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Italy's Top 10 Pasta Types to Try on Vacation

Leo Muncchi
October 2, 2023
Bologna

Approximately 300 pasta shapes are represented by Italian noodles, each of which plays an important role in local cuisine and reflects the culinary heritage of different regions.

It is believed that the country's pasta originates from nomadic Arabs who brought noodles from Central Asia to Europe during Marco Polo's time in the 13th century. Regardless of how Italy's pastas originated, shapes and sizes have been inspired by the different ingredients available in the country's various regions. Emilia-Romagna is considered the food capital of Italy, but we have compiled a list of the 10 most popular pastas in Italy.

 

1. Spaghetti • Sicily

The classic Italian pasta spaghetti is found in Sicilian dishes and is commonly made from water, flour, and milled wheat, but authentic spaghetti is made from durum wheat semolina.

The primo courses of lunch or dinner in Italy usually include spaghetti with tomato and meat sauces, or vegetables.In Italy, spaghetti recipes differ according to region, with dry noodles in the south and fresh ones in the north. Italian spaghetti differs greatly from store-bought variations, so don't skip it when you go there!

2. Ravioli from Lombardy

It originated in the northern region of Lombardy, but spread throughout Italy, resulting in a variety of variations based on local, seasonal, and readily available ingredients.With a broth or sauces that enhance the fillings, stuffed pasta is made from egg, flour, and water.

You'll find circular ravioli called mezzelune, or "half moons", so be sure to try them during your trip to Northern Italy.

3. Penne • Campania

The small, cylindrically-shaped pasta generally resembles the tip of an old-fashioned quill or pen, which is why it is known as "penna".

In Sicily, penne is stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, or topped with tomato or cream sauces. In Liguria, durum wheat and ingredients, including spinach, wheat, and tomatoes, are used to make the tri-color noodles.

Many types of penne noodles are referred to as mostaccioli and vary in texture, including smooth and ridged exteriors. Sharing meals is an important part of making memories. With our 10 most romantic places in Italy for couples, you can explore the beautiful landscape around the Campania region and how it combines with local ingredients that shape local cuisine.

4. Macaroni or elbows from Campania

The elbow-shaped maccheroni is one of Italy's most famous noodles.

While the North American dish macaroni and cheese and Victorian English sweet macaroni pudding use a mass-produced version of maccheroni, they pale in comparison to the original that you will only find during customized Amalfi Coast tours and vacations or when traveling to certain corners of northern Italy.

A small, slightly curved tubular design makes macaroni perfect for baking, soups, and heartier vegetable sauces. It is derived from an ancient Greek dish of barley served in broth, which originated in northern and central Italy.

5. Emilia-Romagna Lasagna

Usually, various sauces and cheeses are layered with pasta before being baked in a casserole. The Garfield cartoon popularized the Italian pasta type.

6.Venetian gnocchi

In Veneto, a region that includes the elegance and charm of famous canals, gnocchi is a dough dumpling cut into small pieces resembling corks and celebrated in dishes.

Potatoes, spinach, eggs, ricotta, and other types of cheese can be used to make gnochi. Its origins date back to the Roman Empire, but it has become primarily associated with modern Italian cuisine. Its dumplings are typically made from semolina wheat flour and seasoned with herbs, vegetables, or similar substances.

There are several regional names for gnocchi in Italy, including gnudi, malfatti, malloreddus, strangulaprievete, or cavatelli.

Italy's Top 10 Pasta Types to Try on Vacation
It is believed that the country's pasta originates from nomadic Arabs who brought noodles from Central Asia to Europe during Marco Polo's time in the 13th century
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The small, cylindrically-shaped pasta generally resembles the tip of an old-fashioned quill or pen, which is why it is known as "penna".

7.Liguria • Linguine

In the region of Liguria, Linguine is made of durum wheat semolina flour and is known for its long, thin, elliptical shape.

Frequently seasoned with pesto, green beans, and potatoes, linguine is typically served during the primo courses of lunch and dinner in Italy, before fish or meat.

You can find linguine recipes in Italy that include anchovies and pine nuts, or you can pair it with clam sauce and a variety of red sauces like arrabbiata. Tour Cinque Terre to further experience Liguria and its flavors.

8.Campania: Vermicelli

Vermicelli noodle has a long, rounded, thin shape similar to spaghetti, but with a thicker body. In the United States, vermicelli noodles are thinner than regular spaghetti.

Typical vermicelli recipes showcase southern Italian cuisine with dishes like Neapolitan Vermicelli, which contains lard, tomatoes, peppers, and Pecorino cheese, or Vermicelli alla Puttanesca.

On a Southern Italy tour, you will find dishes that feature the flavorful combinations of vermicelli served during lunch or dinner as the first course.

9.Sicily • Cannelloni

Manicotti, also known as cannelloni, is an Italian pasta with a cylindrical shape that measures approximately three to four inches in length. The noodles are made from durum wheat flour and water and can be stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, or fish.

Before a meat or fish dish, it is usually served as the primo course of an Italian lunch or dinner.

During your Italy travels, you're likely to find these noodles served with rich ragù toppings, tomato sauces, or hearty béchamel, which often embody the robust flavors unique to island cuisine, especially when on a two-week Sicily itinerary. The word "cannelloni" literally means "big pipe".

10.The Valle d'Aosta - fettuccine

In Lazio and Valle d'Aosta, in the central and northern regions of the Italian peninsula, fettuccine is a long, flat ribbon of pasta with a thickness up to 10 inches.

It is not uncommon for southern Italian regions to use fettuccine noodles without eggs, using drier pasta ribbons more often. Classic fettuccine noodles are used in the primo course, before a meat or fish dish.

You can sample the cuisine, explore the gorgeous scenery, and discover inspiration from our sample Northern Italy tour itinerary. Enjoy a sauce of meat ragù, porcini mushrooms, a chestnut sauce, and pomodori bruciati.

 

 

As you travel between the culinary regions of the greater peninsula, keep your eyes peeled for more than 10 types of pasta to try when you visit Italy.

The fusilli

Fusilli, also known as code di topo or “mouse tail”, is a long, thick pasta with a distinctive corkscrew shape. Originally hailing from southern Italy, it is commonly served during the primo course of lunch or dinner with a simple tomato sauce and cheese. It can be found in kitchens across regions such as Abruzzo, Molise, Lazio, and Puglia’s capital, Bari. While handmade fusilli is often enjoyed on Sundays or special occasions in these southern regions with meat or sausage ragù sauces, northern Italians typically opt for factory-made versions served with pasta salads or light creamy sauces.

Gemelli,

Gemelli pasta, with its distinct twisted tube appearance reminiscent of a double helix, is aptly named as "twins" in Italian due to its twin-like tubes that are intertwined together. Crafted from a single S-shaped strand, the noodles are twisted and tied into a long spiral. The firm texture and unique shape of al dente gemelli allow it to perfectly hold the flavor of refined sauces, whether it be a simple tomato or finely diced vegetable sauce, or one made with dairy or oil. This traditional southern kitchen staple hails from Campania and is made with semolina flour.

The chiocciole

The Italian pasta chiocciole, meaning "snail" in English, is a small, tubular noodle with a curvaceous shape similar to traditional American macaroni. This classic-looking pasta, made from durum wheat flour, is commonly paired with various sauces such as tomato, squid ink, or cream. It can be enjoyed as part of a soup or served with a light or heavy sauce during the primo course of lunch or dinner. Following this course, a meat or fish dish is typically served. The textured ridges and grooves on the pasta allow for better absorption of the flavorful sauces.

Bucatini,

Bucatini, a long noodle similar to spaghetti but with a thicker and hollow center, is made from hard durum wheat flour. This versatile noodle is a staple in the primo course and pairs perfectly with most sauces. Its name comes from the Italian word “buco” meaning hole. While Naples created this unique noodle in the Campania region, it has gained popularity in Liguria and Lazio as well. These savory noodles are often served with anchovies, sardines, pancetta, guanciale, cheese, and eggs as flavorful additions.

Cappelletti,

Cappelletti is a distinctive, circular pocket of various fillings. Its name, "little hat" in Italian, stems from its resemblance to a traditional headpiece. Originating in the historic hub of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, this pasta dish has gained popularity as a lunch or dinner option. In addition to meat, cappelletti can also be filled with cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, grana padano, and robiola. The noodles are freshly crafted using flour and egg in the time-honored style of Emilia-Romagna, making it a must-try for any visitor to the region.

Bigoli,

Bigoli, a type of long, thick pasta originating from the Venetian province, is often made using buckwheat or whole-wheat flour and pairs exceptionally well with hearty meat sauces. A highly sought-after dish by travelers in Italy is bigoli with duck ragú - a delectable creation not to be missed. Its decadent qualities make it an ideal choice for lunch or dinner as the primo course of a traditional Italian meal, but never before a seafood course. In the Veneto region, some home cooks elevate the flavor and texture of bigoli by binding the wheat flour with duck eggs.

Rotelle

In northern Italy, Rotelle are known as “little wheels” because of their circular shape and spokes that resemble wheels. The pasta, made of durum wheat, is widely used in dishes with tomato or cream sauces. As a result of its firm texture and shape, the noodle pairs well with soups, hearty meat sauces, baked goods, cheese sauces, and light dressings for easy pasta salads. As a primo course, rotelle is usually served at lunch or dinner before fish or meat dishes.

The Orecchiette

Hailing from the southern Italian region of Puglia, Orecchiette is a well-known pasta shaped like an ear. It is traditionally paired with rapini, broccoli, or a savory sauce made with tomato, meat, and ricotta cheese. Alternatively, it can be served with creamy gorgonzola or sharp Parmigiano Reggiano. This popular pasta is typically crafted from semolina dough and air-dried for a hearty texture. Its smooth exterior is best suited for oily sauces rather than heavier ones. Believed to have originated between the 12th and 13th centuries in Puglia, Orecchiette has gained popularity in the neighboring region of Basilicata as well.

Orzo

The popular Italian orzo, locally known as risoni or "big rice", resembles rice grains but is actually made from durum semolina flour. Its name, which means "barley" in Italian, is due to its shape and size, but its texture makes it a versatile ingredient in soups, pasta salads, and side dishes. Orzo is typically served as the first course during lunch or dinner before meats or fish. This type of pasta can be found in various regions of Italy and is a staple in classic minestrone soup. It also has ties to Ancient Greek, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Next time you dine at an Italian restaurant for lunch, be sure to give this pasta a try for a unique taste experience.

Capellini,

Capelli d’angelo, also known as angel-hair pasta, has a thin diameter and is often used in soups, seafood dishes, and light sauces. To preserve its delicate texture, this pasta is typically sold in coiled shapes reminiscent of bird's nests. Although it has been a beloved staple in Italy since the 14th century, its modern variations can be traced back to 17th-century monasteries where nuns prepared nourishing soups and dishes for the ill.

Agnolotti,

Originating from the northern region of Piedmont, the square pasta agnolotti is a popular dish typically filled with either meat or vegetables. Its flavor profile draws inspiration from the rich and diverse terrain of Piedmont, including its lush forests, alps, and Apennines mountains. While it can be poached in broth, the most common preparation method is pan-frying with a savory sage and butter sauce. For lunch or dinner, it is often garnished with shaved white truffle. A must-try specialty in Piedmont's Monferrato province is an agnolotti filled with donkey meat, providing a unique and memorable culinary experience for those traveling in this region.

The Rigatoni

Rigatoni pasta, a large tubular noodle with textured ridges running lengthwise, is a versatile option for both hearty and light sauces. Originating from Lazio, it is beloved in Rome for dishes such as La Pagliata, while also commonly used in Sicily for dishes like Rigatoni alla Norma. The ridges make it perfect for holding melted or grated cheeses, and it is traditionally served during the first course of meals before heartier meat or fish dishes.

Rotini

Rotini, also known as "small wheels," has a unique helix shape resembling fusilli. However, it features a tighter turn and smaller rotation. This popular type of pasta originated from 17th-century Italy and is commonly used in southern regions to hold delicious tomato-based sauces, pesto, or carbonara. Typically served as the primo course during lunch or dinner, rotini is traditionally made with refined white wheat flour, although whole-wheat flour or brown rice can also be used as alternatives.

Pepe's Acini

Acini di pepe is a dry pasta similar to couscous or small grains. It is commonly known as pastina, which translates to "tiny dough". This type of pasta is typically used in soups and salads, particularly in the popular Italian wedding soup. It is made from semolina and can often be found in restaurants throughout Lazio and Campania. It is a common addition to lunch and dinner dishes as a primo course, but it has also been incorporated into an Italian-American dessert called Frog's Eye Salad.

Strozzapreti,

Strozzapreti noodles, commonly found in the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, have a distinctive hotdog bun shape and elongated twist texture. This unique rounded design is perfect for capturing the rich cream and meat sauces of these areas. Additionally, strozzapreti is a popular hand-rolled pasta in San Marino. While the Romagna province's version primarily consists of wheat flour, water, and salt, egg can also be added if desired. On the other hand, the Emilia province typically uses flour, water, egg whites, and Parmesan cheese in their recipe.

Tortelli,

Tortelli shares many similarities with ravioli, including its square shape, ribbed edges, and filling options of meat, cheese, or mushrooms. However, what sets tortelli apart is the addition of a rich ragù sauce or melted butter. This dish hails from popular regions in Italy such as Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, and Tuscany. The pasta itself can take on various forms such as semi-circular anellini or twisted cappelletti shapes. In addition to savory options, tortelli can also refer to a sweet fried pastry filled with jam or cream. When traveling in Italy, be sure to try dishes like pumpkin tortelli or Parma's ricotta and herb stuffed tortelli for a taste of authentic cuisine.

Tortellini

Its name comes from the shape meaning "belly button." Tortellini is shaped like a naval, with a rounded, ring shape that resembles a naval. In the 16th century, this dish originated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where it is usually stuffed with pork loin, prosciutto, or cheese. Primo pasta is usually made with flour and eggs, served with beef or chicken broth at lunch or dinner.

Tortelloni,

Tortelloni, a dumpling originally from Emilia-Romagna, has a rounded shape similar to tortellini, but larger. The traditional filling is made of ricotta cheese and leafy greens such as local spinach. Other less common fillings include porcini mushrooms, walnuts, and mixtures of pork or beef. To enhance the flavors of the pasta and filling, it is typically served with a hearty sauce. For a unique twist, head to Modena in Emilia-Romagna to taste sweet tortelloni filled with pumpkin pulp and amaretti biscuits.

Tortiglioni,

Tortiglioni, a petite pasta with a tube shape and diagonal ridges resembling smaller rigatoni, boasts both aesthetic appeal and functional purpose. These ridges not only enhance the beauty of the noodles but also serve as perfect vessels for hearty sauces made with meat, tomatoes, vegetables, or cream. Crafted from durum wheat and water, this type of pasta is commonly used in southern Italian cuisine where dry pasta holds a prominent place. Delicious tortiglioni dishes can often be found on menus at restaurants in Italy during lunch and dinner as part of a first course.

Cellentani / Cavatappi

Cavatappi, a traditional Italian pasta, is characterized by its hollow, spiral shape and average length of one inch. Its surface can vary with grooves, ridges, or a smooth texture. This versatile pasta pairs well with classic tomato-based sauces and cheeses like provolone and mozzarella. It also adds a delicious twist to a caprese pasta salad. Alternatively, the more contemporary version of cavatappi, which is typically produced by machines, offers even more options for pairing with creamy or southern Italian tomato-based sauces. Popular dishes featuring this modern twist on the traditional pasta include Cavatappi Amatriciana and Cavatappi Pomodoro.

Ziti.

Known as ziti noodles, traditional Italian pasta has a tubular shape with a smooth texture. A ziti is similar to a penne pasta, but has straight edges, whereas a penne pasta has diagonal edges. It was traditionally used at Italian weddings and in casseroles. The southern Italian region of Campania is dotted with restaurants serving ziti and a quintessential Neapolitan pasta.

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