The idea of a "pasta bowl" never really occurred to me until our team started to prepare for Starch Madness. "Isn't every bowl a bowl that can hold pasta?" I wondered aloud in one of our meetings. And the answer was, well, "Yes." However, I learned that some bowls are better for serving pasta than others.
What makes a good pasta bowl is just as much a matter of aesthetics (the bowl itself, the way pasta looks inside it) as it is about utility. A good pasta bowl should be easy to eat out of, but it also has to help make your pasta look beautiful. As Sasha pointed out to me, the goal of pasta presentation is a kind of effortless beauty, and a good pasta bowl will make it unnecessary to fuss a lot with your pasta; you can just gently place the pasta in the center of it, garnish it as necessary, and be done.
To that end, a good pasta bowl should have a wide bottom that's flat in the center and slopes gently upward along the sides, a perfect platform for noodles with space for sauce to pool around the edges. The guiding principles here are that pasta needs an ample amount of space—to look nice, sure, but also to give the person eating it enough room to comfortably maneuver their utensils—but it also needs to be contained (anyone who's stabbed at rigatoni knows they can go everywhere, if given the space).
Finally, a well-made pasta bowls will be relatively thick, which helps with heat retention; a beautifully prepared sauce can seize up if the bowl it's been spooned into cools down very rapidly, in much the same way as a sauce spooned onto a cold plate.
Since we've been making and eating pasta in the Serious Eats kitchen for quite some time, we've come up with a pretty large collection of bowls we like to use when serving and eating pasta. Here are some of our favorites.
A White Porcelain Set
We use these affordable porcelain bowls quite a lot in the Serious Eats kitchen, most recently to photograph Daniel's beautiful shrimp scampi. They're lightweight but substantial, a perfect nine-inches wide, and are microwave- and dishwasher-safe. That navy blue rim adds a pleasing pop of color to an otherwise classic white design.
A Wide Porcelain Bowl
This elegant bowl from Crate & Barrel features a super dramatic rim that'll make you feel like you're sitting at a restaurant, eating Sasha's pasta with spicy 'nduja-tomato sauce, perhaps. You can order it as a single or a set of eight, depending on how many people you're looking to feed. What's more, these bowls are warm oven–safe, so you can easily heat them up just a bit before plating your pasta.
A Gray Porcelain Bowl
We love the contrast these dark gray porcelain bowls provide when they contain a heap of spaghetti, in this case Daniel's spaghetti alle vongole. However, if you aren't into gray, you can pick one up in a glossy navy, light blue, or white. Grab a set of a single color or mix and match for a cool, contemporary look.
A Plain White Ceramic Set
When you want your food to shine—imagine you just made Daniel's penne with melted vegetables—you'll want to choose a classic white pasta bowl. The polished, no-frills design will put all the focus on the star. We love this particular set because the bowls are sturdy, attractive, and dishwasher-safe. Note: Unfortunately, these bowls are currently out of stock. Until they're back, this set of six would make a fine replacement.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
An Affordable Stoneware Set
If you love the speckled, dusty look of stoneware, this set of two is a great affordable option. With 30-ounce capacity, they're a bit larger than the other bowls we're recommending, but we only see that as a plus—especially when we make Kenji's ricotta salata–topped pasta alla norma.
A Handmade Stoneware Upgrade
We'll always have a soft spot for Jono Pandolfi dishes. Designed originally for restaurants, these pieces are at once sturdy and elegant. The bowls come in a variety of colors, though we love the toasted clay with white glaze, pictured with Sasha's pasta ai fungi. And unlike many handmade dishes, the bowls are dishwasher-safe, so you don't need to feel guilty about tossing them in after a night of cooking.
Just a note: This model is Jono Pandolfi's coupe bowl. They actually do make a pasta bowl but we prefer the coupe's sloped sides for our nightly scarpetta.