Our Favorite Pasta Shapes

Overhead of a large mix of dried pasta shapes.

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Yup, the Serious Eats staff is a little obsessed with pasta (just look at our Starch Madness tournament!). While we'll eat just about any kind of pasta (except angel hair), there are some shapes we turn to time and again, for their ability to hold onto sauce, for their perfect chew, or simply because they inspire in us some sense of comfort, whether it's rigatoni with its ridges, the long strands of bucatini or linguine, or the gyre-like cavatappi. Of course, there are some of us who can't choose a favorite shape—can you blame us?—and we love them all (except angel hair). Nevertheless, we have opinions, because we always have opinions; really, we have more opinions about pasta than we know what to do with. So we decided to share some of the why's and wherefore's of our most loved pasta shapes. Do you have your own personal favorite? Do you think any of us—gasp!—are wrong? Let us know in the comments!

Long Noodles FTW

"I fell in love with bucatini during a solo trip to Italy a few years ago. Since I ate so many meals alone, I really needed to find good food to focus on. The first meal where I felt truly at ease eating by myself was at this tiny restaurant that served me bucatini with the lightest, most surprising chicken ragu. To this day, I'll order bucatini any time it's on a menu to bring me back to that moment when I finally was happy with just myself and my plate. And now that I can buy dried bucatini from Gustiamo—by Faella, which produces the best, most perfect pasta—I can make it at home any time I want. Each time I revel in how splendid it is, those chewy tubies slick with sauce. I still haven't mastered that chicken ragu, but now that I have the bucatini, I'm well on my way." Ariel Kanter, director of commerce and content marketing

Overhead view of pasta with canned-clam sauce

[Photograph: Sho Spaeth]

"Nothing I like more in my pasta life than about 48-60 spaghettos dressed in canned-clam sauce, so I think I'm going to go with those, which I suppose is evidence of my lack of a functioning imagination, that lack being also responsible for the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of noodles that aren't longer than they are wide, or noodles of the fussily shaped kind—the radiatores, the spoked wheels, even, nay, especially, especially bow ties—or noodles with holes in them (particularly bucatini, which brings to mind non-food-related tubes, like medical equipment) (and u*eth*as)(and an open box trips my sympathetic trypophobia), so I'm sort of stuck, since everyone knows angel hair is bad (too thin) and spaghettoni are, too (too thick, I mean), and spaghettini are just the box you grab when you make a mistake—you're rushing through the store with a crying toddler, or you've just been laid off, or you have a concussion, or you're otherwise discombobulated (because no one says before they go to the store, "You know what I need? Spaghettini!")—and while I like ramen that has the kind of flat width of linguine, linguine just doesn't really cut it for me except for, sometimes, in a fresh clam sauce, but even then I prefer it when the briny and buttery sauce clings to a noodle that's shaped like a long cylindrical prism, not a rectangular one like the pasta shape made by pressing a sheet on a series of strings; in short, a spaghetto, surrounded by its fellows, which I suppose is a very long and boring way (hello!) of saying, 'Spaghetti!'" Sho Spaeth, editor

The Talented Rigatoni

A bowl is filled with tubes of rigatio coated in creamy orange vodka sauce, with cheese grated on top

[Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]

"Rigatoni are just great. They go well with every kind of pasta sauce (that I've tried at least), and they're nice and al dente even if you overcook them slightly. What more do you need?" —Daniel Dyssegaard Kallick, full stack developer

"My strongest opinion about pasta shapes is that I’ve always hated penne. (Give me one good reason why you like it! That's right—you can't!) But since we’re here to talk about our favorite pasta shapes, I’ll admit that I’ve never really had one until recently. Rigatoni was a mainstay for me growing up, but it wasn’t until I made Daniel’s vodka sauce and paired it with rigatoni that I found a shape to crown number one. The way the sauce coated the pasta and pooled on the inside made a memorable pasta experience. Now I reach for it anytime I’m making a smooth, saucy pasta dish (though I mostly just make the vodka sauce over and over again)." Yasmine Maggio, assistant social media editor

"I have always been, and will always be, a rigatoni fan. As far as tubular varieties of pasta go, I like that they’re on the larger side without being unwieldy, and they offer plenty of bite with every forkful. Their ridges and abundant surface area make them very good at catching sauce (the talent!). And to that end, they pair perfectly with most of the sauces I prefer—very saucy, glossy, often meaty ones. Rigatoni reigns supreme in my book." —Jina Stanfill, social media editor

Small Saucy Bois

"My pantry usually contains one specimen from each of these pasta groups: long bois, tube bois, and small saucy bois. My favorite small saucy bois are gemelli, the unfussy workhorse pasta that all but the chunkiest sauces cling to easily. While all pastas have different strengths and applications, gemelli plays a special part when your answer to that “What’s for dinner?” text is “Idk, pasta?” Gemelli doesn’t judge when you toss in some wilted vegetables and eat it out of the pot. Gemelli shines when you make pasta with XO sauce and tomatoes. Gemelli will be there for you through it all." —Maggie Lee, UX designer

"I'm far from a pasta expert—I'm more invested in what goes on the pasta than the carb vehicle itself. Outside of angel hair, there aren't many shapes I'd turn away from. That said, cavatelli is the shape that stood out to me when I first broke away from what I think of as the more standard pasta shapes. It's thick enough to give some texture even if you cook it a little past al dente, and it's short enough that it doesn't whip sauce everywhere as you eat. It's also great for holding onto sauce and it kind of looks like mini hot dog buns. In Italian, cavatelli means 'little hollows,' and that sums up my thoughts completely: without this pasta, life's a little hollow." —Joel Russo, video producer

Ditalini, the Decorative Beads of Pasta

pasta e ceci close up in a blue bowl

[Photograph: Andrew Janjigian]

"I only learned the name of ditalini while working on Sasha's pasta rants video, but I'd had them before in a local Egyptian restaurant's koshary. Ditalini are shaped like decorative beads: very small but thick and, consequently, chewy. They seem to want to be combined with beans, which are similarly sized and have a complementary chewy texture. They go well with little cubes of guanciale or pancetta, too." —John Mattia, video editor

Macaroni All Grown Up

Overhead view of American chop suey being spooned out of the pot

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

"While most of my team lamented cavatappi's victory during last year's Starch Madness, I was secretly vindicated. I've always had a soft spot for this shape. It feels more grown-up and substantial than macaroni, and it's even more fun to eat. The ridged corkscrews hold sauce well and the shape is easy to pick up with a fork—you can stab it, stick a tine through the tube, or scoop it!" —Vicky Wasik, visual director

Versatile Fusilli

"I have a soft spot for pasta salad, an American concoction that’s often considered a culinary sin. I chalk it up to being both a child of the '90s and having a summer birthday. I have fond memories of consuming bowls of the stuff, whether slicked with mayo or tossed with vinaigrette, usually featuring short, twirly noodles of fusilli or rotini. I almost always have a box of fusilli in my pantry because it works well with a spectrum of sauces, from tomato to pesto, and in varying applications, such as pasta salad and baked pasta. Plus, it’s easy for kids to maneuver at dinnertime; long noodles like spaghetti lead to messes, while tube-shaped noodles like penne rigate have a tendency to hold hot sauce inside, spelling disaster for delicate palates." Kristina Razon, associate editor

One Favorite Pasta Shape? There's No Such Thing

A white bowl full of bucatini all'amatriciana

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

"These are my desert island pasta shapes, assuming my dessert island also has pots and pans and salt and pepper and butter and oil and cheeses and tomatoes and anchovies and guanciale and garlic and onion and various herbs (both tender and woodsy) and red pepper flakes, and that's at a bare minumum and doesn't include the almost-as-essential breadcrumbs and dried porcini and canned tuna and sardines and all the other seafood and livestock and sausages and poultry and spices and brocooli rabe and peas and...ah, screw it. Pasta's not gonna work on a desert island, is it? Let's just call these my standbys instead. Spaghetti, the ultimate noodle (and one I have nothing more to say about that Sho hasn't said better somewhere else on this page, though I beg to differ about the bucatini); rigatoni, the best tube—it isn't as flompsy as paccheri nor as uptight as penne; and fusilli, which do the sauce-clinging spiral thing so well (though I'm coming around on radiatori)." Daniel Gritzer, managing culinary director

"This is an impossible task for me; there are so many pasta shapes to love, and I assume we are limiting choices to dried pasta! Rigatoni have been my go-to since childhood, and remain undefeated. They're widely available, boast great chew, easily take on a saucy coating, and their tubular shape is the perfect home for morsels of meaty guanciale or sausage, or vegetables like eggplant or cauliflower. I can't not mention my love of bucatini, spaghettoni, and mezze maniche; I'm also partial to fusilli corti bucati, which catch creamy sauces in their tight little coils, and hold up better compared to long fusilli bucati, which are prone to breaking during cooking. This really isn't the right exercise for me. I could go all day." Sasha Marx, senior culinary editor