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super-speedy ziti served with salad
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Who doesn't love pasta? It is a way of life, a foundation upon which Italian culture has built in countless preparations and varieties—the word "pasta" literally translates to "dough." And when you bake pasta, a whole new world is unlocked: a world of contrasting textures, of intense flavors, of a much more dynamic eating experience. But don't just reach for the pasta you use for favorite stovetop dishes, not all pasta shapes are suited for baking. Here's our opinionated guide to the pasta shapes that are best suited for making baked pasta dishes.

Rigatoni

While baked ziti might be the most visually iconic baked pasta dish, it's ironically not the best shape for baked pasta. Ziti doesn't have those beautiful ridges that are more than just about looks—they serve an essential purpose in catching sauce. Rigatoni are a much better choice for their useful ridges, and mezzi rigatoni, with both a short size and ridges, are even more perfect—so perfect in fact that we used them in our Speedy Baked Ziti, pictured above.

Pipe Rigate

Think "giant elbow macaroni," and you have these gems. They're also known by the adorable name "pipette," and these curved little tubes are not only easy to fork, but their curved shape helps hold sauce within their openings. And yes, that does indeed mean they're perfect for baked mac and cheese.

Spaghetti

Many cooks will wax poetic about short shapes being best for baked pasta, but spaghetti, in this context, is an oft unsung hero. The trick with baked spaghetti lies in the transition from pot to pan. After par-boiling, run the spaghetti under cold water to let it cool. Whisk one to two eggs in a large bowl depending on how much pasta you're cooking, and toss the cooled spaghetti in the eggs along with your chosen sauce. The eggs help bind the spaghetti so it slices beautifully into an impressive pie.

Large Shells

While pasta in Italian culture is a course that precedes the meat or fish ("primi"), there's no harm in breaking tradition a bit to make your pasta the star. There's no better shape for a main event pasta dish than the large shell. More than just a scoop and serve kind of dish, a few large shells are a worthy centerpiece of any plate, especially when stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, spinach, crab, sausage, or any combination of them all! Be sure to avoid over-saucing your shells, as whatever you stuff them with will contain moisture to help them cook. And don't forget to let the tops of the shells peek out from above the sauce for those addictive crispy crunchy bits.

Lasagna

Lasagna noodles may seem too obvious to include as an option in this guide to the best baked pasta shapes, but they are one of the best and we wanted to share the best way to cook them as it may surprise you. If you make lasagna often, you can save yourself a lifetime's worth of work by not pre-boiling. That's right, lasagna noodles can go straight from box to baking dish, as long as you use twice as much sauce as you normally would, to give the noodles extra moisture to absorb. We rate this technique over using the pricier "no boil" noodles.

Wagon Wheels

Often relegated to kids menus and we think severely overlooked, wagon wheels or rotelle are a shape that should be taken seriously for baked pasta. The spokes of wagon wheels pasta are a home for sauce to get stuck in—and of course, that is a good thing—but they're also a shape prone to breaking if you stir too much. That's where baking comes in, use your wagon wheels for baked pasta and they'll hold the sauce and remain intact.

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