There are seemingly as many types of pasta at the supermarket as grains of sand on an Italian beach. And let’s be real -- it's Europe, so it’s probably a clothing-optional beach. Yikes, now you’re thinking about old dudes in ill-fitting Speedos and not about pasta. Our fault. Back to pasta! There's a ton of pasta options in the Italian food aisle at the supermarket and when you’re ordering dinner. But which pasta should be on your next dinner plate?
We asked Italian chefs in America from coast to coast about the type of pasta they thought was overrated and underrated. These chefs will tell you why you should avoid certain noodles and start ordering ones you might never have considered in the first place. These are the most overrated and underrated pastas.
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Chicago, Illinois Overrated: Fusilli “They’re impossible to do by hand, so there’s no artistry behind it. People [still] love fusilli though!” Underrated: Spaghetti chitarra “It’s underrated because not many people know about it. You need a special wooden machine to make them, but it comes out as perfect square spaghettis.”
New York, New York Overrated: Orzo “Orzo is often used in pasta salad, but it overcooks easily and lacks texture and true pasta flavor. It also has a slimy mouthfeel. When you eat it, you don’t feel the comfort of a plate of pasta, which is a huge loss!” Underrated: Paccheri “This very Neapolitan [pasta] shape is a classic in my home. It has a nice bite, and the large rings hold the sauce well, giving each bite texture and flavor. They go well with many types of sauces (ragù, Genovese, seafood), which is why I usually serve it as a special -- I don’t want to limit its versatility by having it on the menu in just one style.”
Brooklyn, New York Overrated: Black ink linguine “Everyone goes crazy for the color and the shape, but I don't think it gives much of a different flavor, especially if the sauce is already really good. I think it’s just something about the look and aesthetic, so people want to order it and see it on their plate. It’s funny, too -- in Italy, people are scared about that color of pasta as it’s not very traditional, but here in NYC everyone goes crazy for it!” Underrated: Strozzapreti/strangolapreti “Strozzapreti or strangolapreti (aka "choke the priest") is a type of pasta that a lot of people don't know about, or get too scared to try it. The pasta is originally from Emilia Romagna, and is very good with every sauce -- even with fish. It has a great texture, stays al dente, and has a linguine thickness to it but is shorter. You can also use it with ragù or vegetable sauces. I love it! In my restaurant, my business partner’s mother comes from Italy, and she always makes it for us to eat personally, as well as for the customers. It makes everyone happy.”
New York, New York Overrated: Penne “Penne is overrated because it's everyone's default pasta. It's on almost every Italian menu and unlike fusilli col buco or strozzapreti, it doesn't work well with sauces. It's a short shaped pasta, which is overused.” Underrated: Fusilli col buco “Not many restaurants use it, but a lot of Italian-Americans and families grew up using fusilli col buco. It's a fun, playful shape that sauce adheres really well to.”
Columbus, Ohio Overrated: Gomito (aka elbow) “It’s usually been oversaturated with cheese or Hamburger Helper. Although it is a good pasta for children to eat.” Underrated: Cavatelli “It can be a stand-alone pasta with light sauce, a side, or as an alternative to gnocchi. What’s great about cavatelli is the variety of uses. Ricotta adds a smooth texture, and is lighter than fettuccine. Other starches can be used in the dough, such as purple potatoes or leftover polenta. If you overcook them, they can still be eaten. For a home cook, it’s a way to [prepare] something other than a dried pasta and add some diversity to their meal.”
Jeff Michaud, head chef and culinary director at Osteria
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Overrated: Penne “Penne reminds me of all the Italian-American dishes like penne alla vodka and penne alfredo. Although there’s nothing wrong with those dishes, I am somewhat of a traditionalist and feel that if you’re going to take time to make a nice pasta dish -- use rigatoni and make cacio e pepe or all'amatriciana. The classic Italian dishes are always the simplest and stand the length of time.” Underrated: Any pasta made with squid ink “People tend to shy away because of the color. When squid ink is used in the dough, it adds a little fish flavor and saltiness from the sea, which can really shine through in the dish.”
Hastings on Hudson, New York Overrated: Penne “I’ve grown tired of penne, and it’s not even penne’s fault! [Seemingly] every restaurant -- no matter what the cuisine -- has penne on the menu. Growing up in an Italian household in Queens, pasta was served at every meal. My nonna would ask us, ‘long or short?’ My brother and I always said ‘long.’ We agreed that the authenticity of pasta was being able to spin it with a fork on a spoon.” Underrated: Bucatini “Bucatini is my favorite, and it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s similar to spaghetti in shape, but it’s hollow, and the sauce fills up the noodle -- you get just the right amount in every bite. Always versatile, bucatini goes great with any sauce: amatriciana, Bolognese, white clam, carbonara, or just a simple, yet delicious, pomodoro and basil.”
San Francisco, California Overrated: Penne “You just see it everywhere. I prefer using mostaccioli pasta. You’ll see mostaccioli on my menu at Capo’s and at Giovanni Italian Specialties. Penne pasta has a slanted cut, versus a straight cut for the mostaccioli. They even have a similar cook time and are ready to enjoy quickly.” Underrated: Bucatini “We’ve had bucatini on the menu at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana since almost the beginning. It’s a hollow-shaped pasta like the spaghetti noodle, but with a hole in it. We like to use it because it cooks quicker. You don’t see bucatini on menus too often. It’s got a great bite on it -- it’s a little thick, but not too thin.”
Houston, Texas Overrated: Linguine “I just don't get [linguini]. It's thick. It's oval, but not quite flat. There are great flat pastas that do the job if you want flat, but what is this oval shape about? As kids, we grew up eating pasta Sicilian-style from a family who had come from there. We never had linguine. It seemed to show up in the ‘80s or early ‘90s and just never went away. I serve it because it's what my customers ask for. But if they ask me first, they'll get spaghetti and see what they've been missing.” Underrated: Spaghetti “This is a topic that to an Italian family could be what talking politics or religion is to most others. But here goes (and I can already hear people I know saying this is stupid!): Spaghetti is the most underrated pasta there is. As a pasta, spaghetti is as good as it gets. It works better with sauces. It can be cooked in all kinds of way and still be perfect. [But because it] isn’t exotic, people think they have to have some other kind.”
New York, New York Overrated: Spaghetti “Spaghetti (or any long pasta) is overrated because most people overuse it and cook with it in the wrong ways. A common misconception is that spaghetti can be used with any meat or heavy sauce, which is not typically the case. Spaghetti is best with lighter-based sauces, such as butters and oils, to create dishes like a cacio e pepe.” Underrated: Paccheri “Paccheri (or any other tube-shaped pasta) is underrated because most people don’t know that it should be used for dishes with meat or heavy sauces such as Bolognese or ragù; that way, the sauce gets in the tube and you get more of the dish and flavor in each bite.”
Atlanta, Georgia Overrated: Raviolo “From a chef's perspective, these can be a nightmare for production and execution. If you break one in your pasta cooker, not only is your water sullied, but you essentially throw out an entire order of food.” Underrated: Ricotta gnocchi “This one doesn't seem to get as much play as the more popular potato version you’ll find on restaurant menus, but it’s been a favorite of mine since being taught how to make it many years ago.”
San Francisco, California Overrated: Ravioli “[Ravioli isn’t overrated] because it's bad, there are just some really awful combinations of fillings and sauces out there. People tend to stuff them with all kinds of crap without any heed to tradition and purpose, and then top it all off with a sauce that is completely wrong. For example: lobster ravioli with alfredo sauce. This is a terrible combination, and disgusting to boot! Most pasta blunders start with chefs not taking the time to research the cut or shape. There is always a reason certain shapes go with certain types of sauce, and if you stay within those parameters, you can expand and get really creative while still being authentic. Don't take a pasta from southern Italy and dress it with a northern-style sauce or vice versa. Fettuccine with puttanesca sauce? Wrong. Orecchiette with Genovese pesto? Wrong.” Underrated: Hollow, dry pasta “While we make all of our pastas fresh at Perbacco, the most underrated pastas for home cooks are hollow dry pastas from top producers like Mancini. I like rigatoni and penne -- tubal pastas made with Senatore Capelli wheat, a very high-quality durum wheat developed in the late 19th century. I love how these pasta tubes hold the sauce and still retain a nice wheat flavor.”
Glenn Rolnick, executive director of culinary operations for Alicart Restaurant Group (Carmine's)
New York, New York Overrated: Cavatelli "I think cavatelli is a popular yet overrated pasta. For me, I don't get a thrill out of eating or cooking it. There are better small pastas to [cook] that look and taste better." Underrated: Orecchiette "The name orecchiette means ‘little ears,’ and that’s what the pasta looks like. This pasta gives most dishes an extra punch because it is indeed a little pasta cup -- perfect for scooping up hearty sauces, vegetables or cheeses added to any pasta recipe. Sometimes they stack on top of each other and catch all the sauce in between. Orecchiette is a comforting pasta, and is always packed with extra flavor to please all pasta lovers."
New York, New York Overrated: Angel hair “I've never liked the texture of chewing what feels like wet hair. Too much water gets trapped between the noodles like a floor mop, so the sauce always tastes weak and bland.” Underrated: Parisian-style gnocchi “They start with a pate a choux (a paste-like dough often used to make crispy pastry shells) and fold in cheese and herbs. They are hearty like traditional gnocchi, but hold up to pan frying, making them crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle.”
Santa Monica, California Overrated: Fettuccine “[It’s overrated] mainly because of the alfredo sauce that you see [on it] at every corporate restaurant and all of the grocery stores. There are many other pastas! We grew up [eating it] since high school, but we eventually must graduate.” Underrated: Pici “This pasta is a long and hand rolled, and you will not see it in any grocery store. You mainly see it at reputable Italian restaurants or Italian markets. It goes great with a Bolognese or even wild boar ragout. The options are limitless, but you must first find it.”
Parma, Italy Overrated: None [Editor’s note: We only included answers from chefs who gave us both underrated and overrated pasta, but we made an exception for chef Boni because, you know... Barilla.] Underrated: Campanelle “It’s a beautiful shape and has a thick and meaty texture, which helps it to hold sauce perfectly. Its versatile cut works well with pesto, tomato-based, and chunky veggie-based sauces. The shape holds up very well and can be used for large parties as well as elevated dinners for two.”
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