How many types of pasta are there?

congerdesign  for Pixabay

congerdesign for Pixabay

Last week, graphic designer David Rudnik tweeted a "definitive ranking of Non-Primary Canon pasta shapes.

Rudnik's critiques are a hilarious mix of form and function. He has no love for trenne, the triangular-shaped penne-like pasta whose "cold, heartless form befits our age," or paccheri, which "always seems like a good idea at the time." But he praises gargenelli as an "underrated jack-of-all-trades" and trofie for its "fabulous bouncy texture that is fun to bite." Rudnick's top ranking goes to malfaldine, "a sauce-holding miracle" somehow still "fork-navigable." 

There are some limitations to Rudnick's list. He's flat-out wrong about capellini, which can turn hangry monsters into happy children in just 4 minutes.

Rudnik's list is obviously incomplete. He tweeted only 22 shapes. Counting the primary canon pastas, which we can assume include spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, macaroni, rotini, shells, farfalle, penne, ziti, and rigatoni, we'd have 32 pasta shapes. Oretta Zanini DeVita's Encyclopedia of Pasta includes 310 entries, meaning that there's a lot more to tweet about. The bulk of responses to Rudnik's list are arguments over shapes excluded. 

Instead of tweeting to a stranger about his sacrilegious exclusion of strozzapreti, use his list as an opportunity for hands-on research. Round our Rudnik's list--and entertain your young shoppers as you hunt for yet another holiday baking ingredient--with a months'-long pasta hunt. 

First, have your kids take inventory of the shapes already in your pantry. Ask them to guess how many new shapes they can find over the next two months. If your family normally sticks to 1-2 shapes, they'll be in for a surprise. The game's more fun if you build your own list as you go. But if you need a little inspiration, here are the shapes from Rudnik's canon. On your next grocery trip, send the kids to the pasta aisle to hunt for a new shape. 

Pasta is generally fantastically inexpensive, but you may find it helpful to set a price tag on your search. The more you're willing to spend, the more shapes you're likely to collect. In the Midwest, a $4 per pound rule will let you buy reasonably high-quality and varied pastas, but in other areas you may need to negotiate a higher per pound price to ensure a broad collection. 

At the higher price points, you have a great opportunity to teach your kids to be savvy shoppers. Many of the higher-quality Italian imports (which tend to be carry higher price tags) are sold in 500 gram packages, so your kids will need to do a little calculation to compare the prices for those pastas to their American counterparts. 

If you're having trouble building your collection, think outside your grocery stores. If you're lucky enough to live near an Eataly, you'll find all sorts of shapes and flavors you haven't seen before. If not, Williams-Sonoma is a good bet for gourmet pastas. And if you're willing to buy in bulk, Amazon is a great source for some Italian imports, including Donne del Grano and Rustichella d'Abruzzo, as well as many Barilla shapes that are hard to find locally. 

Once you've amassed a good collection, you can begin the real fun: tasting. This is when your kids' preference for sauce-free noodles will actually help them. In his advice to pasta novices, Zingerman's Ari Weinzweig actually encourages the plain pasta approach taken by so many kids:

How do you know if a pasta meets the above qualifications? Cook up some pasta and eat it on its own. At most, add a drop or two of extra virgin olive oil or a tad bit of butter. Though nearly naked, good pasta should taste good. The flavor of the wheat should come through. It ought to make you want to dig your fork in for another bite, and then another.

That water, by the way, should be salted, as the salt will help accent the flavor of good pastas. 

If your kids are savvy social media users, have them photograph their collection and share their own reviews and rankings. (and share them with us!) But prepare them for controversy, as there's no fury like a pasta-lover scorned

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