Monday, April 13, 2020

15 Pasta Shapes, Ranked

Here’s a fun fact about the word “quarantine:” it comes from the Italian word, “quarantinza,” meaning “forty days.” In the midst of the 14th century Black Death plague, ships were docked for 40 days before allowing the goods and sailors to come onto land, in an effort to contain potential contamination vectors.

We’ve been in quarantine for almost 40 days now, but there’s no end in sight yet. So, in the spirit of the Italian “quarantine,” I have decided to make a post rating pasta shapes.


Dry pasta is a great food item to have in these times, since it’s cheap, easy to make, stores well, and is relatively versatile. I’ve been eating a lot of it lately and since my Quarantine Madness™ has set in, this seemed like a fantastic use of my time and writing skills. Without further ado...


THE LIST 
(Pasta Shapes Ranked from Worst to Best)


SHIT-TIER PASTA SHAPES

Manicotti - #15


The bastard son of cannelloni and “shells.” A gross tube stuffed with crap. Like a large model of what your arteries would look like after eating it. It’s like an undercooked burrito and it’s horrible. The pasta is barely even present. You’re just choking down a pile of soft cheese and calling it “pasta” because there’s some manicotti floating wetly around the bottom of the casserole dish. This shit is awful.

Conchiglie - #14


“Shells.” I hate shells. The bigger the shell, the grosser the pasta, and there’s a reason for this. The reason is that “shells” are designed to entrap sauce, but if you graph the surface area increase to the volumetric increase, you’ll see that the volumetric increase FAR OUTSTRIPS the surface area. This leads to the “manicotti problem:” blobs of sauce or cheese with little to no pasta involved.  The starch:sauce ratio is a delicate one and shells are poorly designed to get it right.
 
This graph is for a blobby cell-shape, a sphere or ovoid similar to a shell. 
Shell pasta has even less starting surface area, since they aren't entirely enclosed, 
so the intersection of the surface area and volume slopes occurs sooner.

Small shells are acceptable, though if too small, they end up having the reverse problem: there’s a wad of chewy pasta starch with not enough sauce.  On the graph above, you want to find the sweet spot where the surface area and volume are roughly equal.  Most shells fail abysmally at finding this sweet spot, and I'd rather not have my meals complicated by math, anyway.

Cannelloni, calamarata - #13



Straight tubes. The only difference is length; calamarata is shorter than cannelloni. Slippery, boring, and shapeless, these pastas are unimaginatively terrible for conveying to your mouth with a fork. (I give a pass to ditalini, which are the tiny version used in minestrone.)


I include elbow macaroni in this category, by the way.  The gentle bend in the tube doesn't make it less of a tube.  It's still a tube and it's still one of the worst shapes because of their slipperiness and general sadness, and inexplicably popular. A cheap and common pasta shape. If elbow macaroni were a person, it would have a YouTube channel with a million followers, most of whom were bots and 12-year-olds, and its channel would consist entirely of “It’s just a prank, bro” videos and titles like “CALLED MY EX’S MOM AT 3 AM (GONE WRONG!) (SEXY!)”

Now, about ziti. Ziti is a tube and most ziti has striations. I don’t like ziti because it’s too big. Smaller, striated tubes, or tubes with pointy ends, like penne, are reviewed later in this post. But “ziti” is too manicotti-ish for my liking, so striated or not, it’s getting lumped in with the cannelloni and calamarata.

Tagliatelle, fettuccine - #12

 Pictured: pad see ew, which we'll get to in a sec.

Like spaghetti, fettuccine is a one-note pasta. (Note: linguine means “little tongues” in Italian. Gross. No thank you.) Fettuccine noodles have potential, but they always seem to be used for the same dish. You order fettuccine and you’re getting a creamy Alfredo sauce, every time. Also, it tends to stick and clump together, making leftovers into a pasta-blob nightmare that no one wants to eat.

This post is about Italian pasta, but I want to give a shout-out to pad see ew, a Thai dish which uses flat tagliatelle-like noodles in the best way possible.

Farfalle - #11 


“Bowtie” pasta. Not a bad shape, considered its ruffled flairs and the ease with which one can spear it onto a fork, but often overly-slippery due to the flatness.

This might just be an anecdotal observation not based in fact, but I have a notion that "bowtie" is the pasta most likely to be dyed a stupid color, as seen above.  Pasta should, in my opinion, be Italian-colored: greenish, whitish, or reddish.  Any other color is incorrect.

Also, I think I have a personal bad association with this particular type. I closely associate bow-tie with buttered noodles and Kraft parmesan, a phone-in meal my mom made on nights when she was tired, and I think that association has ruined bow-tie for me.

Ditto “wagon wheels.” In general, I guess I just don’t like pastas with English non-food names.

A pass is given to “dinosaur” pasta, however.  For obvious reasons.


MID-TIER PASTA SHAPES

Spaghetti, capellini #10 


Frustratingly variable in length, these are basic bitch noodles. Spaghetti, as previously discussed, has the problem of being a one-note pasta shape associated with a single sauce, marinara. This isn’t spaghetti’s fault but, nonetheless, it bumps spaghetti down on the list.

On the other hand, spaghetti escaped "shit-tier" placement because of its meme-worthiness and its cultural necessity in films about the mob and/or dogs who are in love.



"Capellini” is basically just very fine spaghetti, and it's more commonly known in English as “angel’s hair,” a thoroughly unappetizing name.


Penne, rigatoni - #9 


The slightly better version of macaroni, but only slightly, due to the striations along the outside. The striations allow for better sauce adhesion and also make the pasta a little easier to get onto a fork.

Bucatini - #8



Speaking of tube pastas… it’s spaghetti... with a hole! This is the only “tube” pasta that makes sense. Also it’s sea-turtle friendly. Bucatini is a big improvement on spaghetti and I wish I saw more of it.

Orecchiaetti - #7 


Flattened shells resembling ears. “Little ear” sounds gross but I can excuse it for solving the “shell” problem; the open design of these semi-shells ensures no clumping up of cheese or sauce, and offers a relatively uniform distribution in each bite.

Let the record show that this is officially the point in this article wherein I have gotten hungry.


Campanelle - #6 



This pasta has ruffled edges folded into a cone to create a tubish interior. A lovely flower-like shape. My only complaint is that it very vaguely looks like labia to me.

HONORABLE MENTION to the mid-tier list: radiatore.  This pasta occupies an awkward place between "small shell" and "orecchiaetti."  Had I thought of it at all, I suppose it might have taken spot #8 or #9.  I was not originally included in this list.  When Andrew discovered his favorite pasta shape wasn't included at all, he demanded I rank it, and then grew outraged that I compared it to a small shell, where the starch:sauce ratio is potentially too large, and that, at its best, it's only a mid-tier pasta, ranking below ravioli.

After a brusque argument, he has written his own counter-article on pasta shapes, titled "Radiatori: The Best Pasta Shape, Fuck You Tony."


GOD-TIER PASTA SHAPES

Pansotti, tortellini, ravioli - #5 


These stuffed pastas are OK due to solving the volume-to-surface ratio, simply by being smaller. Having irregular shapes (ravioli had ruffled, wavy edges) bumps them up on the list by adding texture. They are also pretty versatile; ravioli comes in a huge variety of flavors. If you go to a restaurant and order spaghetti, you’re getting marinara sauce. But if you go to a restaurant to order ravioli, you’ll have to define what type: mushroom, beef, buttersquash, spinach, cheese. The list goes on and on. Ravioli also gets a special acknowledgement as the  second most meme-worthy of the pasta shapes, after spaghetti.

Casarecce - #4 


This is a scroll-like shape. In my notes, I wrote, “better than eggshell.” I don’t know what that means, but clearly, it means something.  I was probably drunk when I wrote my pasta notes (and conceived of this idiotic article in the first place.)

I wish this shape were used for Mac n’ Cheese, honestly. (“Cas n’ Cheese?”)

Strozzapreti is another scroll-shape, but with the widths bent in opposite directions, like an "S."  The name is Italian for “priest-strangler,” making it the most badass of the pastas on this list.


Cavatappi - #3 


A hollow, cork-screwed pasta and one of my personal favorites. Some are smooth. I prefer the tubes with ruffles, the Frankenstein hybrids that are half-cavatappi and half-rotini. Corkscrewing pasta is superior to other shapes because it doesn’t clump, evenly distributes sauce, and is decidedly easy to consume using a fork. Also, it’s easier to measure out, because the rigid, uncooked corkscrews take up more space, giving you a better sense of how much you’re making as you pour.



Gemelli - #2 


This under-rated shape is a twisty-stick helix that looks a bit like rope. What can I say except that it’s fun? It’s got a great texture and attractive look, and it has just enough weight to give you a full bite of pasta without blobbing up like fettuccine.

Fusilli - #1 


My favorite pasta, this is a cork-screwed, delicately ruffled noodle (like cavatappi), but not hollow. It has all the strengths I expect in a pasta shape, and I knew from the beginning it was going to come out on top.

The fusili above is not in the cork-screw shape I most prefer, but even without the corkscrew, I like the ruffles.  Look at how fancy this pasta is!  He's going to have a nice time at the ball.  :)

Congratulations, fusilli, on your well-deserved win. I can’t wait to stop eating you. I can't wait for quarantine to end, for grocery stores to go back to normal, for this whole mess just to be over with.  Except that deep down, I know it won't go back to normal any time soon.  Maybe never.  But it's easier to write about pasta than it is to write about the pandemic, so here is where we find ourselves in these frightening, uncertain times, where the only thing we know for sure is that manicotti, like Covid-19, can go fuck itself.

May the pasta-gods have mercy on our souls.

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