What is Elbow Pasta?

Dan Cavallari

Italian meals often revolve around the pasta dish, which is generally any type of pasta coated with a tomato-based or other type of sauce. A myriad of pasta varieties exist, but one popular variety is elbow pasta. This small noodle is cylindrical and is shaped like a half-moon, or an elbow. Because elbow pasta is small and cooks quickly, it is a good choice as a side dish, or as a complement to soups, casseroles, and some easy-to-make American dishes.

Macaroni and cheese is a popular American dish.
Macaroni and cheese is a popular American dish.

Like many other varieties of pasta, elbow pasta is fashioned from an unleavened dough made from wheat, flower, and water. Sometimes egg is added to the mixture, but pastas made with egg does not keep as long as pastas without. Elbow pasta is a common choice for the dish known as macaroni and cheese, which is, as its name implies, simply elbow pasta cooked and coated with cheese or cheese flavoring. Instant macaroni and cheese is a popular low-cost, easy to prepare dish that is often made with an artificial cheese powder that coats the pasta when combined with water, milk, and/or butter.

Elbow pasta can be tossed with chopped tomatoes and basil for a simple summer lunch.
Elbow pasta can be tossed with chopped tomatoes and basil for a simple summer lunch.

Pasta is usually cooked by boiling. The noodle must be softened from its dry state to be edible, though raw pasta is safe if consumed without cooking. After the pasta is boiled, it can also be baked. Elbow pasta is a common choice for casseroles, in which the elbow pasta is first boiled, then added to an oven-safe dish with a sauce, cheeses, and other ingredients. When the dish is baked, the cheese melts on the top of the pasta and the rest of the dish is heated through, creating a casserole that is both easy to make and quite tasty if prepared correctly. Ziti, penne, and other smaller noodles can also be used for casseroles. Other pastas that are commonly baked are lasagna, ziti, and shells.

While elbow pasta can be used for soups, it is more common to see other types of macaroni used in this application. Shells are a common choice, as are ditalini, which are small tubes just like elbows, except ditalini have no crook in them. They are simply tiny tubes; when they are cooked in soup, they tend to thicken and enlarge, but they are still small enough to be convenient for a spoon. Other choices for soups are pastine, which are even smaller than ditalini, and sometimes even smaller versions of penne.

Some recipes for macaroni and cheese call for smoked Gouda or another flavorful cheese.
Some recipes for macaroni and cheese call for smoked Gouda or another flavorful cheese.

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Discussion Comments


@lonelygod - When I am at home alone I love to make elbow macaroni pasta because it is so quick and easy. I have been pretty experimental in the past so I have added tons of things to my elbow pasta dishes just to see how they would taste.

My favorite thing to do with elbow pasta is to add a sauce made of fresh tomatoes, basil and oregano. I just boil the ingredients together for about 30 minutes and it comes out tasting divine. If I need to I will also add some salt and pepper.

Elbow pasta is a great dish to make if you need a pasta that works well with pretty much any topping or sauce.


When I am making my own version of Hamburger Helper I like to use elbow pasta with a rich beef spaghetti sauce. To make things a bit healthier I usually make sure to toss in some cooked eggplant and tomatoes, which add a little extra something to what is usually a discount meal.

Does anyone else have any other things like like to add to their elbow pasta to make a special dish?

Another thing I like to add to my elbow pasta is another kind of pasta, like fusilli. The cooking times are very similar so you can get a uniform finish to your meal. Plus, the mix of shapes makes for great texture and visual interest.


I think that elbow pasta has to be one of my favorite pasta! I am a little funny with my pasta to sauce ratio, and I feel with elbow pasta you can get one of the best pasta to sauce ratios! This is because you can eat it with a spoon so you can spoon the right amount of sauce on top of it.

I probably like it as well because it makes me think of my Grandmother's cooking. Where I grew up we put pasta with our chili, and instead of using spaghetti, my Grandma loved to use elbow pasta, which is probably where I learned that eating pasta with a spoon is a good idea!


I love adding nutrients to elbow pasta by throwing a few vegetables into the pot as it boils. My husband normally won’t eat zucchini and carrots, but if I prepare them in pasta, he doesn’t even notice he’s eating them.

I use a vegetable peeler to cut the veggies into long, thin ribbons. I wait until the elbow pasta has boiled for about five minutes before I add the ribbons, because they will fall apart if boiled for too long. Five more minutes is plenty of time for them to warm up and soak up some moisture.

I add salt and pepper once the veggies are in the mix. I put some butter into two bowls, and then I dump the food on top. I stir it up until the butter has melted and coated everything.


I used to eat elbow pasta with nothing but margarine on it as a child. I thought it was the yummiest dish ever. I had very bland tastes back then.

The perfect meal to me was elbow pasta, a hot dog, and a grape drink. I could not be made happier with a gourmet meal.

Sometimes, I still rely on elbow pasta when I need to make something in a rush. Also, I eat it on days when I simply don’t have the energy to cook anything complicated.

I boil the pasta in water for ten minutes. I salt it as it boils, and I stir it often so that the pieces don’t stick to the pot. I drain it in a colander, stir a pat of margarine in it, and enjoy!


I used to eat a lot of macaroni and cheese in school, but we didn't eat it all too often at home. Pasta was one of our favorite foods and my brother and I asked for it at least three times a week.

Elbow pasta and spaghetti were the two pasta types we always had in the kitchen. My mom would use spaghetti to make pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs and elbow pasta to make pasta salad.

She still makes it for me to this day! She just boils the elbow pasta, rinses it and adds some yogurt, mayonnaise, boiled carrots and peas and some pickles to make this salad. It's so delicious and really easy to prepare. I make it a lot for get togethers with friends and picnic type events.


Fixing a good pasta dish is one of the most economical and tasty meals there is. I have tried many different shapes of pasta, but often find myself falling back on the traditional elbow pasta shape.

Since I began using the whole wheat pasta though, that is what I look for now when buying pasta. Some kinds of pasta are easier to find in whole wheat than others.

Whenever I think of macaroni and cheese I always associate elbow pasta with that. If I am making a baked pasta dish, I will usually use penne pasta.


I know there are a lot of fun pasta shapes for kids, but my favorite is still an elbow macaroni pasta. Especially when it comes to macaroni and cheese I think this is the best.

The elbow pasta is the perfect size because it is not too small or too big. Some of the shell pastas can be really big.

There is nothing better than making your own macaroni and cheese. A box mix will come in handy once in awhile, but the best taste is when you use your own cheese.

There is something that is still comforting about a warm bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese. This dish isn't just for kids!

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