Last updated on August 5, 2023

Italian pasta types and shapes ๐Ÿ A guide by Italians

Gianni from All Italian - Author
Gianni from All Italian

Long like spaghetti or short like mezze penne, with ridges, fresh like gnocchi or dried like farfalle: but always buonissima. An overview of the types of Italian pasta, made by Italians.

Italian pasta types and shapes

Varieties of Italian pasta

After our introduction to Italian pasta, we dedicate this page to the different types and shapes of pasta.

Classifying Italian pasta is not easy: because there are as many varieties as there are traditional local cuisines; and often a single type of pasta is known by several names.

Besides the shapes, we also speak about the ingredients with which the pasta is made - different between the north and south of the peninsula.

Barilla pastasoorten
In 2021 heeft Barilla een wedstrijd uitgeschreven om een nieuw pastaformaat te vinden; de prijs was 4000 euro. Foto: Barilla brief

As on all pages of All Italian, we share occasional anecdotes about the Italian Culture and explain the meaning of the Italian words and pronunciation. For example, we say ๐Ÿ”Š spaghetti and not ๐Ÿ”Š spagetti.

On this page

Learning Italian ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

When we Italians write about pasta in English, we sometimes confuse the plural and the singular. This is because the names of pasta in Italian are usually plural.

In the plate there are many pieces of pasta: tagliatelle, spaghetti, penne. They are all plural words.

The Italian words we use on this page:

๐Ÿ”Š Orecchiette (literally) Little ears
๐Ÿ”Š Conchiglie (literally) Shells

The traditional shapes of pasta in Italy

On All Italian we often talk about traditional Italian pasta. But of course the traditions are many and change from region to region.

For example, spaghetti and fusilli are types of pasta typical of the regions of southern Italy, because they are made with durum wheat semolina, produced in the south.

In northern Italy, instead, soft wheat flour was used, with which we traditionally make tagliatelle and gnocchi.

The shape of the pasta therefore depends on the local ingredients, just like for Italian pasta sauces.

Different kinds of Fusilli
In Italy, the shape of fusilli is different depending on the area


๐Ÿ”Š Fusilli is a type of pasta typical of the regions of southern Italy. Fusilli can be fresh or dried and in both cases it is made with durum wheat semolina, salt and water.

How fusilli are made in the factory
How fusilli are made in the factory Foto: De Cecco op Youtube

It is a popular type of pasta, thanks to the shape that holds the sauce well.

The spiral shape of modern dried fusilli, that of the supermarket, was invented in 1924 by an Italian in New York, Guido Tanzi.

Fresh fusilli have a different shape: they are typical from the regions of Campania, Molise, Basilicata, Sicily.

Fresh homemade fusilli from the city of Avellino town
Fresh homemade fusilli from the city of Avellino Foto: Altirpino

๐Ÿ‘‰ If you look closely, you can see that the classic fusilli of Barilla are different from those of other brands, such as De Cecco: the spiral of fusilli is less dense.
The Italians notice: the shape changes the perception of the taste of pasta.

The difference between Fusilli Barilla and Fusilli De Cecco
The regular Barilla fusilli have the shape of an elongated screw; instead, De Cecco fusilli have a much denser/thicker spiral shape, like Barilla fusilli n.98.


There is a controversial relationship between Italians and ๐Ÿ”Š penne. All good with penne rigate, but penne lisce?

When Italians ran to the supermarket to get some supplies in March 2020, the pasta shelves emptied.
Only one type of pasta remained: penne lisce.
The newspapers then wrote: Italians want no penne lisce, even in an emergency.

The empty shelf of a supermarket, with only Penne Lisce left
The empty shelf of a supermarket, with only Penne Lisce left

We at All Italian also confirm: a plate of penne rigate with minced meat sauce? Good idea. But a plate of smooth pen? No, thank you.

This is because penne lisce, the one from the big brands, doesn't hold the sauce as well, because it doesn't have grooves on the surface.
Moreover, it is more difficult to pick up with a fork.

Penne made by artisanal pasta factories (๐Ÿ”Š pastificio) is different.

When made with high-quality ingredients, such as 100% durum wheat semolina, the surface of penne lisce is rough and porous, suitable for combining with the sauce.

The ridges were originally used to mask inferior quality pasta: the ridges work as a reinforcement structure.


๐Ÿ”Š Farfalle means butterflies in Dutch: thanks to the shape of course.

A type of pasta loved by many, less so by some. I who write belong to the latter: because it is difficult to cook farfalle al dente.
In the middle the dough is very dense, folded four times, unlike at the ends.

cooking farfalle pasta

Farfalle are very tasty with minced meat sauce, and also in the classic and elegant farfalle recipe with salmon and cream .

Farfalle is also an excellent type of pasta for pasta salads (๐Ÿ”Š pasta fredda in Italian), a fresh summer pasta dish.

Farfalle has a simple and creative origin: it is made from leftover pasta, for example when making lasagna or tagliatelle. The leftover pasta is squeezed between the fingers and this creates the shape of butterflies.

Industrially produced farfalle
From the farfalle factory Foto: Youtube


We've written a whole page about macaroni because it's not easy to understand what Italians call macaroni mean.

Macaroni is an American word, and refers to a specific type of pasta, such as here in the Netherlands.

A plate of Macaroni
Outside of Italy, this type of pasta is known as macaroni

In Italy, on the other hand, they say ๐Ÿ”Š maccheroni, not "macaroni"; word that symbolizes a different type of pasta for each region.

Maccheroni from Valle Scrivia in Liguria region
In the Valle Scrivia in region Liguria, maccheroni are shaped like elongated penne Foto: Pastificio Alta Valle Scrivia

When macaroni is mentioned, this famous scene from the movie Un Americano a Roma with the Italian actor Alberto Sordi is shown.
The main character calls ยซmaccheroniยป a pasta dish that resembles spaghetti.

The famous macaroni scene in the movie Un Americano a Roma
The famous macaroni scene in the movie Un Americano a Roma

Italian maccheroni are also sold in supermarkets, with a shape that is practically the same as another type of pasta, the mezzi sedani.


๐Ÿ”Š Orecchiette means "little ears", because of their shape. It is a kind of fresh pasta that is typical from Apulia.

On the page dedicated to orecchiette we mentioned Via delle Orecchiette in Bari, where the ladies produce handmade orecchiette all day long.

Making orecchiette yourself in Apulia
Orecchiette in Apulia. With a single gesture, the lady cuts and shapes the orecchiette.

Making fresh orecchiette is easy and very satisfying.

The ingredients of the orecchiette are typical of pasta from southern Italy: durum wheat semolina, water and salt.

The most typical recipe for orecchiette is with turnip greens, as they cook it in the regions of Apulia and Basilicata.


Typical of the Emilian tradition, tagliatelle pasta is made with eggs.

The name ๐Ÿ”Š tagliatelle comes from "to cut", "to cut": this type of pasta is made by cutting large sheets of fresh pasta.

This type of pasta is rolled into a spherical shape after cutting; for this reason in Italy it becomes ๐Ÿ”Š pasta a nido ( nest form).

Tagliatelle al Ragรน Bolognese - with Bolognese sauce
A plate of Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce (Tagliatelle al ragรน Bolognese) Foto: Ivan Vighetto

As we wrote on the page about Italian pasta, the tradition of pasta in Italy differs between the south and the north of the country.
In the south it is typical dried pasta, of excellent quality, and made exclusively with durum wheat semolina that grows there.

In Northern Italy, with a different climate, soft wheat grows, used for fresh pasta.
Especially in Emilia Romagna, the great tradition of fresh egg pasta has developed. Tagliatelle, together with lasagne, is a famous example of this tradition.

Tagliatelle is already mentioned in 1891 by writer and gastronome Pellegrino Artusi in the most important Italian cookbook of all time: The science in the kitchen and the art of eating well (La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene).

The iconic tagliatelle recipe is of course with meat sauce, the bolognese sauce. Tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce is the typical festive dish in Italian homes, like the smell of ragu prepared on Saturday or Sunday morning.


Bucatini is a type of pasta similar to spaghetti, but thicker and hollow in the middle. It is typical from the Lazio region in central Italy.

Bucatini goes well with meat sauce, tomato sauce and amatriciana sauce: bucatini all'amatriciana is an iconic pasta dish from Rome.

Amatriciana sauce was invented in the nearby town of Amatrice, on the border between the regions of Abruzzo and Lazio, where it was typically eaten with spaghetti.
In Rome, on the other hand, amatriciana is eaten with bucatini.

A plate of Bucatini all'Amatriciana
A plate of Bucatini all'Amatriciana, a pasta typical from Rome

Tip: don't order bucatini with tomato sauce if you wear white clothes. With bucatini it is even very easy to get your shirt dirty: when you roll bucatini around the fork, the sauce is thrown from the inside to the edges of the plate with a whip effect.

๐Ÿ‘‰ If you cook bucatini, you don't have to break it before putting it in water; just like spaghetti and other types of long Italian pasta.
Bucatini only needs a few seconds to completely submerge in the boiling pasta water.

Follow our pages on Italian pasta

We frequently update our pages on Italian pasta with new traditional regional recipes.

Over All Italian

Hi! We are Italian expats and have been living abroad for years, currently in the Netherlands. Wherever we go, we carry part of our tradition with us. And we often notice that Italy, its heritage and its lifestyle, are very popular.
Now that we understand a little better the culture of the countries we live in, we want to offer an account with original content about our home country.
We are also writing this blog to practice English, so you will find our writing a little ยซcreativeยป at times. Grazie mille!