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Pasta: How Italians Eat It

What pasta shapes do Italians love most? What are the best sauces? Academia Barilla teamed up with Nielsen data to figure out the best new combinations in the new book “I love pasta”.

I love pasta

When thinking about the perfect recipe in Italian cuisine there is one dish that is a common thread in every region in Italy, pasta.

Perfect in its simplicity – made from just semolina and water – it is capable of renewing itself day by day with diverse sauces.

Academia Barilla reveals the ten best-selling pasta shapes and suggested recipes for all of them in Academia’s new book, “I Love Pasta”.

The Barilla brothers also express their own preferences: Fusilli for Guido, Casarecce for Luca, and Spaghetti for Paolo.


  1. The undisputed king of pasta, Spaghetti: by far the most eaten (with a 14.4% share of volumes sold in Italy*), is considered the most representative of Italian food culture on a global level. The name means “little string” and is presented in every regional culinary tradition, from northern to southern Italy. They are highly versatile and go perfectly with many kinds of sauces, the most common being spaghetti with tomato and basil, which can be found in Academia Barilla’s recently opened Manhattan restaurant. Another recipe that brings out spaghetti’s characteristics is alla carbonara: a classic dish of Roman cuisine; it needs short preparation times – (10-15 minutes), and just a few selected ingredients – pork cheek, egg, Pecorino Romano (sheep’s cheese)  – with the promise of a tasty, appetizing dish.

  2. Penne Rigate: widespread all over Italy (accounting for 8.5% of volumes), they owe their name to goose feathers, used in the past for writing and cut at a slant to obtain a fine tip. Penne is one of the rare shapes whose date of birth is certain. It was in 1865, when a pasta maker from Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, patented a machine that could cut fresh pasta diagonally – in the form of a pen – without flattening it. Penne Rigate came in a winner with the sauce “all’arrabbiata: a must dish on the menus of Italian restaurants all over the world. A typical Sicilian recipe, to make it takes tomatoes, garlic, oil, and the ingredient that gives the recipe its name: chili pepper.
  3. Fusilli: of Arab origin, they spread first across the south of Italy, where Muslim expansion across the Mediterranean began. Fusilli – which comes from the term fuso, a wooden tool to hand wind spaghetti into a twisty strand of pasta – go well with many flavors, from the most elaborate to the simplest, such as a rich vegetable stock drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, a sauce that is light but color-laden. (7% of volumes).

  4. Tortiglioni: a specialty of southern Italy –in particular the Campania region – now present in every region of Italy. The name comes from the vulgar Latin tortillare, a deformation of torquere, i.e. to turn. Its characteristics are best heightened by thick flavorsome sauces like a pairing with a fondue of Parmesan Cheese and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. (5.6% of volumes).

  5. Mezze Penne Rigate: in the great Penne family, the difference between the various types lies in the thickness, diameter and length. Mezze Penne Rigate are the shortest, but not the smallest: in fact they have the same diameter as Penne Rigate. Highly versatile, they go beautifully with sauces of every kind, and are also used for cold pasta salads and as a base for oven-baked pasta recipes. For an original first course, they can be used with clams and chick peas: a delectable, unconventional recipe! (5.3%).

  6. Spaghettini: a variant of spaghetti with a thinner diameter, perfect for quick sauces that are light and not very dense. Traditionally, they are accompanied by oil-based sauces, which tend not to weigh down the shapes’s subtle free-moving form. Equally perfect for the classic “aglio, olio e peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and chili), a dish that is a favorite all over Italy and is easily prepared in no time at all. (5%).

  7. Bavette: an ancient shape from the Liguria region (Genoa being the capital), cwhich happened to already be present in the 13th century. Its flattened shape offers a greater surface area for sauces and pesto to stick to, enhancing their flavor and aroma. They are customarily served with pesto alla Genovese”, one of the most typical regional Italian sauces. (3.7%)

  8. Pennette Rigate: thinner than their elder sisters, when dropped into a sauce they blend together perfectly. Much used for pasta alla norma”, a typical recipe from Sicilian cuisine in which three symbolic ingredients stand out: tomatoes, egg plant and salted Ricotta cheese. (2.7%)

  9. Farfalle (Bow Tie): These come under a multitude of regional Italian names: stricchetti – from the Italian verb to tighten; galani – named after the bow tie of a dinner jacket; in Abruzzo and Puglia nocchette – from the southern Italian term nocca, a knotted ribbon. The wings manage to hold the sauce well; the central pinching is somewhat different in texture and exalts the condiment even more. Widespread throughout all regions, they are ideal for both robust sauces typical of the winter period, and for lighter, more typically summer sauces, including tuna, cherry tomatoes and Taggiasca olives. (2.6%)
  10. Rigatoni: typical of central/southern Italy, the name comes from the rifling on the outside, obtained by drawing through bronze dies, which absorbs and collects the condiment. The star of a historic Barilla TV commercial shot in the ’80s by Federico Fellini: in front of a menu abounding in dishes with fancy French names, a sophisticated lady surprises the waiter by ordering just "Rigatoni!!!”. Perfect for oven-baked pasta dishes, they are equally suitable for sauces to be creamed, as in the typical recipe from Rome cacio e pepe” (“cheese and pepper”) . (2%)


*Nielsen 2013 data