Pasta

This Is, Definitively, the Worst Pasta Shape

The worst.

September 19, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

If asked: What’s your favorite type of pasta? I’d have a tough time responding.

First off, I have no authority on the subject. I'm less Italian than a slice of Sbarro baked-ziti pizza at a thruway rest stop, aka not at all. My mom, however, grew up in the Bronx, part of an Irish community that borrowed family recipes from their better-fed Italian neighbors. She makes a killer lasagna. I can guarantee there are at least two in her freezer right now, plus extra tomato sauce “just in case.”

There are also too many great pastas to choose between. I love the elegance of tagliatelle, how it flirtatiously twirls itself around the end of a fork; the lusciousness of pappardelle; the comfort of spaghetti; the stability of rigatoni (like the guy your mom wished you would date), sturdy and reliable in almost any situation.

If asked: What’s your least favorite type of pasta? For the majority of my adult life, the answer would have been simple: farfalle. By far one of the more juvenile members of the pasta family, right there alongside elbow macaroni. I would rather use it to decorate a Christmas card than waste a good sauce on it.

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Top Comment:
“Orecchiette are the worst! No matter how much water or stirring or not stirring during cooking, they stack up and try to stick together. Then when you add them to your sauce them they do it again, meaning not individually coated pieces of pasta, but a long stack of hats (or ears) that are just not that great. ”
— Giselle
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In reality, I hate wasting food—even more than I dislike farfalle. It’s a distaste shared by my husband, Guillaume. He believes, for example, that cheese never ever goes bad and can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. I mostly agree with him, but I’ll also clandestinely toss a tub of moldy cream cheese. Being French, he may know his cheese, but I know a bagel shouldn’t wear fur.

Recently, when I discovered a leftover half-kilo of farfalle in the deep recesses of our pantry, I cursed the childish little bow ties, then started thinking of how to prepare them for dinner.

“My least favorite of the pastas,” I notified the public at large (by Instagram, where else), to which my sister cheekily replied, “My kids love them! Maybe you just don’t know how to cook them.” Which was very possible.

The box recommends precisely 11 minutes of cooking time, but our Parisian kitchenette is small—so much so that our fridge sits charmingly in the narrow hallway—and a kitchen timer seems an extravagant use of space. So I do without.

Instead, I stand expectantly close to my boiling pot of salty water, stirring occasionally and watching until the ends are translucent and the center still firm. I taste one noodle to determine whether the farfalle are finished. Once they are, I sauce with a simple garlicky, olive oil–based concoction. Then, I eat them.

Like ordering a swimsuit online, farfalle always seems to disappoint.

Maybe it’s because the firmness isn’t uniform, or because the noodles do a poor job of mopping up the last remnants of sauce. I’ve just never been a fan of the farfalle.

But before I hoist my opinion on discerning readers, I figured I should ask someone more knowledgeable for their take on my forsaken farfalle.

So I call my chef friend, Davide Ciampi, a native of Puglia who’s spent the past five years cooking in reputable kitchens around Europe. We met during a stage, or cooking internship, at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Basque Country, where I would not infrequently close myself in the walk-in refrigerator and cry between crates of produce.

The name farfalle means “butterfly” in Italian, Davide tells me. Parents like to serve farfalle to children to lure them into eating less kid-friendly foods like vegetables.

“Do you like far-fall-lay?” I ask.

“It’s called il farfal in my dialect,” he begins, “and the shape doesn’t really matter because dry pasta all tastes the same. But some people don’t like farfalle because of the texture—it’s more al dente in the center.”

Maybe it’s because the firmness isn’t uniform, or because the noodles do a poor job of mopping up the last remnants of sauce. I’ve just never been a fan of the farfalle.

Feeling a touch of validation, I ask if he were to prepare farfalle, how he would do it. With prosciutto, cream and whichever fresh herbs he has on hand. And that’s prosciutto cotto, he tells me, not prosciutto crudo.

As it turns out, this prosciutto and cream combination is popular in Northern Italy, where you’ll often find it prepared with fresh peas, too. And it makes sense: A light and creamy sauce will cling to the tiny noodle nooks and edges.

I’m determined to try the pasta per Davide’s recommendation—but then Paris is overtaken by a heat wave, or canicule. As the idea of cooking with heat seems slightly masochistic, I decide to wait it out, sipping cold soups and ordering Korean takeout instead.

Once the heat breaks, I return to my rendez-vous with farfalle.

I stop by a specialty Italian food store on Rue des Martyrs to pick up prosciutto and a box of farfalle—granted, fresh would probably be better, but I’m interested in rescuing the everyday, store-bought variety—then a produce stand where I find a healthy bunch of tarragon and giant pods of fresh peas.

While I wait for my generously salted water to boil, I heat a pat of Normandy butter and some olive oil in a large pan, then finely chop a few small white onions. I cook the onions with a few pinches of crunchy salt until all are translucent and some are a little crispy, then add the peas. At this point, the water is ready for my farfalle.

Once the peas taste cooked, I add cream and fresh ground pepper. I let those come together a bit, and the cream starts to take on a toasty color from the other ingredients. Already, it’s looking and smelling very tasty. Then I add the chopped prosciutto and things get even more exciting.

Just before the farfalle is al dente, I spoon it into the pan, bringing along some starchy water, and let the noodles tumble around in the sauce while they finish cooking. I end with chopped tarragon and grated Parmesan.

The result is a velvety coating on all of the tiny butterflies, and a flavor that feels both light and rich, with a fresh punch from the tarragon.

Lesson learned: Don’t knock a pasta until you’ve prepared it using a tried and true recipe from the motherland.

This home cook still prefers other pastas—tagliatelle, you’re my main gal always. But as far as farfalle goes, it was a pretty delicious dish. If you find yourself contemplating how to use a leftover box of farfalle, I’d highly recommend it.

Farfalle, yay or nay? Let us know your least favorite pasta shape in the comments below.

Our Most Okay Farfalle Recipes

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Caitlin is a Paris-based writer and editor.

44 Comments

FrugalCat October 10, 2019
I love farfalle! What I hate is twirling, so any long pasta is the worst shape. Fettucini Alfredo? Not in my house. Rotini, penne, elbows, etc, are what you find in my kitchen.
 
Hilary October 3, 2019
I clicked on the article thinking: farfalle. I felt SO validated! But now I guess I’ll have to give it another shot, haha.
 
HarveyDent October 1, 2019
Farfalle is perfect with a creamy pesto.

I also firmly believe in mixing pastas in a single dish. With pesto I often make farfalle mixed with fusilli.
 
Lorraine C. September 30, 2019
My family is from Naples and we use them in beef soup. It holds up better as the middle is definitely al dente!
 
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Caitlin R. September 30, 2019
Ooooh interesting! Gonna try that, thank you!
 
Amanda September 29, 2019
3 words:

wagon.
wheels.
!%#).

The absolute, uncontested worst.

(I adore farfalle; they're my go-to. But I recognize the textural problems; I just kind of love the difference in one pasta shape. And I'm absolutely making this prosciutto-cream-pea pasta as soon as our current heat wave breaks!)
 
Tom M. October 1, 2019
Beat me to it. It's impossible to cook them properly. Just to get the centers to al dente means the wheel rims have turned mush. I'm only a quarter Italian, but grew up eating Italian food almost every day, and I will NEVER EVER buy wagon wheels again.
 
Hoi September 26, 2019
Dried trofie is the absolute worst. They're tapered at both ends — which means you end up with undercooked centers or woefully overcooked ends.

Fresh trofie is awesome, especially with Genovese style pesto, and especially on a hot summer's day in Liguria...but if I'm thinking about pesto in the dried pasta aisle of my supermarket, I'm reaching for linguine.
 
Dana E. September 23, 2019
Lol this is too funny - I never knew people felt so strongly about pasta shapes! I have a nostalgic soft spot for farfalle - as kids we called them "bowties" and always ate them with just melted butter and grated cheese (yum). Don't think I have any that I dislike honestly! Favorites: orecchiette (we called them "hats" in my house), linguini, rigatoni.
 
Catherine September 23, 2019
Least favourites definitely have to be angel hair and elbow macaroni... too easily overcooked to mush!
 
George September 22, 2019
Angel hair pasta (won’t touch it), penne (usable but typically there are better shapes for the purpose...), spaghetti (also usable, but what does it do that linguine can’t do better).
 
Eric K. September 23, 2019
Haha. I love linguine, too. I'm surprised more people haven't said angel hair. People HATE angel hair. I like the mushiness sometimes; it reminds me of baby food.
 
HarveyDent October 1, 2019
I prefer thin spaghetti to angel hair...

Angel hair is pretty useless
 
Annabelle September 22, 2019
Rotelle. Rotini. Elbow macaroni.
 
Maureen September 22, 2019
Penne pasta is the worst for me. Always too chewy (and I love al dente pasta), too much pasta per shape, and it never really 'plays well' with whatever sauce or ingredients it is mixed with.
 
Nancy September 23, 2019
Agree - too much pasta per piece.
 
Barbara J. September 22, 2019
For zero reasons, I dislike penne.
 
Giselle September 22, 2019
Orecchiette are the worst! No matter how much water or stirring or not stirring during cooking, they stack up and try to stick together. Then when you add them to your sauce them they do it again, meaning not individually coated pieces of pasta, but a long stack of hats (or ears) that are just not that great.
 
George September 22, 2019
I’ve had this problem with some big brands, and agree it’s the worst—not worth it. But I haven’t had that problem with hand made brands (dried or fresh), their shapes are less even and don’t stack so well and therefor don’t suction to each other.
 
jane F. September 21, 2019
I have to say I do like Farfalle, while I think it makes an attractive pasta dish, it is fun and has some whimsy. It is true it is great for kids, they can have fun with it. I have to say I do not think there is a pasta shape I do not like. To me, it adds some variety and playfulness ( again when you have kids) and it is also fun matching sauces and cheese to the shapes!
 
Nancy September 23, 2019
I find farfalle fun and useful in baked dishes that call for short pasta. Find it more compatible with sauces than elbow macaroni, even in mac and cheese.
 
Davide C. September 20, 2019
Thanks for share my opinion about farfalle. The taste of dry pasta change only from the brand, the most famous brand in Italy is : Barilla and De cecco. I really like them. About the texture is important for the combination of sauce. My favorite pasta is orecchiette with cime di rapa, kind of 'top of broccoli' from Puglia, difficult to find other places in the world with the same taste. You may write another article about it xD
Anyway fresh orecchiette, we never use butter in the South, only fresh olive oil!
Enjoy!!
 
Katherine S. September 20, 2019
Radiatori is my absolute favorite. There's just something about them. The little waves and curls... They hold the sauce and you can even catch a chunky bit of sauce in them. You get the best of the shell and rotini combined. Cavatappi is also fun.

I think Farfalle has its place. As a kid, I always enjoyed the little bows. I agree they need a thinner sauce that just coats them though. They don't really hold onto much.
 
SamForman September 20, 2019
Have you ever considered that this is actualy the greatest noodle ever? How much money is BIG LINGUINE paying you? I'll double it.
 
ImdaPrincesse September 20, 2019
Oh my goodness.. Just toss it with homemade pesto and some fresh cooked salmon or chicken.
 
Lawrence H. September 20, 2019
Fusilli lavoro di diablo don't yeah know even bisnona hates it
 
Failla525 September 20, 2019
http://mediterranealicious.com/2013/11/07/farfalle-al-salmone-pasta-with-salmon/

This is not the same recipe we make but very similar. Ours uses fresh salmon and not smoked.

Everyone wants this recipe when we've made it for them!!!

I don't have the cookbook in front of me but it's all Italian pasta dishes. Older book.

So good! Enjoy!
 
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Caitlin R. September 20, 2019
Thank you for sharing ! I think a strong, oily fish could help rescue this maligned noodle, too.
 
Eric K. September 20, 2019
Yum. Thanks for sharing.