Whether you do your pasta shopping in a supermarket or specialist Italian grocer, the broad selection now commonly available encompasses very different kinds of pasta. To help make sense of labels and characteristics, we've put together some basic guidelines.
Dried or fresh?
Fresh pasta is best when it is homemade (or bought on the day it is made). The supermarket ‘fresh’ pastas can lack texture, and often break up when tossed through a sauce – and they’re usually double the price of the dried variety. Dried pasta has a more robust texture, giving it a good bite – it will also last for months.
Here, egg yolks are added to enrich the pasta dough. This gives it a richer flavour and colour. Fresh pasta is often made with egg yolk, whereas the dried variety usually just contains water.
Bronze die cut
This is a process used to cut the pasta. The dough is pushed through cutters (called dies) made of bronze, instead of the more common Teflon. This creates a rougher, more porous surface, allowing the sauce to cling to it.
Durum wheat flour
Most of the pasta produced in Italy is made from durum wheat. Durum is a tough grain, providing durum wheat pasta with its distinctive bite. It is a golden coloured grain, giving the pasta a lovely yellow hue.
With ridges, this gives the sauce something to cling to. It is often found on tubular shapes, such as rigatoni or penne.
'ini' and 'oni'
If faced with a choice between fusillini, fusilli and fusillioni, remember a basic rule: a pasta name ending in 'ini' is a smaller version of a particular shape (in this case fusilli), and pasta ending in 'oni' is a larger version. Other examples of this include conchiglie and conchiglioni.
One important thing to consider when buying your pasta is what sauce you'll be serving with it. Our table shows you how to match the shape to the sauce the Italian way.
Beyond beloved spaghetti and penne lies a gargantuan realm of regional pasta shapes. If you're lucky enough to live near an Italian delicatessen or specialist supplier, try out more unusual varieties like trofie, strozzapreti and lumache. Our guide to the pastas of Italy will explain what you can expect from different areas of the country.