When you walk down the pasta aisle of your local supermarket, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of pasta shapes. According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta, there are 310 different pasta forms — no word on if that number includes cartoon and animal shaped pastas — that combined have over 1,300 names. You could be talking about the same pasta as a friend and not even know it! Cavatelli alone has 28 different names.
Pasta also comes in fresh and dried varieties. While you will find both at the supermarket, fresh pasta has a much shorter shelf life than dried pasta. Fresh pasta will last approximately 4 to 5 days after the best by date as long as it’s stored unopened in the refrigerator, whereas dried pasta can last up to 2 years past its best by date. The main reason for this is that fresh pasta contains eggs, which is not an ingredient used in most dried pastas. Other than eggs, they contain the same ingredients: semolina flour and water.
There are so many types of pasta because different dishes require different shapes. For example, stuffed dishes like ravioli, stuffed shells, and manicotti use different pasta than a simple dish with spaghetti, angel hair pasta, or linguini. Thick pastas are commonly paired with cream sauces, while thin pastas are used for thin sauces. Flat pastas, such as fettuccini, are often covered in a cream sauce. Tomato sauces are typically served with round pastas because the sauce clings to them better.
While it would take along time to list every pasta variation known, here are three of the most unusual:
Strozzapreti- The name literally means “priest stranglers.” No one knows for sure where the name came from and there are multiple stories. One legend says that priests would eat this pasta so quickly when served to them that their parishioners thought they would choke on it.
Radiatore– Radiatore means radiator. This pasta gets its name from the old metal radiators that it is shaped like.
Annelli- This pasta isn’t so unusual in it’s shape. What’s unusual about it is that most people don’t know its name because it’s found in a childhood favorite. In fact, you’re probably quite familiar with it because the smallest type of annelli is found in Spaghetti-O’s.
From ancini di pepe, small rounded pieces of pasta about the size of the peppercorns its named after, to ziti, every unique pasta shape has a specific purpose.