5 Pastas That Instantly Fancy Up Weeknight Dinner

updated Oct 17, 2019
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Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Most likely, when you’re wandering down the pasta aisle, you just reach for a regular-smegular box of spaghetti or elbow noodles to toss in the cart. But there are good reasons to go off autopilot for a moment, and look around. In the world of pasta, there are dozens of shapes that are more interesting and fun to cook with. More importantly, they’re more fun to eat, and even the expensive kinds still result in a very affordable meal.

I make a point of trying out new pasta shapes whenever I can, but I’ve found that I have a pasta type: I’m a sucker for holes and pockets. These shapes hold sauce better, which then makes the meal tastier. 

Luckily, you don’t have to go out of your way to find fun new shapes to try out. Here are five commonly available shapes — you can find them in many grocery stores — worth trying. They’re so good you might want to splurge on an extra-nice sauce — or even make your own

Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

1. Casarecce

Casarecce, which means “homemade” in Italian, is a Sicilian pasta that’s rolled lengthwise on both sides, then twisted. When you look at the pasta from the ends, it forms a tiny “S” shape — for superb sauce holder! It’s a versatile pasta that works well tossed in light or chunky sauces, but it really shines in a pasta salad because of its shape and durability. I declare that you won’t dare reach for the unimaginative elbow noodle in your pasta salads any longer once you’ve experienced casarecce. 

Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

2. Cavatelli

Cavatelli is a handmade pasta shape that’s rolled into itself to make a bun-like shape. It’s perfect for simple butter sauces.  

Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

3. Bucatini

It was love at first bite for bucatini and me. Bucatini is essentially a jumbo spaghetti with a hole that runs down the middle of the noodle. “Buco” means “hole” in Italian. Eating bucatini is like eating a wobbly, edible straw — you can suck up some sauce as you eat! It’s typically served with Amatriciana — a classic Italian tomato sauce seasoned with a bacon-like meat called guanciale, red chili flakes, and cracked black pepper. A thick, creamy sauce is ideal, and I highly recommend you opt for bucatini over spaghetti for your next weeknight pasta binge. 

Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

4. Orecchiette 

Credit where it’s due: Giada De Laurentiis is the one who brought orecchiette into my life. I remember watching her form the shape from fresh dough on her cooking show and she made it look incredibly easy. The small bite-sized pasta has a dome that’s just perfect for clutching puddles of sauce. They remind me of seashells ready to scoop up a savory gravy. Orecchiette translates to “little ears,” and although they’re little, they’re mighty in texture. I like to make this pasta with sausage and dark leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, or spinach. However, broccoli rabe is also a good option.

Credit: Christine Han; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

5. Paccheri 

If you are a fan of big, round rigatoni, then you’ll love its oversized cousin, paccheri. The smooth tubular pasta is a little less common, but it’s worth tracking down. Paccheri originates from Southern Italy and has ancient roots in Neopolitan cuisine. The noodle flops over itself when cooked, and creates a perfect hideaway for a chunky sauce. But I like to stuff them with spoonfuls of filling such as ricotta cheese. If you pull this pasta out of the water a little early and let it finish cooking in a thick sauce, that will help keep its form through the cooking process.