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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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.

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Caitlin is a Mallorca-based writer. 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 Mina, Nerua and Septime. Caitlin is currently working on her first memoir about working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Bilbao.

146 Comments

E November 18, 2020
I use farfalle in a very un-Italian way - in a Cajun pasta dish with shrimp. To me the worst pasta shape is strozzapreti or Casarecce. It just never looks that appealing.
 
Linda B. November 15, 2020
I make farfalle the way described, sometimes using pancetta instead, I likes your description of the way the color of the reduced cream changes. I also do a smoked salmon, cream, lemon zest and a bit of dill or fennel tops. Yummy and so fast.
 
Katherine July 22, 2020
This was really interesting, primarily because I have been interested in different food traditions for years. I know nothing about Ashkenazi traditions. Now I am curious!
 
Rosalind P. July 20, 2020
An interesting side note, having nothing to do with whether or not you hate any form of pasta (not me; hands down, first choice for eating, any shape). "Farfalle" is a word in italian that means "butterfly", which, of course, the pasta resembles. But there is a Yiddish word for a tiny nugget shaped pasta -- "farfel" -- and I thought that somehow they were related, and wouldn't that be cool. But not so. "Farfel" is from an old German word, "varveln" -- Yiddish is a German-based language. But when it comes to the eating, 'farfalle" does snuggle easily into Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine as the sturdy companion to the earthy kasha. Was this a new world invention? Who knows?
 
Matt H. July 20, 2020
If you have a box of farfalle and you're not immediately making kasha varnishkes, I don't know if I can trust you.
 
Rosalind P. July 20, 2020
When this article was published -- September, 2019, BCP -- I made essentially the same comment (and mentioned the "farfalle" that were used in my home with the kasha -- Goodman's Bow Ties). So, voting with you!
 
Nirvana.Klein July 20, 2020
This statement makes me so happy in these uncertain times.
 
Katherine July 5, 2020
I can't believe I am still catching this thread. It is truly remarkable. Has there ever been such a thread before for an "amazing achievement" dish? Guess I get a thrill out of fabulous and novel food I've never seen or tasted before. However, I do enjoy the back and forth. I guess everything has a place.
 
Corinne July 3, 2020
I love preparing Farfalle with pesto sauce.
 
Pugwoman July 3, 2020
Great points about Farfalle! The absolute worst pasta, IMHO, is the rotelle, in "wagon wheel" shape. But I'll never refuse it if it's the only one there.;)
 
Kevin B. July 3, 2020
My least favorite is penne. I avoid cooking with it, mainly because I feel the shape is wrong for the food it’s paired with. I live Puttanesca, yet use spaghetti or linguine when I cook that sauce.
 
Martijn S. June 28, 2020
my least favorite is spaghetti, i havent eaten spaghetti in years, its useless with most sauces, except the most liquid ones, like vongole, or plain tomato sauce. Farfalle are fine, they aren't a particularly good fit for any sauce, but way better than Spaghetti.
 
Katherine November 16, 2020
Gee, have you forgotten the wonderful childhood skill of slurping? You can't possibly slurp farfalle! But you can make a glorious mess with spaghetti. And don't forget the wonderful mouth feel of strings of spaghetti well wrapped around your fork. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Is it superb sauce or the perfectly rolled noodles just filling your mouth with....I don't know what. Just glorious. See, I'm not even thinking about the sauce. You can't possibly have such experiences with the little butterfly noodle. Now mind you, before I read the first response about the farfalle pasta, I never even thought about my spaghetti polonaise. (Not sure about the spelling, just too lazy to find my dictionary and look it it. But you get the gist.) Do practice making perfect firm little rolls of spaghetti with your spoon and fork (Just your fork if you're really good) and pop it into your mouth. You will never give up spaghetti again. Actually, you might regret all those lost years.
 
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!
 
Katherine November 16, 2020
Pinto beans are not boring!
 
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.
 
Author Comment
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.
 
SweetiePetitti November 15, 2020
As I was scrolling through comments, I had to look at your name because I was certain it was a relative of mine! Everything you said....Chicago, no spaghetti, only mostaccioli!!
 
Katherine November 16, 2020
I'm from La Grange Park, Ill. and my husband (last name Bicicchi) is from Cicero and Berwyn Illinois. Love Mostaccioli. Had no thought about Mostaccioli as a kid. Didn't know it existed. My big thing was corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's day - some times in the church hall basement. Oh, but the way, I love both spaghetti and mostaccioli. The latter was very mysterious and wonderful when I first encountered it. On the other hand, my hubby saw me mixing spaghetti into the sauce in a frying pan and still laughs at me when he recalls it. Not often though. His family only likes mostaccioli. People are definitely interesting.
 
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.
 
Martijn S. June 28, 2020
or troffie, strozapretti.
 
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...