Swap out penne for cavatelli, elbows for gemelli, and make pasta dinners a bit more special.

By Morgan Julson
January 13, 2020
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Pasta shapes, like most dinner ingredients, come with standards: farfalle for meaty sauces, penne for pasta bakes, elbows for macaroni and cheese. But no where is it written in stone that those are the only pasta shapes that can be used with these dishes. In fact, when it comes to pasta, creativity is encouraged.

Make dinnertime fun again by upgrading basic pasta dishes with fun pasta shapes. These whimsical variations on your family's favorites will have them trying new things and craving your home cooking. What could be better?

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1. Gemelli

Gemelli's name derives from the Italian word for "twins." But these curly noodles aren't twin tubes twisted around one another, as they may appear to be. They're actually a single s-shaped strand twisted into a spiral. Try swapping gemelli for elbow macaroni in your baked macaroni and cheese.

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2. Cavatelli

Cavatelli are small pasta shells made from eggless semolina dough that, if you look closely, resemble miniature hot dog buns. Try cavatelli instead of penne in this Italian Sausage Penne recipe this week.

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3. Mafaldine

Mafaldine is a type of ribbon-shaped pasta. It is flat and wide, usually about one centimeter in width, with wavy edges on both sides. It is prepared similarly to other ribbon-based pasta, such as linguine and fettuccine. It is usually served with a more delicate sauce, so swapping it in for spaghetti in a hearty tomato-based sauce is a perfect fit.

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4. Paccheri

Paccheri is a large, short, tubular-shaped pasta. Its origins are traced back to Campania, a region in Southern Italy, and the pasta is often used in Neapolitan cuisine. Paccheri is usually topped with sauce, such as ragu (a meat-based sauce), and usually has a smooth surface. Use paccheri in place of ziti in this saucy baked pasta casserole.

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5. Cavatappi

Cavatappi is macaroni formed in a helical tube shape. In fact, cavatappi is the Italian word for corkscrew. This pasta is usually scored with lines or ridges on the surface, which help sauces to adhere better. While turkey tetrazzini is typically made with spaghetti, using cavatappi instead helps kiddos build easier-to-handle bites.

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6. Campanelle

Campanelle is a type of pasta shaped like a cone with a ruffled edge. It is intended to be served with a thick sauce or in a casserole. Next time your family is craving fettuccine Alfredo, try preparing it with campanelle instead of fettuccine. The surprise bites with a bit of extra sauce inside the pasta are the best.

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7. Orecchiette

Orecchiette are a pasta typical of Apulia, a region of Southern Italy. Their name comes from their shape, which resembles a small ear — kids will love that fun fact. This delicious orecchiette pasta recipe only has a handful of ingredients, is very cheap to make, and most importantly, only uses one pan or pot for the entire dish.

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8. Radiatori

Radiatori are small, squat pasta that resemble radiators. Although it is rumored that they were created in the 1960s by an industrial designer, their invention was actually between the First and Second World Wars. Make this comforting baked penne dish with little radiatori instead of penne, and watch how fast the pan gets scraped clean.

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9. Conchiglie

The shell-shaped pasta has already proven to be a popular alternative for macaroni and cheese, and larger versions are perfect for stuffing with meat and cheese, but conchiglie are also a good bet for baked dishes. Their ridged surfaces hold on to sauce, and their deep middles easily encapsulate ingredients. You already know stuffed shells will be a hit — try them with conchiglie next time!

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