Exploring the diverse world of Italian pasta

By Go! Go! Italia staff
11 Dec 2023
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Italian pasta picture

Pasta is an important part of Italy’s culinary heritage, and during your study abroad in Italy you will have the chance to try so many different types! Italian pasta shows how creative and diverse the cooking is in Italy, each crafted to complement specific sauces and ingredients.

It’s not just about spaghetti and sauce – there are so many different shapes of pasta and sauces that make eating interesting, besides really, really good. These shapes also tell us about the traditions and clever ideas of the people who make Italian pasta in different regions, each meticulously designed to pair harmoniously with specific sauces. Imagine it as a canvas for the chef’s creativity, where each shape has its own special way of holding and absorbing sauce.

Suffice to say that there are more than 350 types of pasta and not even pasta experts can agree on the final number. And to accompany them, there are something like 400 different types of sauces. Wild!

This article will introduce you to some of the most traditional pasta shapes you’ll encounter in Italy, beyond the usual spaghetti and carbonara (which are delicious nonetheless). We promise you will be hungry by the time of finishing this article, so get ready!

A symphony of shapes by region

Piedmont

Let us introduce to you the agnolotti that you will find in the North of Italy. These cute little Italian pasta pockets are a bit like ravioli with the distinction that they are crafted by folding small pieces of flattened dough around a filling of roasted meat or vegetables. How to enjoy them? Keep it easy with butter and sage—just imagine agnolotti with a bit of melted butter and the nice smell of sage. It’s a classic combination that lets the flavors speak for themselves.

Photo of trofie Italian pasta

Liguria

Trofie (picture above) is a type of pasta characterized by its short, thin, and twisted shapes, a culinary delight often crafted by hand. Pairing perfectly with trofie is the iconic pesto genovese, a vibrant green sauce that boasts a blend of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. Delicious! Head to Genoa for this!

Veneto

Bigoli is the chosen one for Veneto region—with its hearty thickness like whole wheat spaghetti, adds a different feel to your meal. Teaming up with duck ragù, a down-to-earth sauce made from slow-cooked duck, tomatoes, and flavorful herbs. It’s a satisfying dish that brings together the best of both worlds, giving your taste buds a tasty and fulfilling experience. Do not miss it next time you are in Venice!

Photo of balanzoni italian pasta

Emilia-Romagna

You might have heard of ravioli but what about balanzoni, the typical dish of the Carnival of Bologna? They are one of the many fresh egg pastas of the Emilia-Romagna region, but with a unique twist: they are green, rather than yellow like tortellini. The filling is a combination of very tasty and typical ingredients from the capital of Emilia: mortadella, spinach, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and nutmeg.

Photo of Pici for Italian pasta article

Tuscany

Pici (photo above) is one of the many stars in Tuscany. Is thick, hand-rolled, and rustic with a chewy texture. Made from simple ingredients like flour and water, it pairs wonderfully with wild boar ragù—a hearty sauce of slow-cooked wild boar, tomatoes, red wine, and aromatic herbs.

Lazio

In Lazio, a staple pasta is bucatini—long, hollow strands resembling thick spaghetti. Typically paired with a quintessential Roman sauce known as amatriciana, this flavorful concoction features tomatoes, guanciale (cured pork cheek), Pecorino Romano cheese, and a dash of black pepper.

Photo of Italian pasta paccheri

Campania

Ever heard of paccheri? It’s big, tube-like Italian pasta that’s just waiting to soak up some serious flavor. And what better way to dress it up than with ragù napoletano? This sauce is the real deal—a slow-cooked masterpiece with tomatoes, garlic, onions, and a mix of herbs. It’s the kind of sauce that simmers to perfection, often featuring a mix of different meats for that extra hearty touch. Get ready for an Italian pasta experience that’s as bold as it is delicious.

Photo of Italian pasta orecchiette

Puglia

Orecchiette—are small, ear-shaped pasta. Now, when it comes to pairing, orecchiette is a perfect match for broccoli rabe and sausage sauce. The pasta’s unique shape complements the bitterness of broccoli rabe and the savory goodness of the sausage, creating a delightful and satisfying combination.

Calabria

Fileja—think of it as spiral-shaped Italian pasta, a bit like fusilli but with its own twist. For the sauce, they keep it simple in South of Italy: with ‘nduja and tomato sauce. ‘Nduja, a spicy pork spread, adds a bit of heat and flavor to the tomato sauce, making it a straightforward yet tasty combination.

Sicily

Busiate, a type of pasta that stands out with its twisted form, often rolled by hand. Now, when it comes to flavor, think of pesto trapanese—a Sicilian pesto made with almonds, tomatoes, and basil, this sauce brings a delightful twist to pasta, adding a touch of sweetness and nuttiness.

Sardinia

Malloreddus—small pasta with ridges, also knows as Sardinian gnocchi (check our video for the correct pronunciation). You will find it with Sardinian sausage and tomato sauce. It’s a tasty sauce made with local sausage and tomatoes, keeping things flavorful and straightforward.

Beyond the variety of shapes, the world of Italian pasta is rich with regional distinctions. Different shapes and sauces often reflect the local ingredients and culinary traditions of specific areas.

Want to try your hand at making these dishes? Our language school partners offer practical opportunities to improve your pasta-making skills or just enjoy a fun culinary experience besides learning Italian. Contact us and let’s start your pasta discovering adventure!

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