The best pasta shapes according to Italian chefs: Lumache, Rigatoni, etc.

Glazed shortribs with lumache pasta. | Courtesy of Northern Italy

Glazed shortribs with lumache pasta. | Courtesy of Northern Italy

When it comes to pasta, I mostly love everything. Lasagne sheets stacked high, like peas, can nestle perfectly in orecchiette, the weight of tagliatelle. I would be lying, however, if I said I don’t have a favorite. I’m a lover of cavatappi, perfect corkscrews that can withstand meat sauce or bathe luxuriously in buttercream.

My colleagues have differing opinions as to what constitutes the best, however. We debated the merits of wavy mafaldine tangles over the irresistible curve of the gallo crest, which resembles a rooster’s comb. For long pasta, do you prefer spaghetti, bucatini or linguine? (There will be no mention of angel hair, because – to me – her fine locks are quite possibly the worst form of pasta.)

To settle any debate, I decided to ask pasta pros — Italians and Italian-Americans in the food industry — to share what their favorite pasta shapes are. They are poetic about which sauces to pair with their favorites and why the shapes are so special. And if you weren’t already buying lumache, that’s a sign to start. Here’s what our experts had to say.

Rossella Rago

Author and Host, Cooking with Nonna
Favorite dough shape: Orecchiette
What sauce does it go best with? Anything
Why it’s the best: “My favorite form of pasta is hands down orecchiette! Orecchiette originates from the region of Puglia where my family is from and in the capital Bari, Italian grandmothers sit outside mixing semolina and water to make them by hand and sell them to tourists. Although usually paired with sausages and broccoli, I love this ear-shaped pasta with almost anything, because the glorious texture at the interior of each really holds the sauce like no other pasta does.Tip: Most commercial orecchiettes are disappointing and too smooth.For this particular cut, opt for an extruded bronze pasta or even make your own with a sharp knife. serrated edge which will ensure the texture is on point.

Allison Arevalo

Owner, Louise Pasta

Favorite dough shape: slug
What sauce does it go best with? cream sauces, meat stew…almost anything!
Why it’s the best: “Lumache looks like a rainbow…or a twisted rigatoni. It means ‘snails’ in Italian, but to me describing it as a rainbow is more appealing! It usually has ridges and a big hole in the center. I love it because it holds so much sauce! You can make mac and cheese, pork stew, even vodka sauce out of it. It’s so versatile and a nice change from to staples like spaghetti and penne.Because it’s a pretty big shape, every bite is so satisfying.

Alberto Marcolongo

Chief, Benoit Bistro

Favorite dough shape: Spaghettone
What sauce does it go best with? Aglio, olio, peperoncino
Why it’s the best: “I really like the shape of spaghettoni because they are excellent with many different sauces. I like it with aglio, olio e peperoncino because it’s super simple but tastes great. Chez Benoit, we’re going to launch a pasta and definitely this kind of pasta will be there; we’re going to give it a little twist while keeping the same taste profile. It’s perfect for a late dinner and in Italy we use it to end a good evening with friends. always suggest always having spaghettoni at home for a quick dinner.

Bari Musacchio

Partner, Rubirosa
Favorite dough shape: slug
What sauce does it go best with? Bolognese
Why it’s the best: “Lumache means snail in Italian and resembles rigatoni with an elegant curved shell that pinches at the end. The rigate style of the lumache creates striped ridges where the sauce clings. Lumache is best enjoyed with a Bolognese style sauce (or any chunky style sauce) where small chunks can hide in the center of the shape allowing for a perfect pocket in every bite of pasta.

squid ink tonnarelli pasta shapes
Tonnarelli with squid ink and calamari. | Photo courtesy of North Italia

Chris Curtis

Brand Manager, Northern Italy

Favorite dough shape: Tonnarelli
What sauce does it go best with? Tomato-based sauces
Why it’s the best: “I really like tonnarelli, which imitates the classic spaghetti alla chitarra well known in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Tonnarelli differs from traditional spaghetti by its square section, whereas spaghetti is round. This pairs perfectly with a tomato-based sauce due to its robust mouthfeel and ease of eating. At North, for our new fall menu that we’ll be posting later this month, we’ve chosen to elevate this form of pasta even further by creating a squid ink version. The pasta dough is created daily using squid ink, then extruded and paired with a spicy bomba tomato sauce and vermouth to showcase the variety of seafood included in the dish, such as calamari and tiger prawns. For those at home, my advice for venturing into using tonnarelli would be to try swapping it out for spaghetti in recipes you already have. You’d be surprised how drastically a dish can change by updating the style of noodles you use.

Fernando Scarpati

Co-owner, ferdy

Favorite dough shape: Rigatoni
What sauce does it go best with?: Bolognese or Pomodoro
Why thisit’s the best“The best shape of pasta is a controversial topic among Italians, but Rigatoni is definitely my favourite. Rigatoni all’amatriciana is a classic, simple but delicious Roman dish that contains guanciale, pecorino and tomato. Rigatoni Cooked al dente is the only way to eat it. Rigatoni is the best pasta for containing dense sauces due to its sharp edges, which is why it also pairs incredibly well with bolognese sauce or pomodoro sauce.”

Michele Casadei Massari

Chief, Lucciola

Favorite dough shape: slug
What sauce does it go best with? Alfredo Parmigiano Reggiano and “Triple Butter” Lumache
Why it’s the best: “The dish was created in 1907 by Alfredo di Lelio, who prepared it as a gesture of love for his wife after she gave birth to their first child. To help her feel better, Alfredo modified an existing recipe by adding more cheese and butter, turning it into a rich and creamy ‘triple burro’ I think lumache for this dish and any creamy sauce dish is the best form to retain sauce and heat They don’t need to be al dente if you don’t like it: you can cook them and make them any consistency you like, and they still taste amazing They are easy to cook and ideal for absorb and carry whatever sauce you love the most, making any home cook a master chef!”

malfade pasta shapes
Green mischief. | Courtesy of Patina Restaurant Group

Benjamin Dodaro

Chief Executive, Patina Restaurant Group

Favorite dough shape: Mafalde
What sauce does it go best with? Hearty stew or cacio e pepe
Why it’s the best: Mafalde is an extremely versatile dough, which is why it’s one of the best to have in your pantry. Personally, I like to describe it as if lasagna crinkle and fettuccine had a baby, they would make mafalde. We prepare a homemade mafalde verde with mild Italian sausage, fennel, onions, white wine, Calabrian chili and finished with extra virgin olive oil and pecorino romano. This dish is always a favorite with guests when on the menu.

Michele Mazza

Chief, Il Mulino New York

Favorite dough shape: Bucatine
What sauce does it go best with? Amateur sauce
Why it’s the best: Bucatini is unique because it is a long noodle with a hole in the middle, when mixed with amatriciana sauce the sauce becomes part of the pasta. It’s like a love story. People should try it because bucatini can be cut or broken and shaped into different sizes to use in different dishes such as soup or with Parmigiano Reggiano. I love it because if I cook too much, the next day at breakfast I can mix it with eggs, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano to make a frittata.

Brian Doyle

Director of Culinary Development, Strega Italiano

Favorite dough shape: Cavatelli
What sauce does it go best with? Pomodoro, pesto alla trapanese, ragu or really anything!
Why it’s the best: Cavatelli is by far my favorite pasta. Literally, this translates into small hollows. As the texture is a bit thicker, the little pocket will sponge up and retain any sauce you cook it in. My grandma used to make these for us on vacation with pomodoro, meatballs and braciola or just any regular night with sauces based on the season. This is now my favorite starter at Strega Italiano, the Cavatelli e Salsicca—sausage, broccoli rabe, garlic, Calabrian peppers, broth and butter.

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Kat Thompson is senior food and drink writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.