Pasta Is Life

I’m Italian. I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.
~Sophia Bush

“No pasta. No bread. No caffeine,” a nutritionist recently told me when I went to see her about a healthy way to lose weight. “Instead of pasta, try spaghetti squash,” she continued. She had turned around, which was a good thing because I rolled my eyes at her. I walked out of her office secure in the knowledge that I was going to lose this weight battle because three things I cannot give up are pasta, bread, and caffeine.

Caccio e pepe

“I’m Italian,” I declared to Mike when I got home. “I’m not giving up pasta. I’m too old to give up foods I love.” He agreed, probably because he knew if I gave up pasta, he was giving it up, too. And while I could substitute spaghetti squash once in a while, spaghetti squash is *not* pasta no matter what sauce you put on it.

True story: The first solid food my mother gave me was pasta—pastina, to be exact. Pastina is the smallest type of pasta, if you don’t know. My mother fed it to me in “soupy-soup,” as she used to call the mix of broth and butter. It was her cure-all for any time we were sick. To this day, pastina is one of my favorite pastas to put in soup.

There are more than 400 shapes of pasta. There are long pastas and short pastas, round pastas and square pastas, smooth pastas and textured pastas, hollow pastas and stuffed pastas. Each of Italy’s 20 regions has dishes made with particular shapes (and sauces). Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find many of them in the US unless you go to a specialty store or order them online.

I like most pasta shapes; I’m more particular about sauces than pastas, to tell the truth. My son recently asked me if I liked cavatappi, a corkscrew-shaped pasta. (Cavatappi means corkscrew, as a matter of fact.) They’re a heavier pasta, so they’re best with a thick red sauce. If I’m going to prepare pasta with a thicker sauce, though, I’m more apt to choose rigatoni, ziti, or penne over cavatappi.

If you think about it, pasta is the vessel for the sauce, but it is also more than a vessel for the sauce. Let me explain: Lighter sauces need a lighter, thinner pasta while heavier sauces need a thicker pasta. Shape, size, thickness, and texture all play a role in highlighting sauces. Let me introduce you to a few shapes you might not know and the sauces they complement.


Fresh maltagliati

Maltagliati means badly cut in Italian, and this pasta consists or irregularly cut pasta shapes. They cam about when the poor made ravioli or some other pasta, they would keep the poorly cut edges rather than waste them. When my mom made pasta, she would save the edges and serve them in a white bean soup.

Maltagliati with sauce

When we were in Tuscany last year, we had lunch in Isola Santa, a small town in the northern part of the region. The chef at that small restaurant served maltagliati with a sausage-based sauce.

Alla Chitarra

Maccheroni alla Chitarra, which means guitar in Italian, is from the Abruzzo region. It gets that name because they make it with a “tool” that has wires on it to make it look like a guitar. The resulting pasta strings are square rather than round.

The pasta has been around since the 18th century or so. Although its origins are Abruzzese, this pasta is popular throughout southern Italy. I like these with a nice red sauce, as it’s usually served in Abruzzo.


Paccheri are large tube-shaped pasta that originated in Campania. While paccheri resemble rigatoni, they are much larger. The name means “slap” and has something to do with the sound they make when you eat them.


I don’t quite understand my obsession with paccheri as the first time I ate them was in 2013. It probably has something to do with the fact that I like tubular pastas because they hold the sauce so well. Unlike rigatoni, though, the paccheri do not hold their tubular shape when cooked because they are too big. They hold sauces beautifully, and because they are so big, you can use a heavier sauce. I still prefer a simple red sauce, to be honest.

Side note: It’s probably a good time to step out of this article and just admit that I am addicted to tomato sauces. When I was a child, my go-to after-school snack was sauce on bread. I also have always put sauce on vegetables and meats. I can eat sauce on almost anything—except maybe donuts….and that is debatable. My mom used to joke that I had sauce instead of blood in my veins.


Gramigna with red sauce

Gramigna is a curlicue pasta that originated in Emilia-Romagna. It is normally served with a light red or white sauce that starts with browned sausage. Once the sausage is done, they add either tomato passata (tomato puree) or cream and let it simmer.


Ravioli is probably my favorite filled pasta, so it figures that I would like caramelle. Unless you’re talking about the pasta, caramelle in Italian are wrapped hard candies. The caramelle pasta resemble wrapped candy pieces. Imagine taking a long rigatoni, stuffing it with cheese or meat, and twisting the ends.

Bottom Line

There is no chance that I would ever give up pasta.

Now, please excuse me while I go cook some pastine.

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