Get to know your noodles: a visual guide to pasta

Though noodles are popular around the world, from Japan to Hungary , Italy seems to have cornered the market with more than 300 different types of pasta; we chose the nine most common, shown below. Each shape has a story, one that usually reflects its place of origin. The shape also indicates what kind of sauce works best: Thin strands such as spaghetti are especially good with thinner sauces; tube-shaped pastas are well suited for thicker sauces, as are pastas with deep ridges. Looking to enliven your standard pasta dish? Try colored and flavored pastas such as those made with squid ink, spinach, lemon, or beets or, for a healthier option, use whole-wheat pasta. For specialty shapes and flavors that may be harder to find, try an online source like

Lasagna (lasagne, pl.)
Characteristics: These flat noodles are typically about 2 inches wide and 13 inches long. Their long sides can be either flat or wavy. The word "lasagna" refers to both the noodles themselves and a dish in which they're layered with cheese, meat and/or vegetables, and tomato or cream sauce. Lasagna noodles are available dried in regular or no-boil varieties-the latter have been precooked so they don't need to be boiled before being layered and baked.
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These "little tongues" are long strands like spaghetti, but flattened on two sides. Linguine is narrower than fettuccine. It's extremely versatile, and can generally be used interchangeably with spaghetti, accompanied by sauces like this herbed clam variety.
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These long, round strands are the most popular type of pasta in the United States . Spaghetti means "little twine," and variations include spaghettini (thinner), spaghettoni (thicker), bucatini (thicker and straw-like, with a hollow center), capellini (very thin) and angel's hair (thinnest). Spaghetti is traditionally served with simple, thin sauces such as olive oil or marinara (tomato sauce).
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These long, flat ribbons are wider than linguine but thinner than tagliatelle. They're created by rolling pasta dough out into a sheet and cutting it into strips. Fettuccine Alfredo is probably the most well-known dish using the noodle. Named after a Roman restaurateur, the Alfredo sauce luxuriously coats the strands with a combination of cream, butter, and cheese.
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This pasta's twisted spiral shape gives dishes, such as pasta salads, an interesting texture. Rotini is similar to fusilli, and can also be subbed for gemelli, another tightly twisted pasta.
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These large, short tubes, with grooves down their sides, are traditionally served with thick meat and vegetable sauces. Rigatoni can generally be used interchangeably with other tubular pastas such as penne (slightly narrower, with angled ends) and ziti (medium-sized, smooth tubes).
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Alternate name:
Characteristics: With their cuplike shape, orecchiette ("little ears") are great for holding a ragu or any sauce that is made with small vegetables like peas or chopped spinach.
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Alternate names:
Ruota or wagon wheels
Characteristics: The name of this pasta means "little wheel" in Italian. The spaces between its spokes are perfect for catching chunks of meat or vegetables, such as this roasted eggplant, ricotta, and basil combination.
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Alternate names:
Maccheroni, maccaroni
Characteristics: In Italian, macaroni is a general term that refers to tubular pastas such as penne and ziti. In the United States , the term came to be applied to primarily the elbow macaroni, pictured here. Its most popular incarnation is macaroni and cheese.
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For all our pasta recipes, see our database ›

Esther Sung first joined in 2006. Prior to this, she spent several years in book publishing, including at Harper Entertainment, where the proverbial three-martini lunch was sadly nowhere to be found. When not in the office, she moonlights at the Bottle Shoppe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and through this she has developed a fondness for Syrah and Malbec. A quasi-vegetarian, she admits to having relished eating yuk hwe, a Korean raw beef dish.


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