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Dec 1, 2009 01:18 PM

Pasta - why is the shape so important?

While stuck on a long journey today my mind turned to food. As ever. Anyway, it occurrect to me that I adore macaroni and spaghetti - but penne, farfalle etc give me no pleasure at all.
Seeing as they are all made from the same ingredients there is obviously something going on here other than flavour. And if it applies to pasta - then what else do I like because of non-taste reasons?

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  1. Hmmm. OK, so there's a reason lurking there why you like some pasta and not others.

    I can think of two reasons why that might be.

    Firstly, some pastas traditionally go well with certain sauces. You never hear anyone rave over their "farfalle cheese". So, it may be that you like certain pastas because of the sauce that goes with it. Applying the same logic, you might like an ice cream cone because of the ice cream it contains - but you wouldnt enjoy the cone without ice cream. Unless you were odd.

    Second, you might like certain pastas because of their texture. Macaroni & spaghetti both being thinnish tubes. There's probably many foods where you enjoy the texture perhaps more than taste - for me, mussels are like that. Love them but I like the slipperyness more than the actual taste.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      I think this is a good analysis. In addition, some pastas are harder to cook because of their shape, especially ones that are folded or pinched (farfalle would be one) -- the thicker parts don't cook at the same rate as the thinner parts, and so it's hard to find the right compromise on doneness. I've never cared much for penne myself -- for some reason it tends to be tough. That said, I bought some pasta shaped like a large curved tube with a ruffle on the outer edge and it made great mac n cheese: the cheese not only got into the tube it adhered really well to the ruffle.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        "pasta shaped like a large curved tube with a ruffle on the outer edge"

        I think those are Cresti di gallo, Ruth. Rooster comb. I really like that shape. And radiatore.

        I dislike spaghetti (angel hair even more) but for some reason, when I'm carbo loading for an athletic event, I can't get enough of it!

      2. re: Harters

        I love spag with garlic and oil - but dislike (or at best am indifferent to) farfalle with the same 'sauce'.
        So I think it is more a texture - or 'mouthfeel' thing.

      3. Eating is about many things; it's visual, olfactive and gustatory. it's emotional; it can stir up anxiety, fear, pleasure, happiness, disgust. It's cultural; people are willing to eat what they were taught was "right", regardless of other culture's responses. It's about shape, color, texture. For you, it may be as simple as preferring a particular shape overall, rather than the actual flavor of the food product. I mean to say you tend to eat with your eyes first and you personally have preferences for certain shapes over others. When I make a pasta dish, for example, I think about how the shape of the pasta relates to the sauce I'm making, rather than how it will taste with the sauce. I don't, however, choose a pasta based solely on it's shape, but that's me.

        I have friends that don't care for rice, not because of it's flavor but the appearance of rice has a less than pleasant meaning for them; they equate the appearance of the rice with something they've experienced, somewhere in their lives, that was off-putting.

        People will choose food, or not, based on smell. It's a strong response with emotional ties, the aroma of your mom's stew compared to a rather odoriferous cheese you didn't necessarily experience as a child. Of course, taste changes throughout life so you just may end up loving that cheese.

        I have other issues, though, texture is meaningful for me. Texture is a deal maker or breaker; I am visually curious about food and will try anything just by the way it looks, but when it hits my mouth, it can mean something else entirely to me.

        You should mentally explore what other food products you like and why, as to appearance, and see if there are other food choices you make based on that aspect. Maybe you really enjoy certain colors and tend to choose those or stay away from colors you don't "feel." Color is actually a big deal for most people when is comes to choosing what to eat.

        It's how you see the world, food, and it's not a bad thing. BTW, no one likes everything, anyway. People make food choices based on a myriad of individual, and highly personal, responses. Maybe you never experienced farfalle in a meaningful way, based on your life experiences. Or maybe it's just a simple as not "feeling" the shape. Your preference for a certain shape of pasta over another is your highly personal response.

        I hope I've been helpful here.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          Good analysis BWG. I always have a battle with my wife when we visit the grocery pasta aisle. She buys only very thin spaghetti while I prefer the standard variety plus many other shapes. She says "it's all pasta!" , but I think different shapes fit different sauces. Perhaps her attitude is a reaction to the "family italian" restaurants hereabouts, which usually seem to serve penne with tomato sauce with their dinners as the default pasta.

        2. This caught my eye because my husband has what I call "pasta pickyness" and only likes certain pasta shapes. Spaghetti, macaroni, linguine, lasagna, ravioli, farfalle, shells, fettucine all okay. Can't stand penne though and doesn't like orichette. I can make two dishes with the same exact sauce, one served over penne and the other served over, say, spaghetti and he will love the spaghetti and not want to eat the penne. He says it is "too much pasta". This is true even when it is a sauce better suited to penne than spaghetti. Just one of those things that you can't understand if you don't feel the same way I think.

          1. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Some pasta shapes scoop up more sauce than others.

            1. Reminds me of my experience in Torino, Italy when my friend took me to his favorite pasta restaurant. There were various shapes listed on the left and sauces on the right. They told me I could mix-n-match.Then every combination I picked resulted in the waiter rolling his eyes, raising his voice louder each time, and telling me in various words that *that* sauce doesn't go with *that* shape. I was so embarassed and wondered why they didn't draw lines so that you knew what can go with what. Apparently Italians know.

              Like most good food questions, seems there's always already something on Chowhound about it. Have you already seen this?

              2 Replies
              1. re: nevra

                I used to live in Torino and I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that you're talking about a lovely local restaurant and not- God forbid- the DISGUSTING Pastarito Pizzarito! I occasionally had to eat at the latter during quick working lunches and every. single. time. would rather have gone hungry. If that was where you were eating, take the words of the waiter with a grain of salt. He was probably just giving you a hard time. There definitely are "norms" in terms of what pasta shapes go with which sauces, but they certainly wouldn't come into play in a cheapo chain restaurant like that. In the two years I lived in Italy nobody EVER insulted my pasta and sauce choices!

                1. re: Jetgirly

                  Teehee, thanks for the feedback Jetgirly. Good to know. I wish I could remember the name, but it was many years ago, although it left a strong memory, as you can see! Glad to know that this may have been unusual. Next time I go to Italy, I'm definitely going to consult this board first!