Shell pasta is a form of pasta which is molded in the shape of a shell. It is also known as conchiglie pasta, in a reference to the Italian word for “conch.” Shell pasta is a very common pasta shape, and it is readily available at most markets in a wide range of styles. Cooks can also made shell pasta at home with the assistance of an extruder for pasta shapes or a pasta mold. Since shell pasta is so versatile, it's a great pasta shape to have around the house, as it can be used with a wide range of pastas and it can be baked or cooked in soups in addition to being boiled and served.
The shell-like shape of the pasta makes this shape very sturdy, so it will hold up to solid, chunky sauces. Shell pasta is also typically ridged, so it will trap more light, delicate sauces and distribute them evenly through a pasta dish. The scooped shape will also create a sauce reservoir, and many people find the burst of sauce when they bite into shell pasta quite enjoyable. For people who are cooking for young picky eaters, the fun shape can spark interest.
Many pasta companies produce shell pasta in a range of sizes. Very small sizes are designed for soups or baked dishes like macaroni and cheese. Larger sizes can also be used in baked dishes, or they can be served with a sauce of choice. Very big shells can be baked like manicotti, or served with bold, chunky sauces; big shapes can make quite a statement, for cooks who are looking for something unusual to serve.
The best choice for shell pasta is pasta which has been made from Durum wheat. This grain is particularly hard, so the pasta will stay chewy and texturally interesting even if it is slightly overcooked; the dense structure of the pasta will also hold up through baking or stewing when other pasta shapes might fall apart. People with gluten intolerance can find shell pasta made from other materials like corn, quinoa, and rice, depending on the size of their local markets. This pasta variety can also be flavored with ingredients like lemon, pepper, or spinach.
Some recipes may call specifically for shell pasta, and this pasta shape can also replace a wide range of other shapes in favorite recipes. If you are planning to bake shell pasta, remember to undercook it slightly so that it will emerge from the oven with a rich texture.