Every one of Italy’s 20 regions has a distinctive cuisine – partly shaped by climate and terrain, partly due to history. You’ll find truffles and creamy Gorgonzola in the mountainous northern region of Piedmont; cured meat and flavourful tomatoes in the fertile central region of Umbria; and artichokes and seafood in Sicily, at Italy’s southern tip.
These ingredients are often used in sauces, and paired with pasta shapes specifically designed to hold the sauce in the best way possible. For this reason, many regions have created their own pasta shapes – although their origin is often hotly disputed among Italians!
Pasta types by region
Region: Veneto, north Italy
Description: Thick, noodle-like spaghetti, often made from wholewheat flour, butter and duck eggs. Like other long, thin pasta, this is best served with light seafood sauces, cream- or oil-based sauces.
Region: Emilia Romagna, north Italy
Description: The name for these short twists translates as ‘priest strangler’ – inspired by the legend that greedy priests would eat the strozzapreti, given to them by locals, so quickly that they might choke on it. Serve with light, smooth sauces that will cling to the twists – pesto would work well.
Region: Liguria, north Italy
Description: These small, rolled pasta shapes are traditionally served the Genovese way with pesto, green beans and potatoes.
Region: Tuscany, central Italy
Description: Gigli translates as ‘lilies’- this fluted pasta is specifically from Florence, where the lily is the local emblem.
Region: Abruzzo, central Italy
Description: Chitarra means ‘guitar’, and this long thin pasta is cut using a harp-like tool. The fresh pasta dough is pushed through the fine strings to cut it into strands. Serve with silky cream- or oil-based sauces.
Region: Campania, southern Italy
Description: Meaning ‘pen’ or ‘quill’, penne is cut on an angle to resemble its namesake. It’s ideal for holding rich tomato or meat sauces, or in pasta bakes.Region: Puglia, southern Italy
Description: Orecchiette or ‘little ears’ are traditionally served with broccoli rabe, anchovies, chilli and garlic.
More pasta types…
Long and skinny:
Spaghetti, linguine, fusilli lunghi, vermicelli, capellini, spaghettini, bucatini.
Tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, mafaldine, stringozzi, trenette.
Conchiglie, lumache, lumaconi.
Fusilli, trofie, strozzapreti, caserecce, gemelli, rotini.
Penne, rigatoni, macaroni, paccheri, tortiglioni, trenne, manicotti, ditalini, cannelloni.
Orzo, fregola, canestrini, stelline, risi, quadrettini, anelli.
Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, agnolotti.
Pasta buying tip…
Pasta ending in ‘ini’ is a smaller version of a particular shape, and pasta ending in ‘oni’ is a larger version of a particular shape. For example, fusillini (smallest twist), fusilli (medium twist), fusillioni (largest twist)
What sauce to serve with which pasta shape…
Tailoring your pasta choice to the nature of your sauce is a sure fire way of achieving an authentic Italian finish. Our table of perfect matches offers some suggestions.
What pasta shape do you like? We have lots of pasta guides and recipes, including a video on making pasta and lots of recipe collections.