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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? http://www.chow.com/stories/11099

              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!

              2. Is it me or are some shapes more difficult to eat than others.
                When eating gemili or rotini I can't get more than one or two on my fork without them falling off, or is that the way you're supposed to eat them...one or two at a time or stabbing a few onto your fork?
                Spaghetti, linguini or angel hair you can twist them around your fork.

                3 Replies
                1. re: monku

                  Maybe I'm being vulgar, but I always eat gemili and rotini with a spoon.

                    1. re: dump123456789

                      If it has a great bolognese on it then you get the most value per scoop. Hard to criticize that theory.

                  1. Here are a couple of other reasons on choosing a particular pasta shape:

                    1 - The business meal - NEVER order long pasta. There is a high likelihood that some of the sauce will hit your shirt. Order a shape that will allow for neat eating. Second point is the question and answer part. If you swirl the long pasta and place in your mouth you are committed to chew a large amount and not be in a position to answer the question. That momentary silence is not a good thing. Rule - a business meal is not about eating, it is about business. Best choice is penne, eating 2 at a time. Even better is if the restaurant has risotto, whic is in jfood's opinion the ultimate business meal entree.
                    2 - Diet - The amount of pasta on a plate is vastly great with long pasta versus penne type. So if you are looking to cut pasta-calories choose penne, rotini or best rigatoni.

                    These points are in addition to all of the good points above about how certain shapes are better fro certain sauces.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      "2 - Diet - The amount of pasta on a plate is vastly great with long pasta versus penne type. So if you are looking to cut pasta-calories choose penne, rotini or best rigatoni."

                      I'm not sure about that. I usually weigh out portions, so I'm eating the same amount whether it's penne (and I much prefer penne rigate, as the sauce sticks to it better) or spaghetti. I find bucatini particularly difficult to eat neatly.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Hey MM and happy holiday to you and the fam.

                        Think about this as a volume analysis. Long pasta has no interior space as penne and therefore when placed on a plate is has pasta and sauce with no air gaps. The penne has air gaps fromthe inside of the pasta. So when you place the penne pasta on a dish you have pasta, sauce and air. So the same cubic area that is consumed by the long pasta will contain more pasta than if it were penne.

                        Now if the question is which weighs more a pound of penne or a pound of spaghetti, that's easy.

                        Try this experiment. Make 4oz of penne and 4oz of spaghetti , drain and place on plates. Which looks like more? Now that you have that answer the bad news is that you need to add some sauce to both and eat them. :-)

                        1. re: jfood

                          I think jfood has a point....look to the experiments about plate size. A full small plate vs a large full plate.....so much more of the diet game is psychological than we give credit too.

                          1. re: JanPrimus

                            I would have guessed that restaurants would use the same amount (by weight) of pasta, regardless of the shape. I understand the concept of some pastas appearing to fill the plate more, or less.

                      2. re: jfood

                        Very good points, Jfood, especially the business meal hitting your shirt comment.

                      3. I have been noticing this too. However, for me, Penne is the best Pasta ever. Something about the size, shape, cooking time, just seems to click for me. Penne are the Punji sticks that trap, kill, and drain all the wonderful flavours from the tiger that is my sauce.

                        1. I am surprised that no one (other than Ruth Lafler) has mentioned that different pasta shapes "catch" the sauce in different ways, which will probably affect the overall flavor of the dish, if we define flavor as the combination of taste and texture.

                          My bolognese always tastes different when served with penne than with spaghetti, or with fettucini versus spaghetti, because you get a different amount of sauce with each pasta/noodle. When I eat spaghetti I almost never taste the spaghetti, which is dominated by the sauce, but with larger pasta shapes I taste more of the pasta in the overall flavor.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Roland Parker

                            I made that point upthread:
                            "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."

                          2. For some reason--and I'm hard-pressed to say exactly why--I do not like fettucini. Linguini is fine (so to speak), and I adore spaghetti and capellini as well as pappardelle, but fettucini just does nothing for me.

                            1. Bucatini is almost always served with Al'Amatriciana sauce, I guess the idea is that the hole in the pasta catches the sauce... I am not sure if I ever notive that it does this, but I always buy it when I make Amatriciana even though I am sure I would like the sauce just as much with another shape. My favorite all around shapes are cavatelli and campanelle- though I am not sure why. I also love it when I can find super long fusilli (that is as long as spaghetti)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cassoulady

                                You like a lot of the same pastas i do. Cavatelli and Campanelle, long fusilli (twice as long as spaghetti). But to add, depending on the sauce, orrechiette, cavatappi, and orzo are also yummy!

                              2. Just to add my two cents here, the pasta "shape" helps regulate how much pasta actually makes it into your mouth with every spoonful or forkful you lift to it. If too much pasta, and say not enough vegetable, sauce, or cheese accompany it, you *might* find it unappealing. Anyone who prepares pasta should always be concious of the CUT of pasta used for any given recipe. You want your ratio of pasta to sauce to be correct, and you want to be aware of the various cooking times required for your perfect al dente pasta (again based ALL on its shape).

                                The OP likes spaghetti. That's a pasta that layers itself ever so closely strand upon strand when wrapped around on a fork. The penne on the other hand, have huge voids in them, so you get less pasta with every forkful/mouthful, and as a result you you get a completely different mouthfeel. Also, be mindful of the fact that spaghetti isn't the best vessel for sauce or cheese, as say a penne might be or even a conchiglie. All these points factor in to reasons why you might find other cuts of pasta not as pleasing. A lot of it has to do with RATIO.

                                The next subject to approach would be lettuces and how you like or dislike any of those.

                                1. I absolutely agree that this is a texture thing. It is for me. Certain foods need the proper texture (which is quite subjective). Of all the shapes I love, rigatoni is my absolute most favorite, hands down. I LOVE RIGATONI. But not just any rigatoni. Barilla made a HORRIBLE move by changing their rigatoni years ago into what's probably best described as a form of Penne Rigati. It is terrible. Looks and feels nothing like a good rigatoni. I complained to them, but I guess people aren't as passionate about this pasta shape as I am. God, this sounds ridiculous. HAHA. Big ribbed tubes of rigatoni (that just sounds wrong) with homemade pasta sauce, meatballs, sausage, lamb, and some pecorino romano cheese.... oh, that is what comfort food means to me. A gift from my grandmother and mom.

                                  1. It’s a Momma thing. Most folks think that Momma was the best cook in the world, and anything that is not quite like her cooking is not quite right.
                                    My mother was a horrible cook, and I don’t , thankfully, hopefully, cook like her. But whatever she cooked was, at the time, wonderful.
                                    I, too, prefer macaroni and spaghetti with most anything. And, by the way, I never figured out the proper way to eat it. Before taking on a plate of spaghetti, I cut it up into fork manageable pieces.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: condie

                                      My dad used to cut up his spaghetti as well. But twirling it on your fork is the only way to go, IMO!