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Pasta Shapes

When I am giving talks, people will often ask about low-carb diets. Truthfully, the Atkins and South Beach diets are just plain silly. Worst of all, they've created a myth that pasta is bad for you. Really! Why would anyone ever want to give up pasta, for any length of time?


I love pasta. In spite of what Dr. Atkins would have you believe, pasta is really great for you - especially whole wheat pasta.

The issue that most folks have with pasta is not the carbohydrates but the amount of pasta they eat. A serving of pasta is 2 ounces uncooked. Most boxes contain 16 ounces, so each one is eight servings - not the two or four that most people think.

Whole wheat pasta is the healthier choice. Those made with white flour come in at just under 2 grams of fiber while whole wheat varieties have about 5 grams per serving. For a lot of folks whole wheat pasta is a bit like whole wheat bread, an acquired taste. It is, however, a taste worth acquiring. As with so many other ingredients, those that are less refined always taste better.

Ruote Pasta

If you or your kids don't like whole wheat pastas, a good way to get the benefits of added fiber is pasta made with quinoa. Made with quinoa flour it has a flavor similar to regular pasta but the fiber content similar to whole wheat versions. It is also gluten free. While rice pastas are also gluten free, our testing with them has been disappointing, even the brown rice versions. The quinoa pastas do take longer to cook but they hold up better than other gluten free versions and have great texture.

Almost as much as pasta itself I do love how it is named. One of the most important reasons for different shapes is to enhance how sauce clings to the pasta. Even so, it's interesting to know that the names almost always have a meaning in Italian. Most commonly it's what the pasta actually looks like.

For instance, fettuccine means little ribbons and fettuccine is a little wider than linguine which means little tongues. Spaghetti which is thinner and round is named for string.

Penne is one of my favorites and these little tubes resemble a feather or quill, the Italian word for the writing instrument. You'll find both penne lisce (smooth) and the more common penne rigate (lined). Ziti are long macaroni tubes (originally ziti was 18 inches long). The word comes from zito which is Italian for bridegroom, so I'll leave the derivation of calling an 18 inch tube after a bridegroom to your imagination.

Rigatoni are also tubes but with ridges. The word comes from the verb rigare meaning to draw a line (like the ridges).

In addition to the tongues there are a lot of other human parts. Orecchiette are little ears, cappelletti look like little hats and capellini is known as angel hair pasta.

Here are some others, but there are dozens and dozens more shapes. If you have a favorite that's not included, do send it in and we'll add them to the list.

Pasta Name Meaning
Orzo Barley
Fusilli Corkscrew
Farfalle Butterfly
Vermicelli Little worms
Ruote Wheels
Radatori Radiators
Lumache Snails
Gigli Lily
Gemelli Twins
Riso Rice
Campanelle Bells
Ditalini Little thimbles
Rocchetti Spool
Riccioli Curl
Rotini Spiral