What Are The Most Traditional Pasta Shapes To Serve With Pesto?

The most traditional and authentic pasta shapes to serve with pesto

The world of pasta is fascinating and infuriating in equal measure. Local dialects, nicknames, household traditions, and infinite nuances explain why, despite some valiant efforts, it's been unfathomably hard for anyone to chart every single shape that exists. With the rise of 3D-printed pasta, the doors of possibility to chart every shape have been firmly and forever closed.

What we know for certain, though, is that there are three shapes of pasta which came to prominence around the same time as pesto which are irrefutably the most traditional and most authentic shapes to pair with pesto.

We've provided a potted history of trofie, trenette, and silk handkerchiefs below, but remember what we said about pasta being infuriating? Some would argue that the list should be increased to include picagge, gnocchi, and croxetti too.

But let's not split hairs. The fact is, most of these shapes are a nightmare to get hold of in the UK (unless you import them), but we rather like that as it just adds to their mystique. It also means that if you're determined to try these pasta-pesto pairings, you're going to have to roll your sleeves up and make them yourself, which is perfectly fine with us.

Some say that trofie (and its smaller cousin, trofiette) was invented by accident when a pasta maker in the Ligurian seaside town of Recco rubbed her hands together after kneading dough for hours. She rather liked the little twisted shapes that fell on the table in front of her, and a new pasta shape was born.

Made from nothing more than flour, water, and a little salt, some people regard trofie as a simple shape to make, while others think it's one of the hardest. We side on the latter because, while it's easy to make a passable trofie, making a seriously good one is something we still haven't mastered despite untold hours of trying.

Trofie pasta - a traditional shape to serve with pesto

Nothing has done more to bring Trenette al Pesto into the spotlight than Disney-Pixar's smash hit Luca, where it makes no fewer than four guest appearances. It's a shape that's virtually impossible to track down in the UK, but use tagliatelle as a substitute, and you'll go some way towards replicating the real deal.

Trenette pasta, a great accompaniment to pesto

If any style of pasta smacks of arrogance and wealth, then croxetti is it. It takes a certain kind of narcissist to stamp their family's coat of arms on their food and then gleefully watch their dinner guests envelop it.

Which is unfortunate, because croxetti (also called corzetti) doesn't just look great; but sauces like pesto stick to it brilliantly. It's a real joy to eat, and it's a shape we regularly turn to when looking to pair our pesto with an unusual shape.

Croxtti pasta for pesto

Silk handkerchiefs
We've learned the hard way to not get into discussions with Italian chefs about whether basil is native to India or whether pasta was invented in China. There's no denying, however, that plenty of pasta names are inspired by countries and cultures a long way from Italy.

Silk handkerchief's Ligurian name, mandilli, is based on mandil, the Arabic word for a handkerchief. That's no great surprise when you think that Genoa was once the most important and powerful port in the whole of the Mediterranean, with silk being one of its most profitable trading commodities.

Roughly translating as "cotton ribbons" in Genovese dialect, picagge gets its name from the ribbons that dressmakers traditionally used for decorative flourishes.

Nicknamed "Ligurian lasagne," picagge (which you may also find spelled piccagge or picaje) is an essentially short, medium-thick pappardelle. Often coloured green with the inclusion of borage, you may also find it made with chestnut flour, which provides a wonderfully decadent, nutty taste.

This is the easiest of all the Ligurian shapes to find in supermarkets, yet it is the most poorly executed of all. We've counted over 15 ingredients in some supermarket gnocchi, including potassium sorbate, diglycerides, and acidity regulators. Yuk! The truth is, if you want top-quality gnocchi, you will have to make it yourself, which really is no great hardship as it's a thoroughly enjoyable way to while away 60 minutes in the kitchen.

Further reading
While these shapes are undoubtedly the most traditional and authentic shapes to pair with pesto, don't let tradition hold you back. We've already written at length about what we think are the best shapes to pair with pesto, but even that list is only the start of the journey.

Is 3D-printed pasta the future?
With 3D printing starting to gain traction in the food industry, we predict an avalanche of new pasta shapes will hit the market in the coming years. This technology enables chefs to produce shapes that simply cannot be made by hand or traditional machinery. So, while we love giving a nod to the past, we also can't wait to see someone create a shape that is an even better match for pesto than anything that came before it.