The Secret to Cooking Different Pasta Shapes

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Goodbye sticky spaghetti, hello pasta connoisseur.

Pasta is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of modern cooking. Once a landmark of Italian cuisine, pasta has since become one of the most highly consumed foods in the world, taking on a variety of iterations in different countries and cultures. While cooking pasta can oftentimes be chalked up to boiling water and a box of penne, there underlies a precise art to making the perfect al dente piece of heaven, and (spoiler) a lot of it depends on the pasta shape. We’re guiding you through how to prepare the most common types of pasta with the simplest tips and tricks that will upgrade your next dish from good to irresistible.


Perhaps one of the most-loved plates of pasta out there, this versatile shape has unlimited possibilities when it comes to preparation. Usually 2-4 inches long, these small rectangular tubes should ideally cook for 10-12 minutes in boiling, salted water for the perfect firm exterior. The slightly rigged texture and tubular shape make penne the choice pasta to toss with chunky tomato, meat, or vegetable sauces.


Named after the Italian “farfalle” meaning butterflies, these little bow ties are quintessential in pasta salads or tossed with olive oil or cheese-based sauces. Their unique shape features a pinched center, mimicking the shape of a butterfly, and typically cooked to perfection after 10-12 minutes in boiling salted water.

Elbow Macaroni

Easily recognizable in macaroni and cheese, these small C-shaped tubes are a staple in many pantries. Kid-friendly and easy-to-cook, elbow macaroni needs to be boiled for a mere 6-8 minutes in salted water to be supple and delicious. Ideally paired with buttery sauces or a cheesy roux.

Angel Hair

Airy and delicate, just like its name, this fine pasta is elegant and tasty. These long, thin strands cook for just 3-5 minutes in well-salted boiling water, and pair beautifully with seafood or lightly tossed with butter, cream, or olive oil. To prevent sticking, be sure to cook the pasta in ample amounts of water, and try rinsing strained pasta with cold water before returning to the pot.


Usually 1.5 inches long, these thick grooved tubes are best for baked dishes or tossing with chunky meat sauces. For a delicious al dente bite, rigatoni should cook for 11-13 minutes in salted boiling water, then try pairing with thick cream, butter, or vegetable sauce for maximum flavor.

Jumbo Shells

Oversized shells with ridges, jumbo shells are usually stuffed with cheese, meats, and sauces then baked to perfection after being boiled for 11-13 minutes. Serve or stuff with tomato or cream sauce for a hearty main dish.


Similar to spaghetti, linguine boasts the same length with a flatter form that is about 1/8 inch thick. This pasta is accented best with seafood or prepared with pesto, olive oil, or light tomato sauce. Salt the water and boil for 10-12 minutes for a twirl of linguine that’s great for any recipe.


Small and circular, the unique indented shape of orecchiette makes it the perfect complement to chunky meats and vegetable sauces, with its shape catching most of the ingredients. Boil these little disks in salted water for 10-12 minutes, then toss with your favorite sauce.


Shaped like rice, orzo is typical in salads and soups because of its small yet hearty shape. Boil in salted water for 9-11 minutes, then try pairing orzo with a light tomato sauce or vinaigrette for a fresh take on this classic shape.


Filled with cheesy goodness, these ricotta-stuffed pockets oftentimes are served with a fresh tomato or cream-based sauce. With a cook time of only 4 minutes, it’s is best to remove the ravioli from the salted boiling water once they float to the top before draining and enjoying.

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