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:
“Favorite farfalle dish: remove a good mild sausage from its casing and brown well, mix with al dente farfalle while still warm. Deglaze pan with a little white wine, add more oil and lightly saute long strips of collard greens with an almost equal portion of widely sliced leeks until they are just cooked through but still bright. Add to the pasta and sausage, toss well, season with more oil if needed, salt and pepper, and that's all. Except maybe a nice pile of fresh grated reggiano on top...”
— Cookie
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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. She wrote about food and wine while living in Madrid after college, and had a brief career as a lawyer before moving back to Spain to work in restaurants and attend culinary courses at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. She has worked or staged at Septime in Paris, Mina and Nerua in Bilbao, and Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. In 2018, she and her husband launched a pop-up sandwich shop in Mallorca, Spain. Caitlin now lives in an ovenless apartment in the 9th arrondissement with her husband, Guillaume, and daughter, Mimi. Update: we have an oven now.

125 Comments

Kelsey L. May 24, 2020
Farfalle is a pasta type that I love. About a decade ago, I used my hand-crank pasta machine, a ruler, a regular pizza cutter, and a zigzag cutter and made my own. Macaroni is pasta that I do not like.
 
JEAN G. April 2, 2020
YAY!!! I had a lot of fun and laughs reading mostly all the comments!!! But, you know what I enjoyed most? That not one of the comments were negative to anyone, and, that is a GREAT plus!!! It is sooo nice when everyone can enjoy reading each other's comments without feeling put out by anyone!!! Congratulations to one and all!!! It is a grand feeling!!! CONGRATULATIONS FOOD52!! Keep up your marvellous work!!!
 
Cookie April 2, 2020
Given the comments, it appears time to to change the title of this article. What's next? "Pinto Beans are Absolutely the Most Boring Bean," "Russets are Positively the Most Useless Potato," "Basmati is the Most Outrageously Overrated Rice" -- ?? And P.S, kasha varnishkas is a culturally important, much venerated ethnic food. It's uncool, to put it mildly, to call the main ingredient the "worst pasta shape." At least the comments turn the article into comedy, LOL.
 
jane F. April 2, 2020
I love your comments! That has been a great conversation! Thanks, Caitlin for posting this article. and getting the conversation going!
 
Marla S. April 2, 2020
I love it. I am Jewish and grow up eating it with kasha, onions, peas or string beans with brown gravy. Kasha Varnishes
Just made it last night. The best comfort food.
 
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Caitlin R. April 2, 2020
Since writing this, many people have mentioned kasha varnishes and I'm dying to try them! Good project for now.
 
Rosalind P. April 2, 2020
In the compartments of my childhood brain, there was spaghetti (way before anyone heard of "pasta" although my Italian playmates used the generic word "macaroni"). Period. Bowties were made by a Jewish food company, Goodman's (still are). Bowties and spaghetti never appeared in my mind together. I now use every form of "pasta" I can find for mostly, but not always, Italian cooking, but bowties ONLY for kasha varnishkes. Food 52 brings the world together.
 
Patty R. March 15, 2020
Don’t like Angel Hair pasta, the thinner, the worse for me. I do like a good linguine with clams, and I make farfalle with a creamy tomato sauce, chunks of tomato and fresh cooked salmon chunked, baked in the oven so it comes together beautifully. Elbow to the nth degree, cellentani, makes a great mac’n cheese bake. Papardelle is yummy with steak, mushrooms, and a mushroom sauce, like heaven, lick the bowl clean good.
 
Katherine December 30, 2019
I have no very profound thoughts other than, having married into an Italian family (immigrants and first generation, Chicago) and also travelled in Italy a little. But all the Italians I've met seem rather passionate about what they use with a given pasta. My father-in-law wouldn't eat spaghetti because all he got during WWII (as a child) was spaghetti. So my husband's family was a mostaccioli family. However, as we moved along I found out that certain regions favored certain pastas, and that each shape was used with specific sauces. Also, that these rules were practically in stone, as is most of the regional cooking. So I try to learn what goes with what but it's somewhat beyond me. I will try this pasta as described in this article, because I've generally used the farfalle with cold salads and not cared for it too much. Thanks for the idea. I've had a box for a while that doesn't seem to want to get used!
 
Patty R. March 15, 2020
Mostaccioli takes me back to my Chicago roots. Penne to everyone else. I used to make it layered like lasagna. So gooood.......
 
Katherine April 2, 2020
My husband's favorite pasta is mostaccioli, no matter what the circumstance. Not ziti, mostaccioli. He tells me Italians are rather passionate about these things. However, I adore the finer spaghetti type pastas - the finer the better. I love to twirl it and roll it around in my mouth and enjoy the textures. However I had to be married for a while before I was willing to buck his tide. So glad he's finally beginning to realize all pasta pretty much tastes the same. But I did have to teach him how to twirl it. Go figure. I'm Irish and French.
 
Alexis A. November 13, 2019
For me, I think some of these not-well-liked pasta shapes are better suited to "cold" recipes. Farfalle, wagon wheels, radiatori...i'm not overly fond of them in hot dishes, but they are great and provide nice structure in pasta based cold salads.
 
cassiem March 15, 2020
wheels are awesome with pesto!! and a little fresh cherry tomatoes added in.
 
David H. November 11, 2019
I love this discussion. Very entertaining. For me the worst pasta shape is, drum roll please, elbow macaroni. I’ve never like Kraft Macaroni & Cheese so I’m sorry to offend the inner child in all of you defenders. I’ve never bought elbow macaroni and I never will. It’s the worst pasta shape in the history of pasta shapes.
 
Janet V. November 11, 2019
Elaine...teacher comment of which I would have written the same .Thanks.
 
Cookie November 11, 2019
Farfalle is the best shape for pasta recipes calling for leafy greens: a chiffonade of collards, radiccio, chard, etc. will stick nicely to the flat surface of the "bow tie." This allows the long strips of greens to mix in evenly and well. Favorite farfalle dish: remove a good mild sausage from its casing and brown well, mix with al dente farfalle while still warm. Deglaze pan with a little white wine, add more oil and lightly saute long strips of collard greens with an almost equal portion of widely sliced leeks until they are just cooked through but still bright. Add to the pasta and sausage, toss well, season with more oil if needed, salt and pepper, and that's all. Except maybe a nice pile of fresh grated reggiano on top...
 
Nirvana.Klein November 10, 2019
I am an extremely non-squeamish eater. I like slimy things, ocean creatures, organ meat, etc. In spite of all that, I absolutely cannot handle orecchiette. It looks like what is removed at a bris. Looking at a bowl of it flapping around in sauce turns my stomach.
 
Jeanette F. November 10, 2019
That is hilarious. Thank you. I needed a good laugh.
 
Andrew C. November 9, 2019
Rotelle, aka 'wagon wheels'. Look: they're the old-world equivalent of Kraft pasta 'n cheese shaped like Minions or sharks or licensed Disney characters or whatever. I think they made them Because We Can, probably on a bet, and there was a bunch of Chianti involved.

I don't think they actually really enhance any particular sauce or accompaniment, at least not more than another shape right? (Although...now that I'm getting my hackles up...dangit...I'm wondering whether it might not actually make some sense in terms of creating the right ratio of space-to-pasta, plus chomp-feel.... shoot. Gonna have to go experiment. Sigh, sacrifices, sacrifices. (Any suggestions? A little help, here?) >;-)
 
Matt H. November 10, 2019
Likewise. No matter if it's rotelle, raquette, or a branded character shaped pasta; those flat intricate shapes just don't cook up right. I've never been able to get them to be al dente in the centre without being mushy on the outside.
 
cassiem March 15, 2020
but sometimes that's the cool thing
 
Cathy W. November 9, 2019
Many years ago the local grocery store used to carry a dried and seasoned pasta at a snack station that was set up like a salad bar. These were absolutely amazing. The Farfalle shape was my favorite! If I could find the recipe I would make them myself so that I had plenty on hand. I have not seen these since the 90's. So sad. :(
 
Nicole S. November 9, 2019
I love farfalle with pesto and lots of fresh grated parm
 
Jeanette F. November 9, 2019
Kasha Varnishkes require farfalle. If you never heard of it, look it up. It's a bonafide Jewish comfort food and it's delicious. The recipe is on every box of buckwheat groats in the supermarkets. No tomato sauce. Onions, mushrooms, seasonings. YUMMY FOR THE TUMMY.
 
Jeanette F. November 9, 2019
I don't use schmaltz. You can use butter or olive oil instead. Here'a a NYT recipe.
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015727-kasha-varnishkes
 
Rosalind P. November 9, 2019
neutral oil ...canola best
 
Veronika B. November 9, 2019
I first fell in love with farfalle when I substituted it in in a chicken scampi Olive Garden meal (before they stopped serving it- but angel hair is my least fave, easy!) now I like getting the mini farfelle so it’s easier for my kids to eat, and it probably cooks better too. I love it any way, but also especially in pasta salads!
 
Patty R. March 15, 2020
I like the mini too! Works better in salads, and things that need uniform size.
 
Medusa November 9, 2019
I just never liked it. Perhaps it was the way it was cooked and the sauce. I am going to try the recipe in the article and some of the others shared. Who knows, I may actually like it. Okay, I will surely like the sauces instead.
 
Michael S. November 9, 2019
A timer a waste of space? Wow. Do you believe in thermometers?
 
Matt H. November 10, 2019
Ask that question to any person cooking in a Paris apartment kitchen and try not to die from their laughter at you.
 
Roguet November 9, 2019
Living in Luxembourg about 20 years ago a friend made a similar recipe, but instead of peas she used Kiwi. So strange but the flavor was amazing. That is the only way I have enjoyed Farfalle.
 
Mari O. November 9, 2019
Mini farfalle makes much better pasta salad than shells or macaroni; with dill pickle, onion, a little prepared mustard, lightly cooked classic frozen mixed veggies & choice of diced ham, spam, or cheese. Heavy dressing of mayo & sour cream.