and Parmesan cheese. A kids’ favorite.

3. Penne

A popular short cut because of its versatility. Pairs well with all kinds of sauces—pesto, tomato and olive oil–based; seafood; meat ragouts; and creamy. Can be used in baked dishes, although not traditional in Italy. Like spaghetti, benefits from being finished with a two-minute toss over heat with the sauce and a little bit of cooking water. 

4. Shells

A good cut for seafood-based ragouts, as long as the fish is chopped into small pieces. Also works well with tomato-based and pesto sauces. Frequently used in baked dishes and, less often, in soups.

5. Fettuccine

A long, versatile cut that pairs well with creamy sauces because of its thickness. Also works well with meat and seafood ragouts, pesto and tomato-based sauces.

6. Fusilli

A traditional cut of Italy’s Campania region; usually served with a tomato-based sauce. In the U.S., the rotini shape is the closest cut to Italian fusilli.

7. Farfalle

A very elegant cut, ideal for both fancy dinners and informal settings. Barilla farfalle has a signature seven-point edge on each side, and is best served with vegetable or meat ragouts, although it also works with creamy or tomato-based sauces.

8. Elbows

A popular cut in the U.S., especially for macaroni and cheese. Can also be used in soups, salads and baked dishes. Because they are so tiny, elbows require either a smooth sauce or a sauce with very small chunks. 

9. Lasagna

The most common pasta cut for baked dishes. Originally from Bologna, Italy, lasagna is traditionally made with béchamel, a rich white sauce; in the U.S., it is more often served with the tomato-ricotta base commonly found in the Naples region of Italy.

10. Orzo

Best served in soups, but also works well in salads and risotto-style dishes. For best results, accompanying ingredients should be chopped into very thin, small pieces, given the tiny size of orzo “grains.”

What is Pasta Made Of?

While traditional pasta is made from semolina wheat or whole-wheat flours, alternative ingredient options now abound. And most are gluten-free*.

Adzuki bean*

Amaranth*

Black bean*

Brown rice*

Buckwheat*

Chickpea*

Corn*

Edamame*

Green lentil*

Kamut

Quinoa*

Red lentil*

Spelt

White rice*