Pasta 101: Making and shaping this dinner-menu staple

By / Food / July 14th, 2017 / 20

Pasta is a staple for many households. Spaghetti, mac ‘n’ cheese, penne with pesto — you can do a lot with pasta, you just have to know a few things to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. All wheat-based pasta uses the same dough (try our recipe below). That means it’s the shape of the pasta that changes your culinary experience.


The most common of the long pastas is spaghetti. Other long pastas can be compared to spaghetti in their girth and design. Serve with loose sauces.

  • Thinner: fedelini, spaghettini, barbina and capellini. Think angel hair pasta (because that’s what capellini is …).
  • Thicker: pici and maccheroni alla molinara are very thick, very long, hand-rolled pastas. Bucatini (also known as perciatelli) is a bigger, fatter spaghetti with a hollow centre, making it great for thick, ragu-style sauces.
  • Funkier: linguini, tagliatelle and fettuccine are flat, long pastas, each with different widths. The flat shape holds onto light cream sauces. Fusilli is curly, corkscrew spaghetti. The tight screw threads are great for thick, grainy or meaty sauces.

These come in various sizes. Narrow tubes (think macaroni) are perfect for cheese sauces or in soups; ridged tubes (like rigatoni or penne) work really well with chunky meat or vegetable sauces, because the grooves catch the tiny speckles of flavour. Ring-like shapes are great for soups and cream sauces — try calamarata with seafood, ditalini in soups.

All tube pastas are perfect for pasta bakes, since the sauce and other ingredients will go inside the pasta as well as overtop.


Probably the easiest pasta to make: roll out dough and cut into desired size. Sheet pastas are used for bakes (think lasagne) and stuffed pasta (like ravioli).

  • To make cannelloni, cut your dough into rectangles, add your stuffing in a line down the centre and wrap in the fresh pasta; bake, cover in sauce and enjoy.
  • To make ravioli, cut your dough into squares, add a little dollop of stuffing in the centre, fold over, bake, cover in sauce and serve.
Other Shapes

All those fun shapes you see at the supermarket? Those go here. There are too many to list, so here are a couple and their best uses. Experiment with different shapes to find what works best for your recipe.

  • Conchiglie and orecchiette is shaped like shells and ears, respectively. The cup-like forms help to hold heavier vegetable-based sauces (think raw tomato, broccoli, etc.). You can also toss them into your pasta bake if you’re out of tube pasta.
  • Farfalle is also known as bow-tie or butterfly pasta. The “wings” hold sauces really well, which makes this perfect for cold pasta salads.
  • Spirali is the corkscrew-shaped pasta, ideal for coarse sauces with chunks of meat.

homemade pasta

Recipe from The Complete Italian Cookbook (edited by Diana Vowles).

14 oz all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Vegetable oil

Dust board or surface with flour. Mound the flour on the board. Make a well in the centre.

Break eggs into well; add 1 tbsp cold water and 1 or 2 tsp of oil. Beat eggs with a fork, gradually working in the flour. Use your hands when dough becomes stiff. Knead for at least 10 minutes. Dough should be stiff — add flour if too soft.

When little air bubbles start to appear, roll the dough into a ball, flatten, then roll out with a rolling pin as far as possible, making sure the thickness is uniform.

Shape as desired.


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