The Ultimate Guide: The 9 Best Pasta Shapes for Pesto

The Best Pasta for Pesto: A Comprehensive Guide

Pasta is a versatile and popular dish that has been enjoyed by people around the world for centuries. One popular way to enjoy pasta is to pair it with pesto, a flavorful sauce made from basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts. But with so many pasta shapes available, choosing the right one for your pesto dish can be a daunting task. In this article, we will explore the best pasta options for pesto and discuss why certain shapes work better than others.

The importance of pasta shapes

To understand why there are different shapes of pasta, it is important to look at the origins and history of pasta. Pasta originated in Italy and has since become a global culinary staple. Italian cuisine is known for its variety of pasta shapes, each designed to serve a specific purpose. However, it is worth noting that some of the earliest types of pasta, such as vermicelli and spaghetti, actually originated in the Middle East.
Over the years, as pasta became more popular, different regions developed their own unique pasta shapes. Southern Italy, in particular, had a climate conducive to the drying of pasta, which led to the development of different pasta shapes. Italian housewives played an important role in shaping the pasta landscape, creating their own unique shapes by hand.
Technological advances also contributed to the evolution of pasta shapes. The invention of the extrusion press allowed for the mass production of pasta such as macaroni and penne. Today, we have a wide range of pasta shapes, many of which are based on traditional methods passed down through generations.

Understanding Pasta Categories

Pasta shapes are typically categorized based on their shape and texture, each of which lends itself to specific sauce pairings. While it is possible to use any shape of pasta with any type of sauce, certain combinations result in a more harmonious culinary experience. Here are some common pasta categories and their corresponding shapes:


Tagliatelle include varieties such as spaghetti, linguine, fusilli lunghi, vermicelli, capellini, spaghettini, and bucatini. These long, thin strands of pasta work well with a variety of sauces, including pesto.

Pasta Ribbons:

Tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, mafaldine, stringozzi and trenette are all in the ribbon category. Their wide, flat shape makes them ideal for rich, creamy sauces.

Pasta shells:

Conchiglie, lumache and lumaconi are examples of pasta shells. Their concave shape allows them to hold lighter sauces, making them perfect for pesto.

Pasta twists:

Twisted pasta shapes such as fusilli, trofie, strozzapreti, caserecce, gemelli and rotini are known for their ability to hold chunky ingredients, making them ideal for pesto dishes with added texture.

Tube pasta:

Penne, rigatoni, macaroni, paccheri, tortiglioni, trenne, manicotti, ditalini and cannelloni fall into the tube pasta category. Their hollow centers and ridged surfaces make them excellent vessels for holding thicker sauces.

Mini pasta shapes:

Orzo, fregola, canestrini, stelline, risi, quadrettini and anelli are miniature pasta shapes that add visual interest to dishes. They work well with lighter sauces and can enhance the overall texture of a pesto dish.

Stuffed pasta:

Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, and agnolotti are examples of stuffed pasta filled with various ingredients. While pesto is not commonly used as a filling, these pasta shapes can be paired with pesto as a topping or accompaniment.

Choosing the Best Pasta for Pesto

When it comes to pesto dishes, certain pasta shapes excel in terms of flavor distribution and ease of consumption. The following pasta shapes are particularly good for pesto:


Originating from Liguria, the same region where pesto sauce has its roots, trofie pasta is a perfect match for pesto. Its twisted shape and hollow center allow the delicate sauce to envelop each piece, ensuring a harmonious blend of flavors.


Tortiglioni, a tubular pasta with a ribbed exterior, provides an ideal texture for pesto to cling to. Choosing bronze die-cut tortiglioni enhances its rough surface, allowing it to absorb the sauce more effectively.


Although not an obvious choice, orecchiette


Although not an obvious choice, orecchiette’s unique shape, resembling little ears, can hold pesto sauce beautifully. The cup-like structure captures the sauce, ensuring that every bite is infused with the vibrant flavors of pesto.


Gemelli, which means “twins” in Italian, is a twisted pasta shape that pairs well with pesto. The spiral design allows the pesto to coat the entire surface, resulting in a harmonious blend of flavors.


Linguine, a long, flat pasta shape, is a classic choice for pesto dishes. Its smooth texture and large surface area provide an excellent canvas for pesto to adhere to, ensuring an even distribution of flavors.


Spaghetti, perhaps the most recognizable and widely available pasta shape, is also a great option for pesto. Its long, thin strands allow the pesto to coat each piece evenly, resulting in a satisfying flavor profile.

Bottom line

In conclusion, choosing the right pasta shape for your pesto dish can greatly enhance the overall dining experience. The best pasta options for pesto include trofie, tortiglioni, orecchiette, gemelli, linguine and spaghetti. Each of these shapes allows the pesto sauce to envelop the pasta, ensuring a harmonious blend of flavors in every bite.
Understanding the history and significance of pasta shapes helps us appreciate the artistry behind Italian cuisine. From the labor-intensive methods used by generations of housewives to the technological advances that have made mass production possible, each pasta shape carries a piece of culinary history.
So, the next time you find yourself in the pasta aisle looking for the perfect pasta to pair with your pesto dish, consider the shape that best complements the flavors and textures of the sauce. With the right choice, you can take your pesto pasta to new heights and create a truly memorable dining experience.


What makes certain shapes of pasta better for pesto?

Certain shapes of pasta are better for pesto because they distribute the sauce evenly and carry the pesto well from plate to fork. These shapes have different characteristics that allow them to capture and hold the pesto, resulting in a harmonious blend of flavours.

Can I use any shape of pasta with pesto?

While technically any shape of pasta can be used with pesto, certain shapes work better than others. The recommended pasta shapes, such as trofie, tortiglioni, orecchiette, gemelli, linguine and spaghetti, have been specifically chosen for their ability to enhance the pesto experience.

Are there alternative pasta options for those with dietary restrictions?

Yes, there are alternative pasta options for people with dietary restrictions. Many gluten-free and grain-free pasta varieties, such as those made from chickpea or lentil flour, can be used to replace traditional wheat-based pasta. These alternatives can still be paired with pesto for a delicious dining experience.

Can I use filled pasta moulds with pesto?

While stuffed pasta shapes such as ravioli and tortellini are not commonly used with pesto as a filling, they can still be enjoyed with pesto as a topping or accompaniment. The combination of stuffed pasta and pesto can create a unique and delicious flavour profile.

Are there any special cooking tips for making pasta with pesto?

When preparing pasta with pesto, it is important to cook the pasta al dente, as it will continue to cook slightly when mixed with the pesto. In addition, reserving a small amount of the pasta cooking water can help create a smoother and more cohesive sauce when mixed with the pesto. Finally, toss the cooked pasta immediately with the pesto to ensure an even coating of the sauce.

Can I store leftover pesto pasta?

Yes, leftover pesto pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. However, it is important to note that pesto can oxidise and lose its bright green colour over time. To minimise this, you can drizzle a thin layer of olive oil over the pasta before storing. When reheating, you may need to add a splash of water or more pesto to refresh the flavour.