Has generated a fan base for delicious flavor plus a low-carb recipe – has 18 net carbs per serving. Also has more protein and fiber than most competitors. Fettuccine noodles are versatile for numerous pasta recipes. Cooks firm but tender in less than 5 minutes.
Some pasta lovers prefer the taste and texture of traditional recipes. Somewhat costly, but you get a good portion.
This classic spaghetti tops our list for being a versatile pasta suitable for countless dishes. It's also easy to cook and is made by a trusted brand in the pasta business. Delivers tried-and-true traditional flavor.
Nothing fancy, but often spaghetti pasta is just what cooks need.
Offers healthful benefits due to the wholesome recipe – organic edamame pasta packed with protein and fiber. Gluten-free and fairly low in carbs.
Though it has earned praise for the flavor, it's not exactly like typical pasta. Texture is firmer than most pastas cooked al dente – has been described as rubbery. Pricey.
Crafted in Italy with grain technique that creates pasta that cooks to perfection with excellent texture. Elbow style – one of the most versatile and favored short pastas for a variety of dishes.
Some consumers wish the elbows were slightly larger. A few reports of boxes with crusted pasta upon delivery.
A good choice for health-conscious consumers, as it's made with whole grains, which also means it contains a fair amount of fiber per serving. Popular penne shape for holding sauce; good flavor.
The cooking process is challenging, because it tends to be too firm or gets soggy – and falls apart – if your timing isn't just right.
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Spaghetti covered in marinara sauce. Classic macaroni salad. Creamy chicken Alfredo. Minestrone soup. It’s hard to imagine a food more versatile than pasta; this beloved pantry staple is delicious in a seemingly endless variety of ways.
Whether you like it cold, hot, as the centerpiece of the recipe, or playing a supporting role to chicken or another meat, it’s almost certain that you eat dishes containing pasta at least a few times each month – or even weekly, if you’re a hardcore pasta lover.
At BestReviews, we like delicious food as well. That’s why we decided to bring you this buying guide to all things pasta. If you’re ready to get cooking, check out our five recommendations in the product list above. If you’d like to learn more about pasta in general, including the difference between all those different shapes and flours, read on.
Just about every culture around the world incorporates some type of noodle into its dishes. The pasta we associate with spaghetti and macaroni is the Italian form of this versatile food. In fact, the word pasta means paste in Italian, referring to the paste-like texture of the dough before it’s cooked.
Pasta has been savored in Italy since at least the thirteenth century, but it may not have been invented there. Some historians believe that Italian traders, particularly Marco Polo, brought the concept of noodles back to Europe from Asia. Wherever it originated, though, one thing is certain: by the late seventeenth century, pasta was the mainstay of the average Italian’s diet.
Italian pasta starts with unleavened dough made from durum wheat mixed with water and sometimes eggs. It’s the durum wheat, which is high in gluten and low in moisture, that differentiates Italian pasta from the many other types of noodles around the world.
Nutritional values vary somewhat between brands and types, but as a general rule, one cup of cooked pasta without sauce or butter has around 220 calories, 40 grams of carbohydrates, eight grams of protein, 10% of the daily iron recommendation, and three grams of fiber.
Although whole wheat contains many vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, they are mostly lost during the milling process that produces white flour. Government regulations require that manufacturers add back B vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin to “enriched pasta,” but you still lose out on many other minerals and vitamins.
Still, pasta can be part of a healthy diet as long as you add nutritious vegetables, meats, and sauces to the noodles and don’t go overboard on portion size.
There are at least 200 different shapes and types of pasta. Some are specific to one particular area of Italy. Others are popular around the world. The following are some of the most common pasta shapes.
Fettuccine: This flat, broad noodle is the perfect partner for thick, creamy sauces such as Alfredo. Pair it with your favorite meat, or enjoy it with vegetables.
Spaghetti: The most popular pasta shape, spaghetti is long, round, and thin. Top it with any type of sauce – marinara is the classic – and add meat as you see fit.
Penne: Inch-long tubes with angular ends, penne is generally paired with chunky or meat-based sauces.
Farfalle: These little bowtie-shaped noodles are just the thing for soups or pasta salads.
Angel hair: Similar to spaghetti, but thinner, angel hair pairs well with any delicate sauce.
Lasagna: These are broad, flat noodles with gently waved edges. Lasagna is the hallmark of the delicious pasta, cheese, and meat dish that bears the same name.
Linguine: Similar to spaghetti, but slightly flattened instead of round, linguine is generally paired with delicate sauce.
Manicotti: You can stuff these oversized pasta tubes with your favorite mixture of cheese, meat, sauce, and veggies for a delicious meal.
Orzo: This tiny noodle looks a lot like rice and is often added to soup.
Ravioli: These round or square “pillows” of pasta are normally stuffed with some sort of meat, cheese, or vegetable.
Rotini: These little corkscrews hold on to thick cheese sauces as well as meat-based sauce.
Fusilli: Another corkscrew shape, but longer than rotini, fusilli is often used in casseroles or topped with hearty sauce.
Macaroni: These familiar little elbows, found in large, medium, and small sizes, are most often topped with melted cheese sauce. They are also excellent in soups, pasta salads, and meat sauces.
While the classic flour used to make pasta is semolina ground from durum wheat, today’s health-conscious consumers often turn to alternatives to avoid excessive carbs and gluten and gain more protein, vitamins, and other nutrients.
Whole-wheat noodles are basically semolina with the wheat hulls left in place. This creates a brown pasta with a somewhat nutty flavor and grainy texture. While whole-wheat pasta has more protein and a better nutritional profile than traditional pasta, you need to time it very carefully while cooking, as it quickly turns sticky and gummy if boiled for too long.
Rice noodles are a staple of Asian cooking. If you want a gluten-free substitute for your favorite Italian dishes, give these a try.
While they might be ancient, these grains have soared in popularity recently due to their stellar nutritional profiles and the fact that many are gluten free. Check out specialty markets and health food stores for pasta made from ancient grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, spelt, and kamut.
Brown rice pasta
Made from brown rice instead of white rice, this is another gluten-free and more nutrient-dense substitute for traditional pasta.
While technically not noodles at all, vegetable noodles have skyrocketed in popularity as pasta replacements. These long, thin shavings of veggies such as squash, sweet potato, carrot, beet, and cucumber are healthy, tasty replacements for traditional noodles.
Always start with a pot full of enough fresh, cold water to cover all of the pasta once it has fully expanded. There should be enough room for the noodles to move freely inside the pot. Otherwise, you may end up with both undercooked and mushy spots.
Don’t add oil to the water. This makes the noodles slippery, preventing your sauce from sticking.
Add plenty of salt to the water. This doesn’t actually speed up the boiling process, but it does add flavor to the pasta.
Bring the water to a full rolling boil before adding the pasta. Otherwise, your noodles will absorb excess water and turn soggy. Once the water boils, turn the heat down to keep the water at a gentle boil.
Leave your pot uncovered while cooking pasta. This will help prevent the pot from overflowing.
Don’t mix two or more types of pasta in the same pot. You won’t get evenly cooked results.
Stir the pasta immediately after dropping it into the pot to prevent clumping. Continue to frequently stir your noodles throughout the cooking process.
Set a timer for your desired cooking time. It takes only an extra couple of minutes for pasta to change from al dente to overdone.
Once the pasta is finished cooking, immediately drain the water from the pot. Otherwise, the noodles will continue to absorb water.
Add your pasta to the sauce, not the other way around.
Store your uncooked pasta in an airtight container. If kept cool and away from moisture, the noodles should last up to a year.
One of the delights of pasta is that it’s inexpensive. You can generally find supermarket brands on sale for as little as $1 per box. Dried egg noodles and pasta made in less-common shapes may cost a little more. For example, there are some supermarket-brand egg fettuccine products that cost between $5 and $10.
If you’re searching for a specialty brand or noodles made from an alternative flour, expect to pay as much as $10 per box or bag. For example, if you’re hungering for spaghetti made of edamame or certified organic noodles made with no GMOs, you’ll likely pay more.
Q. I’m a little bit bored of traditional spaghetti with meatballs. What other meat can I try in my pasta?
A. No need to stick with beef in your meatballs. Instead, try ground turkey, chicken, or pork. Or instead of meatballs, mix cooked shrimp or bits of chicken into your sauce.
Q. I love pasta, but I’m trying to cut down on calories. Can I still eat it?
A. Absolutely, but you’ll want to watch your portion size. You can also try low-calorie vegetable noodles in place of your traditional pasta for a tasty alternative with far less calories.
Q. I always seem to end up with mushy, sticky noodles. What am I doing wrong?
A. Most likely, you are cooking the pasta at a high boil for too long. Watch the clock carefully when cooking pasta; even a minute or two can spell the difference between perfection and overdone. Other common reasons for mushy pasta include using a pot that is too small and leaving the noodles in the water for too long after the pasta has finished cooking.