Why is the shape of pasta so important? After all, it’s all made from the same ingredients.
“It occurred to me that I adore macaroni and spaghetti—but penne, farfalle, etc. give me no pleasure at all,” says Peg. cookie44 notices the same phenomenon with her husband: “I can make two dishes with the same exact sauce, one served over penne and the other served over, say, spaghetti and he will love the spaghetti and not want to eat the penne,” she says. “For me, penne is the best pasta ever,” says Aramek. “Something about the size, shape, cooking time, just seems to click for me. Penne are the punji sticks that trap, kill, and drain all the wonderful flavours from the tiger that is my sauce.”
Why some shapes but not others? “Some pastas traditionally go well with certain sauces,” says Harters. “You never hear anyone rave over their ‘farfalle cheese.’ So, it may be that you like certain pastas because of the sauce that goes with it,” he suggests. “Applying the same logic, you might like an ice cream cone because of the ice cream it contains—but you wouldn’t enjoy the cone without ice cream. Unless you were odd.”
On the other hand, you might like certain pastas because of their texture, suggests Harters. “Macaroni and spaghetti both being thin-ish tubes,” he says. “There’s probably many foods where you enjoy the texture perhaps more than taste—for me, mussels are like that. Love them, but I like the slipperiness more than the actual taste.” And then there’s the issue of doneness. “Some pastas are harder to cook because of their shape,” says Ruth Lafler, “especially ones that are folded or pinched (farfalle would be one)—the thicker parts don’t cook at the same rate as the thinner parts, and so it’s hard to find the right compromise on doneness.” And also, “some pasta shapes scoop up more sauce than others,” says mnosyne.
For a complete guide to which noodles to use when, check out CHOW’s story When Pasta Met Sauce.