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The pasta aisle in the grocery store can be a daunting place, especially if we are trying to choose pasta for a specific dish or occasion!
However, the reason for so many different pasta shapes is that they all fulfill a specific purpose, and some are ideal for recipes with pesto.
So, which are the best types of pasta for pesto? The best pasta for pesto is one that ensures even distribution of the pesto and carries the pesto well from plate to fork. The most popular types of pasta for pesto are smooth strand pasta, such as linguine and spaghetti, and spiral pasta such as trofie and fusilli.
The world of pasta is a fascinating place, and learning about the origins and purpose of the different shapes can give you a whole new take on this family favorite!
Let’s find out all about the best pasta for pesto, and why some types work better than others.
Why Does Pasta Come In So Many Shapes?
OK, so are you ready for a bit of a history lesson? Don’t zone out here, as we promise it won’t be boring!
So, as we all know, pasta noodles originally came from Italy. They are now loved all around the world, but the exotic names of different types of pasta hold true to their Italian roots.
Italians are the true connoisseurs of pasta, and it is in Italy that most of our favorite pasta shapes sprang into popularity.
However, the history books show that some of the most ancient varieties, such as vermicelli and spaghetti, are actually of Middle Eastern origin.
But the origins of pasta go back even further than this—humans have been consuming pasta since 1100 BC! Many regions developed their own forms of pasta, including China and other Asian countries.
OK, so let’s get back to Italy because this is where the simple pasta noodle was developed into an intricate and delicate art form.
The climate of Southern Italy was perfect for drying pasta, and for many years people prided themselves on cutting long strings of spaghetti by hand.
Regional specialties also started to appear, with housewives cutting the dough with knives and creating their own shapes by hand. This was a labor-intensive process but was part of the ritual of preparing a large family meal.
As pasta became a staple part of the diet, many new variations of pasta were created.
This was thanks to some labor-saving and innovative technological devices, that not only speeded up the process but also made it possible to create new and exciting pasta shapes.
So, with the invention of the extrusion press, it was suddenly possible to produce large quantities of pasta shapes such as macaroni and penne pasta.
Over the years, technology became more and more advanced, and the result is the huge range of pasta shapes we have today!
And while technology has made the mass production of these shapes possible, many of them are based on traditional methods used by Italian housewives for hundreds of years. So, every pasta shape comes with its own little bit of history!
What Different Pasta Shapes Can You Get?
Now we know why there are so many different pasta shapes, let’s figure out what they all are and why we need so many.
It all boils down to the type of sauce the pasta is intended to be paired with. Pasta is incredibly versatile, and in theory, you could use any type of pasta with any type of sauce, but some are better suited than others.
The reason for this is the shape of the pasta is designed to hold certain types of sauce.
So, whether you’re making a beefy ragu, a creamy stroganoff, or sticking to a simple garlic and olive oil dressing, there is a pasta shape to suit every occasion.
Luckily, pasta shapes are grouped into specific categories, so if you can’t find the one your recipe asks for you can pick another one from the same group.
- Strand Pasta: Spaghetti, linguine, fusilli lunghi, vermicelli, capellini, spaghettini, bucatini.
- Pasta Ribbons: Tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, mafaldine, stringozzi, trenette.
- Pasta Shells: Conchiglie, lumache, lumaconi.
- Pasta Twists: Fusilli, trofie, strozzapreti, caserecce, gemelli, rotini.
- Tube Pasta: Penne, rigatoni, macaroni, paccheri, tortiglioni, trenne, manicotti, ditalini, cannelloni.
- Mini Pasta Shapes: Orzo, fregola, canestrini, stelline, risi, quadrettini, anelli.
- Stuffed Pasta: Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, agnolotti.
Every individual shape and texture of pasta is designed to suit a particular type of sauce. For example, pasta with ridges on the outside will have a greater surface area to hold onto thick, rich sauces.
Pasta shells are good for collecting lighter sauces in their nooks and crannies, and pasta twists will hang onto smaller chunks of meat and vegetables. Tube pasta holds sauces inside the tube, great for thicker sauces.
And as for pasta ribbons and strands, they work perfectly with smooth sauces that stick to the pasta in just the right amount to create the perfect mouthful!
What Type Of Pasta Is Best For Pesto?
Pasta and pesto are a firm favorite in many households, and this dish is suitable as both a speedy midweek dinner or a gourmet dinner party dish.
The joy of pasta and pesto is you can make it as simple or as complicated as you wish!
In a rush? Cook up some pasta, stir in your pesto, and enjoy!
In the mood for something a bit more exotic? Pair the pesto with vegetables braised in olive oil, or delicious chunks of fried sausage meat or bacon.
Top off with a sprinkling of parmesan and toasted pine nuts, and you’ve got an immensely satisfying dinner!
When choosing the best type of pasta for pesto, we need to look at what pesto actually is. This intensely flavorsome sauce is normally made from olive oil, parmesan, basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, and salt.
These are pureed into a thick paste, which you will find on the shelf in your grocery store.
Pesto is normally added to cooked pasta, rather than being used as an ingredient during cooking. It can be added to other cooked ingredients or used as a stand-alone sauce.
The reason that pesto is not commonly used for cooking is that heat will quickly destroy the vibrant colors and flavors of this punchy Italian dressing.
The base liquid components of pesto are oil-based, which become more liquid when warmed through. So, when adding pesto to cooked pasta, you are essentially using an oil-based herby sauce.
Luckily, the thickness of pesto means it sticks well to pasta, but it will work far better with some types of pasta shapes than others.
Strand and ribbon pasta shapes are great for pesto, as the sauce will coat each individual strand of pasta.
A little bit of pesto goes a long way when it comes to pasta, so you will just see a light green covering rather than a thick, gloopy sauce.
Pesto is also an excellent partner for pasta twists, as the flecks of basil and garlic become lodged inside the folds of pasta.
Or if you’re feeling especially creative, opt for twisted ribbon or strand pasta, for the best of both worlds!
Don’t rule out other pasta shapes for pesto, as anything will taste good. What we are looking at here is how evenly the pesto is distributed throughout the cooked pasta, and the ease with which the pasta carries the pesto from plate to fork.
So you could use a dense tubular pasta for pesto, but you’ll find that a lot of the pesto disappears inside the tube, and your dinner plate looks a bit bare.
The 9 Best Pasta For Pesto
Now you’ve got the basic idea of pasta shapes all figured out, let’s take a look at some varieties that are the perfect partners for pesto, whatever the occasion.
It isn’t by chance that our number one pasta for pesto comes from the same region as the pesto itself!
Both trofie pasta and pesto both come from Liguria, in Northern Italy. This pasta shape is perfectly formed so that the delicate and fragrant pesto will envelop each and every piece.
Traditionally, trofie was formed by rolling a small segment of dough out to form an egg-shaped piece of pasta with pointed ends. This was then twisted to form the final shape, which is around 1 inch long.
This gives the pasta a gentle spiral with a hollow center, ideal for trapping pesto and other sauces.
Trofie pasta shapes are widely available, and if your local store does not stock them, they can be bought online or in artisan food stores.
Alternatively, they are relatively simple to make at home if you want to try your hand at homemade pasta!
Tortiglioni is a tubular pasta with a ribbed outer surface that is perfect for pesto to cling to. For the best results, this pasta should be bronze die-cut for a rougher surface texture, that soaks up every particle of your sauce.
A pasta like tortiglioni is quite a hearty pairing for pesto, and you may find that you need to add more pesto than normal to compensate for this.
This pasta shape is perfect for a hearty midweek dinner, especially if you serve your pesto topped with grated parmesan and lightly toasted pine nuts.
This fun little pasta shape might not seem an obvious pairing for pesto, but we love it for many reasons!
Firstly, the delicate little shapes are perfect for scooping up every last bit of pesto, which will nestle inside each tiny shell. A little pesto will go a long way with these shapes, making it a lighter option for lunch or a light supper.
The other reason we love orecchiette is their name, which translates as “small ear”. We think you’d have to agree, this pasta shape is appropriately named!
This traditional pasta shape was made by hand in Apulia, in Southern Italy. The pasta dough was cut into small cubes, then pressed with a knife to flatten and then curl it.
This was then squashed with the thumb, to create the characteristic ear shape.
4. Fusilli Lunghi Bucati
Remember how we said that the ideal types of pasta were long ribbons or pasta twists? Well, this option gives you the best of both worlds!
We are all familiar with fusilli pasta, and this can be a great choice for pesto. The curves and grooves of standard fusilli hold pesto sauces well, but to take it to the next level you should give fusilli lunghi bucati a try!
This pasta combines three different styles of pasta. You have the classic spiral of the classic fusilli, but rather than being formed from flat pasta it is made from a hollow tube.
And instead of being in short pieces, like classic fusilli, it is made in long strands that are coiled around an object, to make fusilli lunghi. Traditionally, this was done by hand around a knitting needle!
Most of you will be familiar with linguine, as this is now established as one of the most popular types of pasta around the world.
Linguine is a ribbon pasta, with long, oval strands. It is smooth and silky and makes a light and delicate pairing for a fresh pesto sauce.
Traditionally, linguine was served with potatoes and green beans, all cooked in the same water.
Gargenelli is another tube shape of pasta, that pairs well with robust and hearty dishes. The tiny grooves on the outside of each tube attract and hold onto pesto, carrying the herbs and oils neatly from plate to fork.
The wider ends of gargenelli are also ideal for holding sauces and finely chopped vegetables.
This type of tubular pasta is made by hand, so you might find it a bit harder to come by. However, it is much easier to make at home than you might think!
Spaghetti needs no introduction from us, and this world-famous pasta is perfect for making a fresh and zesty pesto dish.
The cylindrical ribbons of pasta will each hold a thin coating of pesto, distributing the herbs evenly throughout the dish.
Spaghetti and pesto are particularly amazing when topped with freshly torn basil, crumbled parmesan, toasted pine nuts, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
We have to admit here that this pasta shape does not have a long and interesting story behind it, as it is a relatively new creation.
Nevertheless, we hugely admire the thought and dedication that has gone into creating this pasta shape, which took three years to create!
The word cascatelli is Italian for waterfalls, and this intricate and unusual pasta shape certainly lives up to its name.
Its creator aimed to develop a pasta with the ultimate “sauceability, forkability, and toothsinkability”—it shows dedication when you need to invent a whole new language to describe your innovative pasta shape!
Cascatelli is a short flat piece of pasta, curved into a semi-circle. Along each side is a pair of ruffles that run parallel to each other, creating texture and a “sauce trough”. Clever stuff!
Farfalle might not be the obvious pasta for pesto, as it is neither ribbon nor twist-shaped. However, there is one place where farfalle comes into its own, and that is in a pasta salad!
This pretty bow-tie shape looks great as part of a summer salad, and the pesto will nestle perfectly in the grooves and troughs in each piece of pasta.
Farfalle is a great option for kids, as kids LOVE fun shapes. It also works well with a creamy pesto sauce.
If you’re interested in seeing how authentic pesto is made, make sure to give this video a watch!
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