What Is The World's Smallest Pasta Shape?
Clocking in at well under 2mm wide and weighing a measly 0.0057g per piece, tempestine is the smallest pasta shape in the world.
If you ever see the word "pastina" used on a menu, it's telling you that your dish (which will almost certainly be a soup or a salad) will contain some very small pasta shapes.
Here in the UK, we're not particular au-fait with this style of pasta. The smallest shape that most of us find in our local supermarket is orzo, a real oddity that looks like a rather like an overweight grain of rice. As it turns out though, there are numerous far smaller pasta shapes out there that we tracked down on our adventures in Sardinia.
Any shape that has a diameter of 2mm or less is considered a "pastina". These tiny pasta shapes are designed to add body and texture to soups, salads and stews rather than be served with a sauce like you would with fusilli, penne, spaghetti and all the other most popular pasta shapes.
On a recent road trip around Sardinia, we set ourselves the task of finding the smallest pasta shape on earth. We came home with a couple of dozen contenders, all of which put the UK's offerings to shame in the skinny supermodel department. Here, we're counting them down from 20 to 1.
The grasses that grow in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy are the inspiration for this twisty little shape. You'll almost always find it served with Italian pork sausage in a typical Bologna dish called Gramigna alla salsiccia.
Most Brits will be familiar with farfalle pasta, although may know it as butterfly or bowtie pasta. Many don't know that there is a larger version of the shape (farfallone), a ridged version (farfalle rigate) and this much smaller version called farfalline.
You'll find an annoying number of names for this oddball of a shape, although Tesco markets it as "soup pasta" to ensure consumers don't just assume that it should be served with a sauce like most of the pasta we all usually enjoy.
The Sardinians love their gnocchi and this shape hails from the north of the country where it regularly makes its way into salads and side dishes.
16.) Ditali Lisci
We can't pretend to be fans of tube shapes, and ditali lisci from Campania in south-west Italy hasn't won us over yet either.
15.) Le Samueline
This unusual, gluten-free, sinuous pasta shape is made from corn flour, rice flour and water.
You don't need to be Coleen Rooney to work out that this shape bears more than a passing resemblance to risotto. In fact, many people reckon it's even better than arborio rice, providing you cook it in the same way by adding the cooking liquid in stages.
13.) Fregola Grossa
Pasta producers go to great lengths to ensure their shapes are consistent sizes so that they cook evenly. This style of fregola is therefore an extremely unusual pasta shape because the size and shape of the pieces varies widely. On a good day it can make for an interesting eat because every mouthful is different. On a bad day though, you run the risk of some pieces being overcooked and some undercooked. Risk it at your peril.
Often called gnocchetti sardi, this is one of Sardinia's most famous shapes which they love to serve in a tomato and sausage ragù with saffron and pecorino.
11.) Ditalini Rigati
This dainty little shape takes its inspiration from a thimble and has ridged edges which makes it equally as comfortable clinging onto sauces as it is at adding body and flavours to soups and broths.
This egg-based pasta is so small that it cooks in under 5 minutes. Like every other shape on this list, it should be watched like a hawk because if you leave it boiling for a few seconds too long, it will turn mushy.
This tiny hoop shape is the much smaller cousin of the more well-known anelli and is based on the Italian word anello meaning "a ring". There is no better use for it than the brilliant dish Anellini al Forno where it is paired with sausage, fennel, and aubergine.
8.) Fregola Sarda
You can hardly turn a corner in Sardinia without seeing fregola for sale. You'd be forgiven for thinking it is couscous but it's actually a semolina pasta shape with a nutty flavour from being sun-dried and toasted. The most unusual thing about it is that because it has been toasted, each piece has a slightly different colour, ranging from light yellow to dark brown.
Literally meaning "little stars", kids love this shape more than any other on this list and it offers a great way to introduce them to a lifetime of eating and enjoying pasta.
This is the little brother of the far better known risoni. It's so small that we are starting to get into the "what's the point?" territory (and we still have five more shapes to go).
Designed to remind you of little fruit seeds, this shape is normally used to add body to broths and consommés.
4.) Pepe Bucato
This is the smallest hoop shaped pasta to make our list and is another one that kids seem to love. The shape offers a great way to get children into soups, and that's not always an easy task.
Traditionally this tiny square shaped pasta was made from the offcuts from the production of filled pasta where there are always plenty of leftovers. It is versatile enough to be added to everything from crystal clear broths to thick and creamy soups.
Barely larger than a sesame seed, Tempestine pasta shapes are ideal to enrich both vegetable and meat soups.
1.) Tempestine all'uovo
The smallest pasta shape we found in the whole of Sardinia is an egg version of the traditional flour and water tempestine and sold by one of the island's biggest supermarket chains, Conrad.
This shape is so ridiculously small that to weigh it we had to dust off our most expensive digital scales, ones that can measure in units of 0.001g and are used mainly by diamond merchants, chemists, and drug dealers. It took 10 pieces of tempestine before we could be confident that that average weight of a single piece is a miniscule 0.0057g.
Of course, smart alecs will argue that you could simply chop a piece of tempestine in half and create an even smaller shape. That's true, and it's why we never get drawn into the age-old question of "how many pasta shapes are there?" because the answer is literally infinite.