There’s something tortuous about asking anyone to pick their favorite pasta shape. After all, every noodle has its merits. Long ribbons of spaghetti and pappardelle make great vehicles for velvety carbonara, while thick tubes of rigatoni all but hide meaty ragu. And then there are the fun shapes, like ear-shaped orecchiette, spirals of cavatappi and twisted trofie.
If you really want to get to the bottom of the Great Pasta Debate, you have to ask some of the world’s best chefs to weigh in – which is exactly what we did. These culinary masterminds from around the globe are dropping some serious carbo-knowledge so that you can choose wisely next time you’re standing in the grocery store with a bag of bucatini in one hand and a box of bow ties in the other. Prepare to twirl your way through the all-time best pasta shapes, as picked by chefs.
Craving more insider insight from the world’s best chefs? You’re in the right place. Talk to the Chef! is a weekly food series that taps into the minds of culinary leaders around the globe. The conversation changes just as often, and we’ll chat with chefs about everything from podcasts and kitchen equipment to travel and trends.
The best pasta shapes
‘I really like the pappardelle pasta because it is easy to make and eat, and it’s versatile with a range of sauces. It also always looks really elegant on the plate.’—Carlos Gaytan, chef-owner of Tzuco in Chicago
‘I am currently loving conchiglione, those giant pasta shells, for their sheer size – they make a beautiful looking plate of pasta and are amazing for scooping up lots of ragu.’—Thomasina Miers, founder of Wahaca in London
‘The best pasta shape of all time has to be spaghetti. I have fond memories of eating pasta for the first time – spaghetti and meatballs – like love at first sight. Not only is it a perfect vehicle for any sauce, but it’s completely versatile. Travel to any country with spaghetti and change up the formula, guaranteed deliciousness!’—Chanthy Yen, founder of Touk and chef of Parliament Pub & Parlour in Montreal
‘Everyone has a fond spaghetti memory. It can be both comforting on a cold winter’s day served with a ragu, or exciting and light served with clams and seafood with a chilled glass of trebbiano. I’ll always come back to spaghetti.’—Jamie Halsall, head chef of Cin Cin in Brighton
‘The shape of spaghetti is like a long, thin Chinese noodle. It can easily be paired with a wide variety of sauces, and this type of pasta suits meat and vegetable dishes of any sort. It’s very easy to cook and it’s a crowd pleaser.’—Ho Wai-Kong, head chef at Bibi & Baba in Hong Kong
‘I like to add lots of veggies and greens in my pasta, and the rotini holds the goodness in those noodles for a perfect bite every time.’—Heather Costa, chef-owner of Revolution Health Kitchen at Time Out Market in Boston
‘For me, it’s rotini pasta. When I was little, I used to call it telephone cable because it kind of looks like it. It holds sauce beautifully and gives a fabulous bite – it is just the best.’—Agustin Ferrando Balbi, chef-founder of Andō in Hong Kong
‘Pici. The irregular thickness means the sauce really sticks and you get different textures running through the dish. Hands down my favourite.’—Max Venning, co-owner of Top Cuvée in London
‘Ear-shaped pasta called orecchiette. The shape has a thinner center, and the edges have a rough surface for any kind of sauce or dressing to cling to. I can’t get enough of it. Plus, it’s easy to cook and delicious.’—Bill Kim, chef-owner of Urbanbelly and Bill Kim at Time Out Market in Chicago
‘The best pasta shape of all time is bucatini. The hollow shape in the pasta is perfect for holding the sauce. Whether the sauce is a classic or something nuevo, bucatini has a way of having a cravable texture.’—Nyesha Arrington, Los Angeles-based chef and former Top Chef contestant
‘The best pasta shape for me is ravioli. It requires a lot of love, as it is handmade, but the balance of filling and dough is just perfect. Over the years, I have always fallen back to ravioli when creating new dishes.’—Prashant Chipkar, executive chef and culinary director at Masti and chef at Time Out Market in Dubai
‘Linguine is the best pasta shape of all time for several reasons. Our all-time favorite pasta dish is linguine con vongole, and there is no other pasta shape that is a better match for this dish. Unlike spaghetti, linguine’s flat shape offers a larger base to absorb the rich yet light garlic and wine sauce – allowing for the ultimate marriage of pasta and clams. Linguine can hold up to other seafood sauces while also pairing impeccably with delicate sauces, such as aglio, olio e prezzemolo. Not to mention, linguine absolutely upstages spaghetti when it comes to pomodoro or marinara.’—Chef Tony Mantuano and Cathy Mantuano, food and beverage partners of Yolan at The Joseph in Nashville
‘There’s something about linguine for me. The ritual of eating it: rolling the pasta around your fork, trying to fit it all in your mouth. It makes me think of being in Italy, no matter where I eat it. Linguine is best served with cacio e pepe and aglio e olio.’ —Romain Bourillion, founder of Cocotte in Lodon
‘The best pasta shape of all time hands down is cavatappi. It has these beautiful ridges that capture every drop of sauce, veggie and meat but – more importantly, my favorite, cheese – in every single forkful. This is the only pasta I use in my macaroni and cheese, which happens to be some award-winning stuff.’—Kristen Ashley, chef-owner of Cleo’s Southern Cuisine in Chicago
‘For me, it’s trofie. Little, hand-rolled, tapered on each end and tossed with Genovese pesto. I just love how you can devour bowls of it quickly. It’s also pretty fun to make, as it’s rustic, and each piece will be slightly different.’—Travis Strickland, chef of Baltaire in Los Angeles
‘Simple mafalde egg pasta, also known as malfadine. It’s a long, wide, ribbon-style pasta with ribbed edges, and it’s perfect paired with a rich grass-fed beef, red wine and ripe tomato ragu.’—Jeff Baker, development chef of Farmison & Co in the UK
Photograph: Courtesy Eataly
‘For me, thicker is better. I love rigatoni and pappardelle because they’re always accompanied with a super rich and delicious sauce like beef shin ragù, which is what I’m after when I go out for pasta.’—Joe Moore, founder of Crust Bros in London
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