Italy is home to thousands of different pasta types to try while you travel, each with their own distinct shapes and flavors that stem from the unique regions found across the peninsula. Italian noodles represent over 300 different pasta shapes, each playing an integral role in the local cuisine and revealing the culinary personality of different regions and their gastronomic heritage.
These pastas have a history that dates back to Marco Polo in the 13th century and myths that trace back their origins to nomadic Arabs who brought noodles to Europe from Central Asia. No matter the origins of Italy’s different varieties of pasta, the noodles have inspired shapes and sizes from the different ingredients that have been available in the various regions.
We have compiled a list of the ten most popular pasta types that you will find in Italian cuisine as you tour the country and savor the delicious local dishes.
Spaghetti is Italy’s classic pasta that is known for its long, thin, cylindrical shape. Typical spaghetti is made from water, milled wheat, and flour, but authentic spaghetti is made with durum wheat semolina. Commonly spaghetti in Italy is served with tomato sauce, meat sauce, or vegetables during the primo course of lunch or dinner. Spaghetti recipes differ based on region, with the south utilizing dry noodles and the north preferring fresh noodles. Italian spaghetti varies tremendously from the store-bought variations around the world, so do not skip the spaghetti next time you travel to Italy.
Ravioli is a popular square-shaped pasta stuffed with different ingredients like meat, cheese, or vegetables. Ravioli originated in the northern region of Lombardy but spread across Italy, resulting in numerous variations based on local, seasonal, and accessible ingredients. The stuffed pasta, made from a mixture of egg, flour, and water, is served with a broth or topped with pasta sauces that accentuate the particular fillings. Circular variations of ravioli are known as mezzelune, or “half-moons,” so be on the lookout for both sought-after Italian dishes when visiting the country.
Penne pasta from Italy has grown to become one of the ten most popular pasta noodles in the world by volume. The small, cylindrically-shaped pasta generally resembles the tip of an old-fashioned quill or pen, which inspired the noodle’s singular name, “penna.” In Sicily, Penne is stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese or topped with tomato or cream sauces. In Liguria, durum wheat and ingredients, namely spinach, wheat, and tomatoes, create the tri-color noodles that resemble the Italian flag. Larger types of Penne noodles are known as mostaccioli, and a variety differs in texture with smooth or ridged exteriors.
The elbow-shaped Italian Maccheroni pasta is one of Italy's most famous noodle shapes and around the world. While the North American dish macaroni and cheese and Victorian English sweet macaroni pudding utilize a mass-produced version of Maccheroni, they pale in comparison to the original that you will only find when you travel to Italy. The small, slightly curved, and tubular design makes macaroni versatile for baking dishes, soups, or anything with heartier vegetable sauces. Macaroni, made from durum wheat, originated in Northern and Central Italy and is derived from the ancient Greek dish of barley served in broth.
Lasagna is a long, flat noodle that resembles a sheet of pasta. Lasagna originated in Naples from noodles made with heavier edges to better layer the pasta over ingredients. Typically, various sauces and cheeses are layered with the pasta before being baked in a type of casserole. The famous cartoon Garfield popularized the Italian pasta type, and it has since become a staple around the world. However, the first documentation of lasagna dates back to ancient Greece and Italy’s Middle Ages. There is nothing quite like tucking into a lasagna served in the regions of Campania and Emilia Romagna.
The famous Italian pasta known as gnocchi is a dough dumpling cut into small pieces that resemble a cork. Gnocchi can be made with potatoes, spinach, eggs, ricotta, and other types of cheese. The origins of gnocchi date back to the Roman Empire, but it has become an Italian pasta type primarily associated with modern Italy. The dumplings are often made from semolina wheat flour and flavored with herbs, vegetables, or similar ingredients. As you travel in Italy, you will come across menus that mention a variety of regional names for gnocchi, such as gnudi, malfatti, malloreddus, strangulaprievete, or cavatelli.
Linguine is known for its long, thin, elliptical shape. It is popular in the region of Liguria, most notably in the capital city of Genova, and is made from durum wheat semolina flour. The texture and length of the noodles help to carry the typical toppings of pesto sauce or seafood. Linguine noodles are often seasoned with pesto, green beans, and potatoes, and today it is typically served during the primo course of lunch or dinner in Italy before a fish or meat dish. As you travel through Italy, you can expect to find linguine recipes that include anchovies and pine nuts or are used with clam sauce and various red sauces like arrabbiata.
The Vermicelli noodle has a long, rounded, and thin shape similar to spaghetti but with a thicker body. In the United States, Vermicelli noodles have a thinner body than regular spaghetti noodles, which separates them from the traditional Italian variation. Italian vermicelli dates back at least to the 14th century, and the typical Vermicelli recipe showcases Southern Italian cuisine with dishes like Neapolitan Vermicelli, which contains lard, tomatoes, pepper, and Pecorino cheese, or the typical dish of Vermicelli alla puttanesca. Dishes that highlight the flavorful combinations of vermicelli are served during lunch or dinner as the primo course of the meal.
Cannelloni, also referred to as manicotti, is an Italian pasta with a tube or cylindrical shape that measures approximately three to four inches in length. The noodles are made from durum wheat flour and water and are often stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, or fish. It is usually served during the primo course of a traditional Italian lunch or dinner before a meat or fish dish. The word “cannelloni” literally translates to “big pipe,” and you can expect to find these noodles commonly served with rich ragù topping, tomato sauce, or a hearty béchamel during your Italian travels.
The famous Italian pasta of Fettuccine has a long, flat-ribbon shape with a thickness that measures up to 10 inches long. The pasta is made from egg and durum wheat flour that is typical of the central and northern regions of the Italian peninsula, such as in Lazio. Regions that you travel to in Southern Italy may use fettuccine noodles made without egg, utilizing drier pasta ribbons more often. Classic Fettuccine noodles are used in dishes served at lunch or dinner during the primo course before a meat or fish dish. Typical recipes include a sauce of meat ragù, a topping of porcini mushrooms, and a pomodori bruciati recipe.
There are far more than ten types of pasta in Italy to try when you visit, and we have a long list of the best additional options to keep your eyes peeled for as you travel between the culinary regions of Italy. Continue reading for all of our mouthwatering Italian pasta recommendations, some of which you may have never heard of.
Farfalle / Bow Ties
Farfalle pasta is the famous bow-tie-shaped noodle of Italian cuisine, more commonly found in the Emilia Romagna and Lombardy regions of Italy. Traditionally, farfalle is made from pinching the center of the pre-cooked noodle and cutting the small sides into rectangles from a dough of durum wheat semolina flour. Typical dishes in Emilia Romagna serve the farfalle inside a chicken broth or with a liver ragù, whereas in Lombardy, farfalle typically has a vibrant array of colors that stem from mixing beets, spinach, or squid ink into the dough.
Fusilli is a long, thick noodle with a corkscrew shape. The Fusilli pasta originally stems from Southern Italy and is traditionally served with a simple tomato sauce and cheese during the primo course of a typical lunch or dinner. Fusilli, usually known as code di topo or “mouse tail,” is typically found in the kitchens that you will visit in the Abruzzo, Molise, and Lazio regions and in Puglia’s capital, Bari. The Southern Italian regions tend to eat handmade fusilli noodles on Sundays or during a holiday feast with meat or sausage ragù. Northern Italians often dine on factory-made fusilli noodles with pasta salads or light, creamy sauces.
Gemelli pasta has a distinct, twisted tube appearance that is similar to a double helix. The word Gemelli translates to “twins” due to the way the noodles resemble twin tubes that have been tied together. The noodles that make the Gemelli are, in fact, a single s-shaped strand that has been twisted and tied into one long spiral. The unique shape and firm texture of al dente Gemelli hold the flavor of refined, simple sauces made with tomatoes or finely diced vegetables, as well as dairy- or oil-based sauces. The noodles are made from semolina flour, and you will find them in dishes served from traditional southern kitchens around Campania.
The Italian pasta Chiocciole is a small, tubular noodle that is similar to the traditional American macaroni noodle, but with a more curvaceous shape that resembles a snail. Chiocciole translates to “snail” in English due to the noodle’s classic appearance. The pasta is most notably found in soups or with light to heavy sauces during the primo course of lunch or dinner and is followed by a meat or fish dish. The pasta is made from durum wheat flour and is textured with ridges or grooves to better absorb sauces made from tomato, squid ink, or cream.
Bucatini is a long noodle similar to spaghetti but thicker, with an additional hole that runs through the tube’s center. The noodle is traditionally made from hard durum wheat flour, resulting in a versatile noodle that perfectly pairs with most sauces and is typically served in the primo course before a meat or fish dish. The name derives from the Italian word “buco,” which means hole. Naples developed the Bucatini noodle in the Campania region, but Bucatini is also popular in Liguria and Lazio. Dishes that use the specific noodle are often served with savory ingredients like anchovies and sardines, or pancetta, guanciale, cheese, and eggs.
The Italian pasta of Cappelletti has a unique, rounded dumpling shape stuffed with different fillings. “Cappelletti” translates to “little hat” due to the resemblance that the dumpling has to a traditional Italian hat. The pasta dish originated in the ancient center of Modena in the Emilia Romagna region and has since become a popular dish served during lunch or dinner. Instead of a strict meat filling, Cappelletti is also stuffed with cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Robiola. The noodles are freshly made with flour and egg in the traditional style of the Emilia Romagna region, a destination worth a visit.
Bigoli is a long, thick, tubular pasta from the Venetian province. It is typically made from buckwheat or whole wheat flour and is served with hearty meat sauces. One of the most popular items served with Bigoli is a duck ragú, an exquisite culinary creation travelers simply must try in Italy. The rich characteristics of Bigoli contribute to the pasta’s service during lunch or dinner within the primo course of a typical Italian meal and before a meat course, but never before a seafood dish. For a richer flavor and texture, some home-cooks in the Veneto region use duck eggs to bind the wheat flour together when making Bigoli.
Rotelle, or “little wheels,” pasta is circular noodles with little spokes that resemble wheels. The traditional Italian pasta, made from durum wheat, is popular in northern Italy in dishes with a tomato- or cream-based sauce. Its firm texture and shape allow the noodle to pair with soups, hearty meat sauces, baked recipes, cheesy sauces, and light dressings for easy pasta salads. Rotelle is commonly served during lunch or dinner as a primo course before dishes of fish or meat.
Orecchiette, a renowned pasta shaped like an ear, stems from the Southern Italian region of Puglia and is often paired with rapini, broccoli, or a sauce made with tomato, meat, and ricotta cheese. It can also be served with gorgonzola cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano and is commonly made with semolina dough and dried for a thicker, heartier center. Oily sauces coat the smooth exterior of the dough better than heavier sauces. The origins of the pasta date back to between the 12th and 13th centuries in Puglia, and it is now popularly found in the neighboring region of Basilicata.
The typical Italian pasta of Orzo, known by the locals as risoni or “big rice,” resembles grains of rice but is made from durum semolina flour. The Italian name means “barley” due to its shape and size, but its texture is often utilized in soups, pasta salads, and side dishes. Orzo is most commonly used in the primo course of lunch or dinner before serving meats or fish. It is not specific to any one Italian region but makes an appearance in customary minestrone soup and also has relatives in ancient Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Stop off at an Italian restaurant for lunch and give this pasta type a try to compare it with the rest.
Angel hair pasta is also known as capelli d’angelo and resembles strings of pasta that are similar to spaghetti but with a much thinner diameter. Angel hair pasta is commonly used for soups and seafood dishes, as well as with light sauces. To protect the pasta’s more delicate texture, angel hair is commonly sold in coils that resemble a bird’s nest instead of being straight. A type of angel hair pasta made from semolina flour has been popular since the 14th century in Italy. However, its more recent renditions date back to the 17th-century monasteries when nuns used to prepare soups or light dishes for the sick.
The popular square pasta, Agnolotti, hails from the northern region of Piedmont and is often stuffed with meat or vegetables. The wooded wilderness and lush greenery from the Piedmontese forests, Alps, and Apennines mountains have inspired Agnolotti’s flavor profile. Agnolotti is occasionally poached in broth but is most commonly served pan-fried with a sage and butter sauce and topped with shaved white truffle for lunch or dinner. Inside of Piedmont, the province of Monferrato serves a special agnolotti that is traditionally stuffed with donkey meat, a truly memorable customary travel experience for you to try in this region.
Rigatoni pasta is a large tubular noodle that is textured with vertical ridges that run lengthwise across the noodle. The tubes are larger than penne and can stand up to hearty sauces like meat ragù, as well as a variety of light sauces. Rigatoni originated from Lazio and is especially popular in Rome in traditional dishes like la pagliata, but it is also used in Sicily in dishes like rigatoni alla Norma. The ridges make the pasta popular for capturing melted or grated cheeses, and it is typically served during the primo course of dinner or lunch before heartier meat or fish courses.
Rotini noodles' distinctive helix or corkscrew shape is similar to the shape of fusilli noodles. However, this pasta type has a tighter turn and smaller rotation. The name refers back to the 17th-century Italian word meaning “small wheels.” The natural twists are popular in Southern Italy for capturing a variety of tomato-based sauces, pesto, or carbonara. The noodles, which are served during lunch or dinner as the primo course, are most often made from refined white wheat flour but can also be made from whole wheat flour or brown rice.
Acini di Pepe
Acini di Pepe is a type of dry pasta that resembles couscous or tiny grains. Locals often call the noodles pastina, which means “tiny dough.” Acini di Pepe is typically used in soups and salads, especially as the main ingredient for Italian wedding soup. The tiny noodles are made from semolina, and you will mostly find them as you arrive at restaurants in the regions of Lazio and Campania. It is used in dishes made for lunch and dinner during the primo, or first, course, and has also been utilized in an Italian American dessert known as Frog’s Eye Salad.
Typical strozzapreti noodles have a shape similar to a hotdog bun and are textured with elongated, light twists. The rounded design of the noodles helps capture cream and meat sauces of the Emilia Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy. The hand-rolled pasta is also popular in the independent principality of San Marino. The pasta that is typically made in the Romagna province contains wheat flour, water, and salt with the option of adding eggs. In contrast, the Emilia province typically uses flour, water, egg whites, and Parmesan cheese.
Tortelli is closely related to ravioli due to its square shape, ribbed edges, and stuffing of meat, cheese, or mushrooms. Tortelli, however, is often topped with a hearty ragù sauce or melted butter. The dish is typically made in the regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, and Tuscany. The noodles can have different shapes, such as semi-circular shapes similar to anellini or twisted, rounded shapes like cappelletti. Tortelli can also be used to describe a fried pastry that has been stuffed with jam or cream. Typical dishes for you to enjoy during your travels with tortelli include pumpkin tortelli or tortelli from Parma filled with ricotta cheese, herbs, and vegetables.
Tortellini pasta has a rounded, ring shape that resembles a naval and the name derives from the shape meaning “belly button”. It is typically stuffed with a mixture of meat such as pork loin, prosciutto, or cheese, and its origins can be traced back to Italy’s Emilia Romagna region in the 16th century. The typical pasta, eaten during lunch or dinner during the primo course, is made fresh with flour and eggs and is served in a beef or chicken broth.
Tortelloni has a rounded, ring shape that is similar to Tortellini but with a larger size. The dumpling was born in the region of Emilia Romagna with a typical stuffing that consists of ricotta cheese and various leafy greens like a type of local spinach. Other fillings include porcini mushrooms, walnuts, and pork- or beef-based mixtures, which are less common. Tortelloni is served with a hearty sauce that compliments the stuffing mixture and pasta flavors. For something a little different, visit the city of Modena in Emilia Romagna and try a variation made with the pulp of pumpkin and amaretti biscuits as a filling for sweet Tortelloni.
Tortiglioni is a small pasta with a tubular design decorated with diagonal ridges similar to a smaller rigatoni. The ridges add a layer of beauty to the noodles but also have the function of capturing rich, full-bodied sauces that have been made from meat, tomatoes, vegetables, or cream. The pasta noodles, made from durum wheat and water, are more common in Southern Italian cuisine, which utilizes dry pasta more readily than Northern Italian cuisine. You can typically enjoy Tortiglioni at a restaurant in Italy during lunch and dinner as a primo course.
Cellentani / Cavatappi
Cavatappi is a hollow, spiral-shaped pasta that measures approximately an inch in length. The surface of cavatappi can have grooves, ridges, or remain smooth. The typical Italian pasta pairs well with tomato-based sauces, cheeses like provolone and mozzarella, and can be a great addition to a caprese pasta salad. The more modern pasta, mostly made by machines, provides versatility in cream-based sauces as well as tomato sauces from Southern Italy and upwards to Rome in staple dishes to try while traveling, such as cavatappi Amatriciana or cavatappi pomodoro.
Traditional Italian Ziti noodles have a tubular design with a smooth texture. The word ziti means “fiancés,” referring to the pasta’s traditional use during Italian weddings and easy function in casseroles. Ziti is similar in shape and size to penne but has straight edges, while penne has diagonal edges. You can embrace the traditional flavors of ziti at restaurants dotting the Southern Italian region of Campania and tuck into a quintessential Neapolitan pasta.
Italy is known for its cuisine, and there is nothing quite like a rich, creamy sauce drizzled over any of the country’s popular pasta types. Browse our collection of Italy Tours and Vacations or prepare for your travels with Zicasso’s dedicated Italy Travel Guide. To connect with a Zicasso travel specialist for Italy, fill out a Trip Request or contact our team at 1-888-265-9707.