Nowhere is the playful side of the Italian character better illustrated than in the myriad shapes of dried pasta offered by commercial manufacturers. There are literally hundreds. Where else but in Italy would you eat food that looks like little radiators (radiatori) and cork-screws (fusilli), thimbles (ditali) and shells (conchiglie), bow ties (farfalle) and little ears (orecchiette), wheels (ruote) and rice or barley (orzo)! Often the same shape appears in several sizes (the smaller often ends in ini or etti, which are diminutives). For example, ditali are tubes about 1/2 inch long; ditalini are shorter. The same shape may be called one thing in one region and another elsewhere. One name can even be applied to more than one shape! Confusing, yes. A problem, not at all. Most shapes are interchangeable.
Dried shaped pasta complements sauces with large pieces of vegetables, similar in size to the pasta. Shells, spirals, and rigatoni go with meaty sauces because their indentations trap bits of ingredients. Small shells, elbow macaroni, and tubular ditali are good in soups.
Adding Pasta to Boiling Broth
Bring a large pot of flavorful broth to a rolling boil. Add pasta to the broth gradually, so that it keeps boiling. The pasta will absorb much of the cooking liquid, so be sure to use a generous amount of broth.