Is a pasta dinner on your mind tonight? Have you gone through the pasta aisle in your neighborhood supermarket and wondered over and over again why on earth there are so many different shapes of pasta out there? If you are baffled, here is the answer.
Pasta comes in many different sizes and shapes because every shape holds the sauce in it differently. While lighter pasta such as angel hair suits best with just a drizzle of olive oil, thicker kinds of pasta such as tagliatelle are more apt for meat-based sauces. Similarly, flat pasta seems to go well with creamy sauces while heavy stuffing requires special pasta like ravioli or manicotti.
But the sauce used is not the only reason pasta comes in various shapes, although it is the primary one. There are over 350 shapes of pasta, and yes, it is difficult to know which one is right for the dish you want to make based on the sauce alone. Find out the most popular pasta types in my article here.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the sauces and how they affect the pasta shapes before moving to other reasons behind the existence of hundreds of different types of pasta.
When the Sauce Matters More
In Italy, where pasta officially originated, the sauce is seen as the principal source of taste in a pasta-based dish. The pasta used in a recipe is just a carrier for the sauce, which is prepared with effort and care. Hence, it is safe to say that it is the sauce that decides the shape of the pasta and not the other way around.
So, if you are craving a sauce where big chunks of meat should stick to the pasta, go for a shape that has hollows or ridges. If, on the other hand, you are looking to satiate yourself with pesto or finely-ground meat sauce, pick out that box of spaghetti from the pasta aisle.
Or, maybe you want to add chunks of veggies to your sauce. Works whenever you’ve to feed vegetables to kids that they are reluctant to have otherwise. Well, in such cases, pasta shells come to the rescue as they hold chunky vegetables quite well.
Another hot favorite of the kids (and many adults) is macaroni and cheese. So, why does macaroni go so well with cheese? It is because tubular pasta has a special knack of holding creamy sauces in so that when you bite into it, you savor a piece of heavenly delight in your mouth.
The Texture is a Prerogative Too
Food is not just about the taste or the smell. An equally important aspect behind relishing your favorite dish lies in its texture. How would you feel if someone gives you a bowl of pasta to eat that is a gooey mixture of indiscernible ingredients? Although it may taste great, it does not provide you the satisfaction of biting into it.
Keeping the foodies’ love for textures in mind, pasta has been classified into various shapes as well. Every kind of pasta cooks differently. Thin pasta such as angel hair spaghetti cooks in less than 10 minutes, while tube pasta such as rigatoni takes much longer. The cooking time is both dependent on and the result of the pasta’s texture.
The texture of pasta also plays a huge role when you take that first succulent bite of a prepared dish. Your palate’s approval for an item comes from that first bite. That is why the different shapes of pasta bring different textures to the table, because human palates differ widely, too.
It is a well-known fact that different regions of the world produce diverse kinds of food, which is why we see so many cuisines globally. Even if two areas use the same ingredients to prepare a dish, the result might be distinct because the taste of the ingredients largely depends on the soil that they are grown in.
Needless to say, the choice of sauce used in pasta also go through these regional variations and geographically differing taste buds. Well, the different shapes of pasta available throughout the world come down again to the type of sauce. But more importantly, due to the regional differences in sauce, some kinds of pasta will always be more preferred over others in some corners of the world.
Additionally, there is a difference between fresh pasta made at home and dried pasta found in the supermarket. For most Americans, dried pasta is the first choice because they see it as a quick-fix dinner. Naturally, the shapes that are most suitable for dried pasta, such as spaghetti, penne, fusilli, etc. are favored more in this region.
Contrarily, Italians prefer making their pasta fresh at home. Hence, they fancy shapes that can be rolled out easily by hands, such as fettuccine, linguine, and tagliatelle.
Fun Pasta Shapes
Thanks to rapid urbanization and swift commercialization of pasta on the global platform, the credit for several pasta shapes in modern times often goes to the visual appeal. Some designs look much more tempting than others and hence, are designed to attract customers.
One such example is the alphabet pasta. Although the exact origin of alphabet pasta is a bit unclear, in today’s world, this particular pasta shape is created, keeping in mind customers with young kids.
Alphabet pasta is most commonly used in alphabet soup when parents want to get their children excited about food. Such kinds of pasta shapes have no functional basis but are used solely as marketing tools.
But make no mistake. Fun pasta shapes are not just meant for children. Believe it or not, there are all kinds of pasta shapes available in the market today. There is a pasta shape for the soccer fan, one for baseball, one in the form of a snowman, one for music lovers, you name it, and it is there. These shapes, again, have nothing to do with the sauce used along with them and are just created for fun.
Check out my list of 20 fun novelty pasta shapes here.
Everything in this universe continues to evolve through time, and food is no different. The very fact that so many hundreds of different shapes of pasta exist today is a result of none other than innovation and evolution.
As with any culinary experience, pairing the right pasta with the right sauce is not set in stone. Just because trained chefs around the world prefer to dunk tubular pasta into a thick cheese-based sauce, it does not stop you from pairing macaroni with some delectable ground-beef, tomato-based condiment.
Try pouring thick veggie-based, soupy sauce onto angel hair pasta to lure your kids to the dinner table. Or, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle dry oregano on some al-dente penne for your next pasta night with friends.
The more you try out various combinations, the more there is a chance of newer pasta shapes taking their place on the supermarket shelves. But, of course, for the more traditional home-cook, it is still the sauce that rules the roost and could be the deal-maker or breaker for your dinner this evening.
Now that you know why pasta shapes matter why not learn a bit about the interesting history of pasta. Pasta really has come a long way and will continue to be a kitchen staple for generations to come.