The Pasta Shapes Every Foodie Should Recognize

…so you never confuse capellini with cavatelli ever again.

At Blue Apron, we love Italian food. It’s romantic. It’s heartfelt. It relies on the best seasonal ingredients. While we’ll never turn down a lovely chicken cacciatore or a plate of osso bucco, it’s pasta that really has a special place in our hearts.

Yet with all the different shapes of pasta available, it can be tricky to separate one from another, let alone know which noodle to pair with which sauce. Here, we go through the basics, distinguishing the rigatoni from the radiatore and the spaghetti from the spaghettini, as well as sharing some delicious recipes to take your pasta beyond the traditional marina sauce. Buon appetito!

Pappardelle
Pappardelle pasta gets its name from the Italian verb pappare, which means “to gobble up.” A broad, flat noodle, pappardelle are generally about two centimeters wide and stand up well to thick sauces like our lamb Bolognese. You’ll find both fresh and dried pappardelle; while both are good, fresh are really extraordinary. Tagliatelle is a slightly thinner version of pappardelle; fettucine is even thinner.

Spaghettini
Thinner than its traditional namesake, spaghettini means “little spaghetti” in Italian. The finer texture means that the noodles have less of a bite than spaghetti does, which makes it a better option for lighter, less saucy dishes.

Lasagna
The word “lasagna” refers not only to the classic baked dish, but also to the broad, flat noodles themselves. Layered with different sauces and cheeses, there’s no end to the variations on this hearty comfort food—the classic uses béchamel and Parmesan cheese for creaminess, while other versions often rely on ricotta and mozzarella.

Rigatoni
Rigatoni is named for the riga, or ridges, that line the outside of the tube-shaped noodle. This makes them great for holding on to the thick sauces of central and southern Italy where the noodle originated. They’re our noodle of choice in alla Norma, too.

Radiatore
Modeled after an old industrial radiator, these noodles are short, thick spirals with a ruffled edge. The distinct shape actually maximizes the surface area of the noodle, which makes it great for retaining thinner sauces like our arugula pesto.

Jumbo shells
This large, shell-shaped pasta originates from southern Italy, where stuffed pasta dishes are common. Also called conchiglioni, the name shares the same root as the English “conch,” and also the same concave shape. Fill the large pocket of the shell with meat, vegetables, or cheese for a hearty, savory dish.

Gnocchi
Gnocchi wasn’t always made with potato the way we usually see done today—before the potato’s introduction to Europe in the 16th century, cooks relied on chestnut flour, squash, breadcrumbs, and other starches to supplement the wheat flour in the dough. It’s common to see gnocchi dressed in just a light butter sauce, like we did here, but it’s also delicious with thicker sauces.