Why are there different pasta shapes?
April 5, 2005 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Why are there different pasta shapes? I've never been able to see how it made a difference. What's the point?
posted by stoneegg21 to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some of it is culinary: different sauces adhere better to different shapes. So fettucine is better suited to an alfredo sauce, etc. etc. And some of it is purely aesthetic: new shapes created solely for the way they look. Alton Brown did a great breakdown on the pasta episode of Good Eats (here's a transcript; scroll down to Scene 4).
posted by toddshot at 11:31 PM on April 5, 2005

The Cook's Thesaurus (which is a fantastic resource) has a page that identifies different pasta shapes, and what sort of sauces/preparations work best with them.
posted by taz at 11:37 PM on April 5, 2005

Thin sauces, thin pasta.
Thick sauces, TUBES!
...for the most part.
posted by Witty at 11:44 PM on April 5, 2005

The texture experience when eaten also varies with shape.
posted by Goofyy at 12:51 AM on April 6, 2005

As people have already mentioned:

1. Some sauces/dishes require a certain aesthetic that calls for a certain pasta

2. Certain pastas hold sauce better in certain contexts

3. A certain mouthfeel (slipperiness, chewiness) is required for certain sauces/dishes

But I gotta say, if this all sounds meaningless to you, I can't imagine that you'll ever care.
posted by rxrfrx at 2:30 AM on April 6, 2005

Because you can't stuff a spagetti strand with cheese/meat.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:33 AM on April 6, 2005

variety is the spice of life.
posted by crunchland at 5:04 AM on April 6, 2005

I think it's to hold more and/or less sauce. I'm not a chef, however.
posted by sjvilla79 at 5:28 AM on April 6, 2005

So life doesn't become unbearably dreary.
posted by signal at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

The functionality is largely secondary to the product differentiation aspect. The medieval Italians went nuts for pasta and pasta makers developed literally hundreds of variations trying to outdo one another. Some are regional, some are symbolic, some are indeed predominantly functional, but there are something like 860 "official" pasta shapes and not all of them have specific uses.
posted by briank at 7:09 AM on April 6, 2005

Best answer: Keep in mind, too, that there are not nearly as many shapes of pasta as you might be lead to believe by all the names you'll hear. Often some very similar shapes will have different names because these sorts of things were historically localized. So small Italian village the first has an irregularly shaped pasta ribbon and calls it Tagliatelle. Small Italian village the second calls it Maltagliati. Same basic concept - irregulars - but different names. Small Italian village the third, on the other hand, insists that Maltagliati is only used for scraps, things like the pieces leftover from cutting ravioli. The nomenclatured on these things isn't near standardized.

The basic things to remember are the factors that going into choosing a sauce/pasta combination. You can get into the nitty gritty of whether fettucini or ilnguini is better for this sauce, but most people won't notice or care.

Ribbon pastas - like fettucini, linguine, tagliatelli, spaghetti - take thin clingy sauces, like bolognese or alfredo, very well, but because of the need to roll them make it awkward to get bites of stuff in the same bite as the pasta, so aren't good for sauces that have a lot of chunks in them.

Open, flat shapes - bowties, for example - are good for chunkier sauces, where the pasta is another kind of chunk, and salads. They're not perfectly flat because perfectly flat pasta sticks to itself in unpleasant kinds of ways (try boiling broken up pieces of lasagna to see what I mean), so the bit of shape gives it enough structure to stay separated, even in a light oil dressing. Scoop or closed shapes on the other hand, aren't great for oil dressing because they tend to hide unpleasant pockets of oil, and not allow even distribution of it.

Open scoop shapes - shells, cavatelli, for example - are used where you have sauce you want to get inside the shape band be scooped up with it. Thicker sauces, with small bits of stuff in them, or baked pastas where you want cheese to ooze inside the shells.

Closed shapes - penne, trenne, macaroni - hold shape well against heavy sauces and baking. The strongest use for them is sauces that will thicken with time - so baked pastas, or cheese sauces - because the initial thin sauce will get inside the shape, and then thicken there, somewhat filling it with saucy goodness.

Spiral pastas - fusillia, radiatore - are the most structured and hold their shape best for things like baked dishes where most pastas would lose form. Chunks of sauce get caught up in the spirals and they'll hold thicker sauces, as well.

Most of the basic shapes come in multiple sizes, and you're looking for a size such that whatever openings or cavities exist in your pasta are about the same size as the chunks in your sauce.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:28 AM on April 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

So life doesn't become unbearably dreary.

For some reason, this made me actually laugh. But I also think it's the real reason, pasta scientists & their fancy sauce/area equations aside.
posted by mdn at 7:48 AM on April 6, 2005

And yes, despite his brevity, I think signal's answer is at least as informative as mine. Picking out a pasta amongst the many shapes available is fun!

Personally, I always advocate for the use of scooby-dos wherever possible.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:22 AM on April 6, 2005

I prefer amphibious landing craft shaped pasta.
Poke-in-the-eye shape is also nice.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:33 AM on April 6, 2005

What was that about thick sauces...?
posted by Tubes at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2005

Could you imagine Lasagna Carbonara?

Well, actually, maybe that's not a bad idea.
posted by luriete at 1:16 PM on April 6, 2005

Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on and shoobie doobie doobie...
/sly and the family stone
posted by OneOliveShort at 2:06 PM on April 6, 2005

So that kids can demand more different shapes. And, if they are at that argumentative age, insist that the bowties taste different, and they don't like the taste any more.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2005

Could you imagine Lasagna Carbonara?

Off-topic, I wanted to say that luriete has just had an excellent idea, and I now plan to cook this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:34 PM on April 6, 2005

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