I am the world’s worst Italian. After years of cooking with my very Italian grandma, I have still not mastered the staple of traditional Italian Cuisine that most Italians learn in grade school: cooking with pasta.

There are so many options of just long pasta:  thin and flat, thick and flat, ridged, round with holes, round without holes. And don’t even get me started on the macaronis — dozens of small doughs that are twisted, bent, and balled into various shapes.

I don’t want anyone to face the same disgrace I have endured when cooking with my Nonna, so I’ve compiled a quick and easy guide to learning about the 5 most common types of past.

Introducing: A Bad Italian’s Guide to Pasta

1. Spaghetti


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Italian translation: “Little Strings”
The Shape: Long and cylindrical (no hole through the center)
Recommended Sauce: Thin tomato sauce, oregano, basil, olive oil
An Easy Dish: Thin tomato sauce with a pinch (or a fistful) of sprinkled Romano cheese. Can add a meatball.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Bucatini — spaghetti-like pasta with hole through the center
  • Fedelini — very thin spaghetti
  • Linguine — flattened spaghetti

2. Fettuccine


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Italian translation: “Little Ribbons”
The Shape: Long and flat; Roughly 6.5 mm wide
Recommended Sauce: Alfredo. Period.
An Easy Dish: Smother in Alfredo Sauce. Sprinkle more Parmesan on top.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Tagliatelle— narrow and thinner than fettuccine
  • Papardelle— thick, flat ribbon

3. Penne


Photo by Su-Lin

Italian translation: “Quill Pen”
The Shape: Medium length tube with diagonal ridges.
Recommended Sauce: Vodka or a Bolognese sauce
An Easy Dish: Cook al dente. If using a Bolognese sauce, add ground beef. If using Vodka sauce, add chicken breast.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Ditalini— short, smooth tube
  • Rigatoni— Medium tube with straight ridges

3. Farfalle


Photo by Pankaj Kaushal

Italian translation: “Butterflies”
The Shape: Bow-tie shaped pasta
Recommended Sauce: Pesto
An Easy Dish: Coat in pesto and add a basil leaf.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Tripolini— bow-tie shaped with rounded edges

4. Conchiglie


Photo by Ted Major

Italian translation: “Seashells”
The Shape: They literally look like sea shells, about the size of a quarter
Recommended Sauce: Vegetable Sauces
An Easy Dish: Sauté the pasta in olive oil. Mix in peas, mushrooms, rapini, and prosciutto bits.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Orecchiette— bowl-shaped pasta
  • Lumache— snail shell-shaped

5. Tortellini


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Italian translation: “Little Pies”
The Shape: Ring-shaped, stuffed with meats and cheeses
Recommended Sauce: Beef or chicken broth
An Easy Dish: Throw in broth. Add some peas and other small vegetables to add more substance.
Similar Pasta Shapes:

  • Tortelloni— larger and rounder tortellini
  • Ravioli— square and also stuffed with meats and cheeses

Go off and impress your friends, your significant other, and even an Italian grandmother your knowledge of traditional Italian pastas and even *gasp* a meal.