Know Your Pasta Shapes, You Philistine!

About two weeks ago, a friend of mine decided to cook and like with most millennials, she kept us up to date on her progress on her Instagram story. The process looked great; a rainbow of steamed veggies, sautéed shrimps floating in the pot, chicken sizzling in a corner, you get the picture. Everything was looking good.

Sadly, by the time she was done, the meal had taken a turn for the worse. Now, you may be wondering ‘what could possibly go wrong as it looked like she was gearing up for greatness. The travesty she committed was simple; she mixed penne and fettuccine – of a different colour. Some of you may be wondering,

  1. What exactly are ‘penne’ and ‘fettuccine?’

  2. Why is mixing both items such a problem?

I mean Nigerians call everything macaroni after all. Well, this casual naiveté is exactly why I’m here. It is my divine duty to educate you on one of the things that make the world a better place; pasta.

According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta – yes, this is a thing – there are roughly 1,300 varieties of pasta in existence. The sheer possibility of the existence of over 1,300 pasta shapes blows my mind anytime I think about it. While it may not be possible to find all these pasta shapes in Lagos, there are more than a few varieties which can be easily sourced within Lagos and possibly, Nigeria. Here are some of the more common shapes of pasta in the multiverse;

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Notable Holidays: National Spaghetti Day - January 4th

Spaghetti is perhaps the most common pasta shape in Nigeria – and possibly the entire planet. For many, once the word ‘pasta’ comes into play, the first image that comes to mind is spaghetti. Identified by its discernible long and thin strands, spaghetti is often considered a staple within the nation.

My favourite thing about spaghetti is its versatility. Whether it’s paired with a Bolognese or Carbonara sauce or eaten as ‘Jollof’ or with stew as many Nigerians would, spaghetti is sure to slap with every fork twirl.

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Notable Holidays: National Mac&Cheese Day - July 14th; National Macaroni Day - July 17th

Macaroni’s curved and tiny tubes are no stranger to many Nigerians. It is perhaps the second most common variety of pasta in Nigeria. Fondly referred to as elbow pasta – which is such a weird yet cute name – macaroni is often paired with cheese and tomato sauces. The creamier, the better!

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Notable Holidays: None :(

Penne pasta – pronounced PEH-neh – is small and cylindrical, in shape. It’s cut at an angle which differentiates it from other cylindrical pasta shapes such as rigatoni and cannelloni. Penne comes in a variety of colours and flavours, the most popular being egg penne (yellow), spinach penne (green) and tomato penne (pale red).

Penne is most often cooked with pesto sauce because everyone loves a good alliteration (Penne Pesto) or in cold pasta salads. Penne pasta is an excellent option for casserole dishes as its tubular shape allows it to collect sauces with ease.



Notable Holidays: National Linguine - September 15th

Pronounced lin-GWEE-nee, this pasta variety is a bit similar to spaghetti in shape. While spaghetti is round and cylindrical, linguine is more elliptical. It's flatter and more rectangular. As with spaghetti, linguine can be enjoyed with a wide range of sauces however, it is best to pair the pasta with thick sauces. Butter-based sauces are also an excellent pair for linguine dishes.

Linguine pairs excellently with seafood as well.

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Notable Holidays: National Fettuccine Alfredo Day - February 7th

Fettuccine – pronounced fay-tuh-CHEE-nee – is a flat and thick variety of pasta. Similar to tagliatelle, fettuccine is easy to prepare and can be paired with numerous sauces.

Personally, my favorite sauce to pair fettuccine is Alfredo sauce and chicken, however, it can easily be paired with seafood and butter sauces.

In an article published by Independent in 2018 for World Pasta Day, fettuccine was deemed tagliatelle’s forgotten, less impressive sibling and I have never been so insulted in my entire life. I took this wayyyyy more personally than I should. Can you imagine?

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Notable Holidays: Nada :(

Fusilli – pronounced foo-ZEE-lee – is an extremely fun variety of pasta. Thick, long and spirally, fusilli comes in a variety of colours including green, yellow, and pale red/orange. Also referred to as ‘corkscrew pasta’, fusilli is best paired with thick sauces and meat sauces. This is because the spirals are excellent at absorbing the sauces, thereby enhancing the overall flavour of the dish.



Notable Holidays: Nein and this one makes me sad.

Pronounced far-FALL-lay, the word ‘farfalle’ roughly translates to the word ‘butterfly’ and this may or may not account for the cute shape of this variety of pasta.

Farfalle is often called ‘bow-tie pasta’ because its pieces resemble extremely cute, minuscule bow-ties which I think would look dashing on penguins. Farfalle works great with both salads and sauces especially since its ‘bows’ hold sauce pretty well.

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Notable Holidays: Neh :(

In the spirit of cute pasta shapes, I think it would be a travesty not to mention orzo. Pronounced OR-zoh, I find Orzo cute for the weirdest reason: it looks like it's desperately trying to be rice.

Despite their resemblance, orzo and rice aren’t interchangeable. It’s easy to mistake a box of orzo for a box of rice but if you cook with orzo instead of rice, the final taste of your dish will be altered.



Notable Holidays: Neh :(

Rigatoni is a short pasta. Pronounced rig-uh-TOE-nee, the word itself means ‘large lined ones’ or ‘ridged’ which is an apt description of this pasta shape.

Just like penne, rigatoni is a tubular pasta. It differentiates itself from penne being that it is larger in diameter and straight cut. Rigatoni is sometimes slightly curved though never as curved as macaroni.

Rigatoni is perfect for chunky sauces, meats, and vegetables. It’s also an excellent option for baked dishes as the pasta is wide enough to trap large amounts of whatever stuffing is used in making the pasta dish.

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Notable Holidays: None :(

Technically, Gnocchi is not pasta but because it’s always listed with pasta dishes at restaurants or very very close, so we’re grouping it with the kinds of pasta on our list. Sue us. Pronounced NO-kee, it is shaped like miniature dumplings.

They are slightly dense with a distinct flavour due to being made of potatoes. Different varieties of pasta are made with various forms of grain — particularly wheat — but gnocchi is actually made of flour (wheat), eggs, potatoes, and cheese. So there you have it since gnocchi has two ingredients in common with pasta it has earned its rightful place on this list.

Gnocchi pairs perfectly with tomato-based and creamy white sauces.

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Notable Holidays: Nee :(

Pappardelle — pronounced pa-par-DAY-lay — is a flat, long ribbon-shaped pasta which is pretty similar to fettuccine. This variety, however, is both wider and thicker than fettuccine. The term ‘pappardelle’ comes from the word ‘pappare’ which means ‘to gobble up’ and that’s exactly what having a pappardelle dish feels like.

Pappardelle pairs excellently with sauces including meat/ragu, meatloaf or eggplant.



Notable Holidays: Nann :( I’m actually surprised, like how?

Lasagna itself is a wide, flat sheet of pasta, popularly eaten in several layers stuffed with sauces, meats, and cheeses.

There is a lot of controversy around the actual spelling of this variety of pasta. In Italian, the term ‘lasagne’ refers to the plural form of the pasta ‘lasagna’. Sadly, this doesn’t carry over to English — which is a terrible language, by the way. Both the variety of pasta and the Italian dish — which is also Garfield’s favourite —are called ‘Lasagna’ in North American countries and ‘Lasagne’ in others. No matter the spelling, though, lasagna is pronounced luh-ZAHN-yuh. Weird.



Notable Holidays: None

Cannelloni — pronounced kan-uh-LOW-nee— is a variety of tubular pasta. When translated, the word ‘cannelloni’ simply means ‘large reeds’ and this is exactly what this pasta is shaped like.

Cannelloni is perfect for baked dishes and chunky sauces seeing as they’re large enough to be stuffed. They’re paired very well with tomato-based sauces and cream-based sauces.



Notable Holidays: National Tortellini Day - February 13th

Tortellini, just like farfalle and orzo, is one of the cutest pasta shapes I’ve come across. Pronounced tore-tuh-LEE-nee, this variety is a stuffed pasta shaped like a ring. Usually stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables, this pasta is a larger variety of tortelloni.



Notable Holidays: National Ravioli Day - March 20th

Ravioli — pronounced ra-vee-OH-lee — is a square or round shaped pillow-like pasta. It’s a stuffed pasta just like lasagna and cannelloni.

Ravioli can be filled with a variety of stuffings including meat, cheese, eggs, and vegetables. To make each raviolo (singular of ravioli) you’d put the filling in between the pasta dough and seal the edges — think meat pie babies.

Ravioli can be paired with light and heavy sauces of cream, tomato and butter base

Do you have a favourite variety of pasta which wasn’t mentioned in this article? Tell us what it is and how you enjoy it!