There are endless possibilities in the world of pasta, thanks to its wide variety of shapes. If you don’t know your Italian well, the names of each noodle might sound random. But with some help, they will make sense.

You think you know everything? You’ll learn three new shapes besides spaghetti and penne: Castelli and quattrotini.

Grab your fork and learn what the pasta names mean. Learn which pastas have names based on butterflies and which are named for thin ropes. And the next time someone calls farfalle “the bow tie” (the nerve!), you’ll know what they mean. You can be a little saucy with this!


Dan Pashman developed Cascatelli. He is a James Beard Award-winning chef and host of The Sporkful Podcast. The name, which was created specifically for this new shape, means “waterfalls” (properly cavatelli) in Italian. It took Sfoglini three years to make the pasta. The body is similar to a curled-up caterpillar. Castelli aims to create a noodle that is easy to handle with a fork and can hold as much sauce as it can. Pashman and Sfoglini teamed up again after the viral success of Cascatelli to bring two more specialty shapes to market: quiattrotini and Vesuvio.


Quattrotini, a new Sfoglini Pasta developed by Pashman, is based on a unique shape that’s only served once a year in a small area in Sicily. The body is similar to four tubes that are joined into a square. The shape is called cinque Buchi in Italy.


The new shape of Vesuvio is meant to resemble a volcanic eruption. It takes its name Mount Vesuvius. It looks like a twirling, unraveling ribbon. Sfoglini intends to expand its distribution. It was only available in limited quantities in the US.

Let’s look at some of the traditional shapes that you are likely to find on your table.


Farfalle, the bow tie of pasta, is a rectangular shape with zigzag corners and a pounded middle. However, the word “farfalle” in Italian does not refer to fancy clothing. Farfalle is Italian for “butterflies,” which has more to do with the shape than any fancy colors. This pasta type dates back to the 1500s in the northern Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna & Lombardia. It’s used today in creamy dishes.


If you are familiar with Italian food, you probably know pasta by heart. Spaghetti is a common shorthand to refer to all Italian pasta shapes. However, it relates only to a single type of pasta: starchy, white pasta in long, thin strings that are served with a variety of sauces, including tomato and meat. Spaghetti is derived from the Italian word Spago, meaning “thin rope.” Fun Fact: spaghetti refers to the plural. The singular form of spaghetti is used when referring to a single strand.

The singular spaghetti sounds so wrong. Discover some other words that are rarely heard in the particular form.


Flan is pasta that has been cut into thin, flat strips. The word fettuccine actually comes from “fetta,” which in Italian means “slice,” “ribbon,” or “ribbon.” In the early 1900s, fettuccine dishes became popular. In the US, Fettuccine Alfredo is a popular dish. It’s made from flour, cream, and milk, with chicken or shrimp on top. In Italy, the word is usually served with just butter and Parmesan.


The English word Fusilli first appeared in English in 1925–30. It comes from the southern Italian dialect Fusillo (little spindle). Fusilli are short noodles. The shape of the Fusilli is corkscrew-shaped or spiral. Originally, it was made by wrapping thin rods with spaghetti to dry.


Linguine, like Fettuccine, is a flat and long noodle. The word linguine comes from a plural Italian word, linguina. This means “tongue.” Linguine literally translates as “small tongues.”


It’s okay to call it Macaroni or. But that doesn’t make it. It is a small, tubular pasta made of wheat flour. Macaroni was first recorded in English between 1590-1600. It is believed to be derived from the Neapolitan dialect Maccarone, which is derived from the Greek Makaria, or “food made of barley.”

What is it that turns potatoes into potato or macaroni salad? Find out what salad means.


Orecchiette is a small piece of pasta with a cupped center that looks like little ears. The shape originates from Puglia, in the southeast part of Italy. orecchiettes are typically made by hand, unlike many other pasta shapes, which can be easily produced using machines. It is usually served with chunky or tomato sauce.


Italian pasta comes in either long or short noodles. The ridges make it easier to pick up the sauce. It is not orzo. Its small, rice-like grain size characterizes it. Orzo in Italian means “barley.” orzo, though it is a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Greek dishes, has Italian roots.


Pappardelle refers to another flat pasta shape. The strips are wider than Fettuccine and Linguine but not as wide as Lasagna. The plural form of Pappardella was first recorded around 1895-1900. It is thought to be a derivative of the Italian verb Pappare, meaning “to gobble or devour.”


Yankee Doodle would have done better to use penne instead of feathers Macaroni. Penne is a tube-shaped pasta with diagonally cut ends. The Italian word penna, which means “pen,” is translated as “penne.


This type of pasta has a hollow interior that holds sauces and meats. Ravioli is a small pasta that’s stuffed with filling and then served with sauce. The shapes are usually square, but they can also be triangular or circular. The word is raviolo in Italian, which means “little turnip.”


Tortellini is a pasta that’s filled with cheese, meat, or sauce. Tortellini, on the other hand, is folded into rings and then boiled before being served with sauce or broth. The name Tortellini comes from tortello, which is a diminutive of tortello and means “cake” or a “fritter”. It refers to stuffed cakes.