Italians find a way to expertly use every bit of a plant or animal in a meal, especially when creating their famous pasta dishes. Surprisingly though, Italy has endless varieties of pasta (over 300 pasta types), differing in name, shape, history and gastronomical purpose. Beyond well-known spaghetti and familiar ravioli, a whole other realm of pasta shapes and names exists.
Let's get a closer look at the most popular pasta types widely used throughout Italy — especially those types that you will see on your menu when traveling in Rome. It's always good to be prepared, isn't it?
Name of this pasta comes from Central Italy from the Italian word buco - "hole". It is basically thick spaghetti, hollow inside. This pasta shape is especially fond of by Romans: you can find it in famous Carbonara, very the popular Cacho E Pepe dish and other dishes, but it is probably the best to order Bucatini All'Amatrichana with tomato sauce, pecorino cheese and Guanciale (dry-cured pork cheeks).
This is the name for the thinnest pasta invented in the center of Northern Italy. You need to cook it literally 3-4 minutes - much less than ordinary spaghetti. It goes best with very light sauces and seafood. Capellini is great for entrées and side dishes, or broken and cooked in soups. Do avoid thick and meat sauces when using capellini.
Short pasta type similar to bells or lilies (hence its second name is gigli). Thick meat or cheese sauces are the perfect match for this shape. A little nuance: this pasta needs to be mixed well so that each flower is filled with sauce - then you will get a real taste explosion. Campanelle is often used in Italian salads.
This is what you get if you roll lasagna. Cannelloni was first prepared by a chef named Salvatore Coletta from the Campania region in the 1920s. According to legend, Salvatore used minced meat, béchamel sauce, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella as a filling, after which he baked it all in tomato sauce for a long time. Another classic cannelloni filling is a combination of ricotta and spinach.
Small in size, like small rolled scrolls. In old times, it was shaped this way by twisting rectangles of dough around thin wooden pins or a metal rod. Cossarecce was invented in Sicily, and the name goes back to the word casa ("house") and means the same as the word "homemade". It goes well with seafood, vegetable sauces and Sicilian pesto (with ricotta instead of parmesan).
Although it first appeared in Molise and Apulia, the cavatelli pasta is now loved throughout southern Italy. Cavatelli is made from wholemeal flour, water and a pinch of salt and resembles small hot dog buns in it's shape. In fact, these are just pieces of dough folded towards the center - it is very easy to make such pasta by hand. In Molise, cavatelli is served with a ragout of pork ribs and sausages or with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, basil, butter, parsley and a piece of bacon, in Apulia - with rucola, tomatoes and mussels, in Sicily - with eggplant, tomatoes and ricotta, and in Rome you can find any of these types and more.
One of the oldest types of pasta, which appeared in the 16th century in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. They say that the pasta was invented by housewives who came up with the idea of using the pieces of dough left over from making the pasta with the filling: as soon as the filling ran out, the remaining dough was cut into rectangles and pinched in the middle. Farfalle is usually served with seafood and vegetable sauces, less often with thick meat ones. Also suitable for salads.
Gnocchi is not exactly pasta but rather, it is something like dumplings. The most popular are potato gnocchi - small lumps of flour, water, eggs (not always) and a lot of potatoes; it turns out very satisfying. In Piedmont and Lombardy, gnocchi is eaten with cream cheese sauce, in Veneto with tomato sauce, and in Liguria with pesto. In Tuscany, instead of potatoes, gnocchi with ricotta and spinach are prepared, and in Rome - with pecorino cheese and butter.
Delicate-flavored pasta very much loved in Rome. It differs from tagliatelle and pappardelle only in width, and here size matters. One of the most popular dishes with fettuccine is fettuccine alfredo, invented in the last century by the owner of a restaurant in Rome, Alfredo di Lelio: he mixed pasta with butter, grated Parmesan cheese and a little hot water from pasta cooking. It turned out to be a simple, but at the same time very delicate dish.
Previously, fusilli was made by hand, wrapping long strips of dough around a thin metal rod in a spiral - if you try hard, you can still find one in the regions of southern Italy. Fusilli are very popular in Italy and around the world, and they come in many shapes, colors and sizes. Just like farfalle or cavatelli, fusilli are versatile and go well with almost any sauce.
Pasta from Sardinia, which is also called Sardinian gnocchi, but the similarity is only superficial. The name of the pasta, according to one of the versions, is a diminutive version of the word malloru, which is translated from the local dialect as "bull". Hence the name of the pasta literally means calves or gobies. To obtain this characteristic shape and grooved surface, a round reed basket was used to roll out the dough. Served mainly on holidays with meat sauce, saffron and tomatoes.
It's great-great-grandmother of all modern pasta, which appeared so long ago that it is no longer possible to establish exactly when. The lasagna sheets were baked in the oven, using whatever was at hand for the filling; the first to use were products that were subject to urgent disposal. Therefore, there are a huge number of recipes for the dish, the most famous of which are Red Bolognese Lasagna and Green Lasagna with Spinach.
A very famous pasta in Italy, second only to spaghetti in popularity; it looks almost the same, only it has a slightly flattened shape. Linguini pasta is believed to have originated in Genoa around the 1700s, when it was served with pesto, green beans and potatoes. In Liguria, pesto is still considered the best sauce for linguini (pasta is called bovette there). Also goes well with seafood and light tender sauces.
In Italy, macaroni is straight long pasta, hollow inside, which, due to its shape, goes well with thick vegetable and meat sauces and is excellent for baking. By the way, the legendary American Mac and Cheese uses a subspecies of this pasta - elbow-shaped macaroni, which has a curved shape.
This pasta is originating from Apulia, looks similar to small ears - and this is how the name is translated. Historians believe that such a pasta possibly existed already in the XII-XIII centuries. Traditionally, Orecchiette is served with rapini (a type of broccoli) and other vegetables. Smaller orecchiette shapes are also great with meat sauces and stews.
Small "rice grains" that are almost impossible to distinguish from real ones at first glance. Most often, pasta is used in salads and soups, as well as in many traditional dishes instead of rice, for example, orzo is perfect for paella or risotto.
Rolls of various diameters and sizes, the main distinguishing feature of which is the corrugated surface. Due to this, rigatoni hold the sauce and cheese better than smooth pasta, and therefore go well with heterogeneous meat sauces. Rigatoni are most popular in Sicily and Lazio (especially Rome). Traditional Roman rigatoni-con-la-payata is likely to appeal to tourists, provided that they are unaware of the creamy cheese-tasting sauce made from the stomach contents of a dairy calf. Therefore, it is better to order the Sicilian rigatoni alla norma with tomatoes and fried eggplants.
In fact, these are large rigatoni - just a few pieces are enough to fill your fill. This Neapolitan pasta goes well with thick, bright sauces (for example, bolognese) and seafood. Sometimes the packeri is stuffed and baked in a cannelloni-style oven.
Another direct descendant of lasagna, similar to fettuccine and tagliatelle, but much broader. The name goes back to the word pappare - "to eat with great pleasure"! In Tuscany, the home of pasta, pappardelle is served with hearty sauces made from seasonal vegetables and game, such as wild boar or hare ragout, and generously sprinkled with cheese.
Unlike most types of pasta, penne has an exact date of creation. On March 11, 1865, a machine was patented in Liguria, capable of cutting pasta diagonally without breaking. Penne is found in two types: with a grooved and smooth surface. They are combined with any meat and vegetable sauces; they are almost never used for seafood dishes. One of the most famous combinations, especially popular in Rome, is Penne Arabiata with chili peppers and tomatoes.
There are so many forms of pasta in Italy that it is a common thing to find pasta in the form of radiators in the supermarket. According to one version, this form was invented in the interval between the world wars; according to another, a paste in the form of car radiators was first created in the 1960s. Some manufacturers claim that the inspiration was the radiator grilles of Bugatti cars; given the Italians' love for the brand, this may well be. Due to its complex shape, the radiator well absorbs thick sauces - tomato or creamy.
Italian dumplings in round, square and rectangular shapes; the filling can be absolutely any kind, depending on the region. Traditionally, ravioli were served in broth or seasoned with butter and sage. Later, serving in a sauce, most often tomato sauce, became widespread.
The queen of pasta, which, of course, everyone knows and loves. Spaghetti is quickly cooked, combined with many sauces, Italians eat them almost every day. There is no unified length and thickness of spaghetti, as there are manufacturers - there are so many variations. The most popular dishes cooked with spaghetti are carbonara, spaghetti alla vongole (with shellfish), amatricana (we talked about this sauce above), alio olio (with garlic and olive oil), good old spaghetti pomodoro and puttanesca (with anchovies, capers and olives). By the way, it is almost impossible to find well-known spaghetti in tomato sauce with meatballs in Italy - this is an American dish.
Short twisted pasta from Liguria. The legend tells how fishermen's wives of this region, waiting for the return home of their husbands, sat along the coast, twisting pieces of dough - this is how trofie appeared. Pesto is considered the ideal sauce for pasta, and it is not surprising, because the most famous Genovese Pesto is also originated in this region.
Long pasta with a rough surface, slightly narrower than fettuccine. Interestingly, bolognese pasta is most often prepared not with spaghetti, but with tagliatelle: the rough surface allows the pasta to better hold such a thick and heavy sauce. Note to all tourists: in Bologna itself, the sauce is simply called a ragout, so if you want to taste the Bolognese at a local restaurant, look for tagliatelle al ragout on the menu - you will definitely not go wrong.
Vermicelli is translated into English as “little worms”, it is a long, very thin pasta but a bit thicker than capellini. In Italy, vermicelli is thicker than spaghetti. It is originated in Campania, but this type of pasta has also been adopted in other countries. Vermicelli is best topped with any sauce, or as a salad or used in a stir fry.
Small rolls of pasta, similar to a reduced copy of rigatoni or modified penne. By the way, like penne, it can have a smooth or corrugated surface. Perfect for baking - this dish is called Pasta al Forno. By the way, in Naples, ziti is traditionally served as a wedding dish.
In Rome, ingredients like tomatoes, eggs, cheese Pecorino Romano and guanciale (cured pig jowl) are often the main components of the city’s traditional cuisine and are featured in a wide variaty of its pasta dishes. In any restaurant in Rome you’ll find these four classic pasta dishes on the menu – Cacio E Pepe, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini All’Amatriciana and Pasta alla Gricia. Here are some of the best places and tours to explore classic pasta dishes in the Eternal City.
Located in the Trastevere area of Rome, Tavernaccia di Bruno is the first contender on this list for the best pasta restaurant in Rome. This family-run joint is a friendly, fun little place that has been going strong for about five decades. And, you know what they say, if somewhere can stand the test of time, then things are definitely being done right.
Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63
This small, cozy little joint, with mum in the kitchen and sons running the floor, gets everything right. There's a warmth to the place, and the food is phenomenal. The menu takes its inspiration from the Marche region of Italy, and the winning dish is definitely the Tortello al Rosso d’Uovo. This is ravioli stuffed with spinach, ricotta and egg yolk served in a beautiful tomato sauce.
Via San Vito, 13a
Here, the gnocchi is what it’s all about. Gnocchi is a popular dish all across Italy, but despite its perceived simplicity, it's difficult to get right. And, often a plate of the potato dumplings are gluey and chewy. L’Archangelo gets them right. Interestingly, for a long time gnocchi was only eaten on Thursdays. This tradition stems from the Catholic church. Don’t worry though, at L’Archangelo you can order up a plate of Gnocchi alla Matriciana any day of the week. Tomato sauce, guanciale, and pecorino bring this dish to life.
Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, 59
La Campana or “The Bell” has been serving up traditional Roman cuisine for 500 years. So, if our suggestions haven’t quite piqued your interest and you’re still wondering where to eat in Rome, go here. Simple as that. La Campana is a timeless trattoria that celebrates tradition, in its decor, refined food and service.
Vicolo della Campana, 18
Colline Emilane, nestled away in an unassuming corner near the Trevi fountain, is the second contender for the best pasta restaurant in Rome. Run by a Latini family who originally hails from Emilia-Romagna, Colline Emiliane first opened its doors in 1967. All the pasta served here is made by hand with the family spending hours a day rolling it themselves.
Via degli Avignonesi, 22
For those who abstain from the consuming animal products, you’re going to want to pull up a seat here. Il Margutta is, by all accounts, an upmarket vegetarian restaurant. Come here over the weekend when the menu is a la carte, and you can pick from an extensive menu. Dishes include a range of things, but the veggie-friendly pasta is what to seek out. Everything is made from fresh, organic vegetables and on Sunday’s there is a live jazz band. Prices here are a little higher than your standard trattoria, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it.
Via Margutta, 118
Here, go for the Cacio e Pepe, the pinnacle of Roman Cuisine. The head chef perfected the recipe. Cacio e Pepe is another great example of a simple Roman pasta - pecorino, parmesan, pasta water, and pepper. No more, no less - just perfection.
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97