The Easiest Way to Improve Any Pasta Dish, According to Ina Garten

Why haven't we tried this before?

February 15, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

I make pasta at least once a week, so I thought I knew all the tricks: Cook until al dente (toothsome, not tender). Salt the water lavishly (I estimate a heaping tablespoon of salt per quart of water). And use a small amount of water for the best pan sauce (looking at you, aglio e olio).

But, then I binge-read Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Cook Like a Pro, learned a game-changing trick—and it just happened to be easiest of all: Use different pasta shapes in the same dish.

“I love using two different kinds of pasta,” Ina writes, “not only because they add great texture but because you use up the leftover boxes of pasta in your pantry.”

To put it lightly, my pantry has a lot of leftover boxes of pasta. Penne. Rigatoni. Fusilli. Cavatappi. Spaghetti. Why did I never think to combine them? Maybe because no recipe had ever given me permission. But, if Ina’s doing it—I want to be doing it.

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Top Comment:
“I have been mixing pasta shapes for ages, always roundish (such as penne and spiral) or roundish with farfalle, not long pasta. I try to keep a reasonable balance so that it's not mostly one thing and a little of another, which looks like leftovers. I often use 3 or 4 types, not just 2. I do this mostly for baked pastas such as Mac and cheese or baked pasta with tomato sauce to which I might add baby spinach, peas, chopped mushrooms, chopped zucchini, chopped chicken sausage (not all at once). ”
— margaret S.

She showcases this trick in her Baked Pasta With Tomatoes & Eggplant, which calls for penne rigate and fusilli. So, two short shapes: one tubular, the other twirly.

There are no rules to mixing and matching pasta shapes. Just follow this general idea: Combine short shapes with other short shapes, and long shapes with other long shapes. And who’s to stop you from combining three, or even four, different types? Whatever the original recipe calls for, just add in one or more new shapes.

How easy was that?

Penne + Fusilli

Rigatoni + Cavatappi

Spaghetti + Fettucine

Orecchiette + Farfalle

Have you ever mixed and matched pasta shapes before? Tell us which ones in the comments!

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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.


Pat F. March 2, 2019
I often do this for pasta salad--bowties and rotini or similar. I haven't done it with the long, spaghetti-type pastas.
Vivienne March 1, 2019
I have combined different pasta shapes/types together in the past. But it was a while back when I needed more pasta than I had in any one box. Put the type that must cook longer in the pot first and set the timer to remind you to put in the second type. I had forgotten how much I liked the result and will do it again soon by choice, not necessity.
Atara March 1, 2019
I do the same thing when I find several opened boxes of pasta in the pantry. The trick is the cooking times. You start with the longest cooking one and add others for their appropriate cooking times.
RisenWell March 1, 2019
Not sure that this constitutes an "improvement"....more a common-sense approach to your larder. The pasta,no matter its shape, is going to taste the same , given the same sauce,etc.
Rosemarie February 28, 2019
This is a typical way Italians used whatever was in their pantry. My Grandmother, Mother and I do it. Specifically for lentils, beans or potatoes with pasta. So well known that Barilla sells a mixed pasta!
m H. March 1, 2019
I didn't know about Barilla's mixed pasta. Thanks.
Lori1266 February 28, 2019
All the time! Saves running to the store and it's all pasta. Sometimes I will start the larger ones first, then add smaller shapes later so that they cook at the same time.
MiaChae February 28, 2019
In Italy this is called Pasta Misto (mixed). You can buy it in any market there. It’s my favorite in pasta fagiole!
Doris A. February 28, 2019
I've been combining rotini (my favorite, as it holds lots of yummy sauce!) and spaghetti, which my husband prefers, for the last few years. It may be a bit tricky to separate after cooking, but we each end up with (mostly) our favorite form of pasta. When making baked pasta (mac & cheese, tuna & 'noodles'), I combine shells & elbow macaroni, 'just because'.
NS February 28, 2019
I have done this for a long time with short dried pasta shapes - in order to have part whole wheat and part white pasta. Most times using all whole wheat is very noticeable, but 1/2 and 1/2 slides under the radar. Yes, of course I pay attention to cooking time.
foodyjudy February 28, 2019
I do this all the time. I just put the pasta in the water at different times according to direction on package..I, too, always have partial boxes of pasta..Glad to get the reinforcement though.
Andrew W. March 1, 2019
THANK YOU! I'm obviously a little slow, because I couldn't figure out how I was going to cook both properly when they have different cooking times.
margaret S. February 28, 2019
I have been mixing pasta shapes for ages, always roundish (such as penne and spiral) or roundish with farfalle, not long pasta. I try to keep a reasonable balance so that it's not mostly one thing and a little of another, which looks like leftovers. I often use 3 or 4 types, not just 2. I do this mostly for baked pastas such as Mac and cheese or baked pasta with tomato sauce to which I might add baby spinach, peas, chopped mushrooms, chopped zucchini, chopped chicken sausage (not all at once).
John H. February 28, 2019
Is Ina still putting olive oil in the pasta water? Does she still think that fresh oregano is “too strong”? A few of her recipes are still my go-tos (tequilla lime chicken breasts are amazing) but her Italian has been questionable. Just be careful that you have pastas with the same cooking times. And just in case this warning is not explicit in her book, do NOT combine dry and fresh pastas. Surprising how often this is tried.
Ramona W. February 28, 2019
Of course! 1/2 box of twirlies and 1/2 box of shellies left in the pantry? Throw em in there. Delicious 😋
Phoebe E. February 28, 2019
It is not a new tricks! In Italy there are several recipes that calls for using different format of pasta. The most famous is the Neapolitan pasta e fagioli. Some restaurant even serve this dish using 15 types of different pasta!
bunten February 28, 2019
Not so easy after all for the careful cook. Different shapes cook at different rates.
Madlyn C. February 28, 2019
So you add the pastas at the appropriate cooking time for that pasta. If one pasta has to cook for 10 minutes and the other 8, cook the longer cooking for two minutes before adding the 8 minute pasta. It should turn out fine.
Carole S. February 28, 2019
Also... check the cooking times.... One type may need to go in the water first, depending on the types of pasta used....
Elaine E. February 21, 2019
I have been mixing pastas for years, it's all about texture. No real rules, sometimes I wait to add a smaller pasta to a "heavier" type. I only use a scant sprinkle of salt in the water at boiling point, before I add the pasta.
mikedalena February 21, 2019
It’s my favorite way to make Mac and cheese after all orecchiette. I love a mix of ditali, orzo, orecchiette, and occasionally those little dried cheese tortellini that one would toss in a soup on a lazy winter night instead of making dumplings.
Ramona W. February 28, 2019
That sounds so good and so cozy that I want to make it right now 🤔
Lina C. February 17, 2019
Different pasta shapes have different cooking times, wow!!! Get it?
Lina C. February 17, 2019
Dear Ina, one heaping tablespoon of salt per litre of water seems like way too much. Water for boiling pasta should be salted to taste not overly salted. The pasta when cooked should not be salty, it's the sauces that add flavour to the pasta.
Gammy February 17, 2019
I feel Ina ALWAYS oversalts her savory dishes. Many professional cooks / chefs do, too, and they will all tell you that a dish is underseasoned if it isn't salty enough.
BerryBaby February 17, 2019
That's the one BIG reason we don't eat out anymore...way too much salt no matter where.
I hate feeling my fingers and toes slowly blowing up like balloons and we are barely halfway through the meal!
Margaret February 17, 2019
I never add salt to anything unless its baked and the recipe almost insists on it. I hate the taste of salt and have never added it to any pasta cooked or ready to cook and nobody has ever complained that its not salty enough. I also don't add it to any vegetables - no, not even potatoes. Yuk!
Catherine J. February 18, 2019
Not sure what Ina does but it is the author of this article that recommends the heaping tablespoon of salt per quart of water. She didn't say but I think she is probably talking about coarse kosher salt which wouldn't be as salty as using table salt.
Dana E. February 18, 2019
Agreed Lina. I'm a born and raised Italian American and we have never salted our pasta water (also due to the fact that heart disease is common in my family). If you have good quality pasta and sauce, no need to salt the water more than a dash.
Author Comment
Emma L. February 18, 2019
Hey Lina! For what it's worth, that salt-to-water ratio is my own preference—I'm not sure what Ina's preference is. Though I do find it so interesting how everyone has their own method with respect to this step in cooking pasta!
midgeb February 28, 2019
So true, even for many fine dining restaurants. And forget any of the chain restaurant dishes. For me they are so salty they are inedible, even before judging the rest of the dish.
deborahcleaver February 28, 2019
I disagree. The pasta doesn't get more sauce, and usually the salt from the sauce isn't enough. I much prefer to have the pasta perfectly salted, and the sauce perfectly salted, then combine the two. I end up using far less salt that way actually, and certainly don't have to load it with more salt or tons of cheese to get the flavor right.