Senior reporter Annalisa Merelli—herself Italian and thus a pasta expert—talked about this on a recent episode of the Quartz Obsession podcast:

I would divide pasta into four categories. There’s long pasta, which can be hollow like bucatini or full like spaghetti. There’s short pasta—similarly, you’d have your penne or your fusilli. Then there’s pastina, which is a tiny type of pasta that typically we use in broth or soups. And then there’s everything that’s made with eggs. So that I would put in it tagliatelle, lasagne, tortellini—like everything that you know, is made with eggs added to the to the flour. Different shapes do different things. Long pasta does certain things, it’s good for certain sauces. Short pasta is good for other types of sauces.

To illustrate this point, we made a handy graphic:

What would pasta be without sauce? Here’s Annalisa again:

And also traditionally, we have marriages of pasta with specific type of sauces. So you’re not going to put, you know, ragu on spaghetti, which is a classic American habit. But also, there’s up to like 350 types of pasta. I don’t know 350 types of pasta, but I do know that I’ll go home and my mom would make a tomato sauce that could go with several types of pasta, and she’ll ask me, ‘Do you want fusilli? Do you want penne?’ You know, it’s part of the fun.

Listen to the episode wherever you get your podcasts, or read the full transcript as you eat a bowl of your favorite shape.

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