The Italian Pantry: Pasta

Is there an Italian pantry without pasta? First of all, we always called pasta by its other name, macaroni, and in historical books, it is referred to as maccheroni. Food media and restaurants will tout fresh pasta as best, but that is purely subjective. (And begs the question, why can’t both be good? Oh! I know–dried macaroni is associated with Southern Italy, that’s why.) The myths about pasta/macaroni are being dispelled–it wasn’t brought to Italy from China through Marco Polo. The current thought is that it came to Sicily from the Middle East, but there is evidence that people on the Italic peninsula have been eating pasta since ancient times.

Today, Italians keep many different types of pasta shapes in their pantries. That is because pasta serves different purposes. Some are used with tomato sauce/gravy. Some are used with other sauces. And some are used in soups. The classic shapes Italians and my family have always had are spaghetti, capellini, rigatoni, ziti, penne, perciatelli, cavatelli, fettuccine, acini di pepe, ditalini, shells, ravioli, manicotti, lasagne, linguine, mafalde and gnocchi. There are many other shapes, some are regional and some are new. But I would say the ones I’ve listed are standard.

What is it used for? Our #1 use for pasta is the tomato sauce/gravy.

fusilli with ricotta

Our favorite shapes for this are spaghetti, fusilli and rigatoni, but we also like capellini, ziti, penne, cavatelli, ravioli, manicotti, gnocchi, lasagne and mafalde. We also use some of these shapes with other sauces like broccoli sauce, cauliflower sauce, aglio e olio, etc.

spaghetti with broccoli sauce

If we are making a soup like lentil or pasta fazool (pasta fagioli), then we would use ditalini or another small pasta.


If we’re making Genovese sauce, we use perciatelli. If we’re making pastina, we use acini di pepe. If we’re making a seafood-based sauce, we use linguine.

If we’re making a cream-based sauce, fettuccine or gnocchi. (However, cream-based sauces are not in our traditional repertoire.)

–Dina Di Maio


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