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Linguine vs Spaghetti – The Similarities and Differences (Straight from an Italian Kitchen)

Last updated on October 17th, 2023

Have you ever wondered how different linguine could be from spaghetti?

If you ever ask yourself when you should be using one instead of the other you are in the right place.

Similar recipes often call for linguine or spaghetti, sometimes even suggesting you can use them interchangeably but is this really the case?

Just like many other long pastas, small differences can really change your food experience according to Italians so let’s find out why you would really want to choose linguine or spaghetti for your next pasta dish!

What is Linguine? 

hand holding a package of rummo linguine with stone background

Linguine (pronounced leen-gwee-neh in Italian) is a long, ribbon-shaped pasta about 10-12 inches (25-30 mm) long. It’s slightly elliptical and about ⅛ inch (about 4mm) in diameter eaten primarily on coastal towns in Italy. 

Fact:  Linguine in Italian means “little tongues” and if you take a close look they really do look as their name describes!

Where to Find Linguine

Today, linguine is mostly made from white flour and water, dried and sold almost anywhere pasta is sold (whole wheat options are also very common). Traditionally, linguine was made fresh with durum wheat flour and water and sold exclusively in pasta shops. 

Nice To Know:  Linguine is sold almost exclusively dried as it is extremely difficult to mimic the exact oval-like shape of the noodle by hand.

Best Sauces for Linguine

close up of linguine pasta with greens and red pepper flake

Linguine is served primarily with fish-based or pesto sauces.

Linguine was developed in Liguria’s capital of Genoa on the northwest coast of Italy, so it’s no wonder that fresh fish is the logical pairing. Genoa is also home to the world-famous pesto sauce, which pairs well with linguine.

In the culinary world, it is commonly agreed upon that the flatter and wider the noodle, the better the sauce will stick. Because of this, linguine is served with sauces with large chunks such as shrimp, squid and other seafood.

Because linguine is made from only flour and water and thus tends to be a lighter pasta, it yields well to fresh fish, a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

When it comes to linguine, the simpler and lighter, the better!

Read about the Most Popular Italian Pasta Sauces.

Cooking Linguine

close up of linguine

Since linguine is only sold dry, it is an easy pasta to master as the cooking time doesn’t vary much, just 9-12 minutes.

Because it is a bit thicker than other long kinds of pasta, it tends to soak up the sauce that it is tossed in.

Try cooking the linguine for the last couple of minutes directly with your sauce in a skillet over medium-low heat to really allow the pasta to soak up all the yummy flavors. It makes all the difference!

Pesto, however, should be tossed directly with the linguine in the serving dish. 

Tip: Reserve half a cup of the starchy cooking water for thinning out your sauces, especially pesto which can easily become dry as it cools off. 

Learn How to Cook Pasta Like an Italian!

Common Linguine Recipes in Italy

Linguine agli scampi – with scampi ( – Sicily)

Linguine con pesto – with pesto sauce (Genoa)

Linguine con pesto di pistacchi – with pistachio pesto (Genoa)

Linguine alle vongole – with clams (Campania or Southern Italy)

Linguine con salmone e zucchine  (modern spin)

Linguine a cernia – with grouper (Southern Italy)

Linguine alle seppie – with squid (Southern Italy)

Linguine al limone – with lemon (Southern Italy)

zoomed in on a strand of spaghetti vs a strand of linguine on wooden background
Spaghetti, top vs linguine, bottom

What is Spaghetti? 

Spaghetti (pronounced spah-geh-tee in Italian) is a long round pasta about .1 inches (2.5 mm) around and 10-12 inches (25-30 mm) long. Spaghetti is popular throughout Italy. Spaghetti are either made fresh from durum wheat and water or dried and sold pre-packaged.

Although it is difficult to identify the origins of this pasta, it is worth noting that some of the oldest and most loved recipes are from southern Italy and its capital city of Rome. 

Fact: Spaghettoni is a thicker form of spaghetti, while capellini or spaghettini is a thin spaghetti, which Americans refer to as angel hair pasta. 

Where to Find Spaghetti

Similar to Linguine, you can purchase dried spaghetti at supermarkets or mom-and-pop grocers (alimentari).

In addition, hand-made spaghetti can be purchased from fresh pasta shops. If you are in Tuscany or Umbria, it is common to find fresh hand-rolled spaghetti at supermarkets (in the refrigerated section). Keep your eyes peeled for ‘pici’ as these ‘fat’ spaghetti are called locally.

Try This: The next time you are food shopping in Italy, try shopping at small independent grocers (alimentari) that typically sell a bit of everything including local produce, fresh bread, cured meats, and artisan pasta. They may be slightly more expensive, but the quality and brands are top-notch.

Making Spaghetti by Hand

close up of hand holding homemade spaghetti on a white background

Spaghetti is simple to make at home, especially if you are using a pasta maker. The best way to achieve the circular shape is to roll the dough thin, but not too thin that it turns into a flat noodle such as fettuccine or tagliatelle (defined by their flat shape). Run the dough sheets through the spaghetti attachment on your pasta maker and ‘ecco fatto!‘ as the Italians say (there you have it!).

Keep in mind that fresh pasta takes just minutes to cook. Keep a close eye on it, and the moment you see it float to the top, about 2-4 minutes, get it out of the water! This is much quicker than dried spaghetti, which cookes in 8-10 minutes. 

Fun Fact: Hand-rolled spaghetti made without a pasta maker is called pici and can be found throughout Tuscany and Umbria. You know the pasta is going to be fresh if you see pici on a menu in Italy.  

Best Sauces for Spaghetti

top view close up of a white plate with carbonara spaghetti topped with cheese on a marble background

Spaghetti is certainly one of Italy’s favorite pastas and for good reason: it pairs well with so many sauces. There is no general rule, but typically, spaghetti is served with smooth sauces without chunks like a stewed tomato sauce, oil and garlic, or carbonara. 

Spaghetti is much more widespread than linguine which is usually eaten on the seaside where seafood is a staple in the local cuisine. Spaghetti is enjoyed throughout Italy.

Blended or smooth sauces pair well with spaghetti that will ‘swim’ in the sauce. The big exception to this is spaghetti alle vongole – spaghetti with clams – which, despite being a chunky fish sauce, is commonly served with spaghetti and linguine. 

Did You Know?: Spaghetti and meatballs is an Italo-American dish developed by Italian immigrants for the American market. You would never catch an Italian eating spaghetti and meatballs or even spaghetti with ‘ragu’ or meat sauce. Spaghetti is for silky sauces, not chunky ones!

When cooking at home, stick to the pasta indicated in the recipe. Each pasta shape and size is developed for different textures and flavors, and therefore, each recipe has a ‘correct’ pasta shape to accompany the sauce. 

Our Italian Family’s Preference – Linguine or Spaghetti?

Spaghetti wins hands down in our household (and in most Italian homes!).

We also live in the heart of Tuscany where hand-rolled, thick spaghetti (pici) plays a large role in the local cuisine.

Try It: Making fresh pasta is simple and it’s a great way to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon with kids. Imagine how many times you have rolled playdough into snakes with your children. Now, imagine doing the same, but the result is dinner!

We are also big fans of classic Roman dishes such as carbonara, cacio e pepe and amatriciana, all of which were originally written for spaghetti. 

Common Spaghetti Recipes in Italy

white plate with close up of spaghetti in cheese and black pepper corns

Spaghetti al pomodoro – with tomato

Spaghetti all’aglione – with garlic tomato (Tuscany)

Spaghetti aglio e olio – with garlic and oil 

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino – with garlic, oil and hot pepper  

Spaghetti alla carbonara – with eggs and bacon (Rome)

Spaghetti cacio e pepe – with cacio cheese and black pepper  (Rome)

Spaghetti all’amatriciana – with tomato and bacon (Rome)

Spaghetti alle vongole – with clams (southern Italy/coastal towns)

Linguine vs Spaghetti – A Summary

side by side comparison of a strand of spaghetti vs a strand of linguine on a wooden board
Spaghetti, top vs linguine, bottom
Meaning “little tongues”Meaning “little strings”
Flour and waterFlour and water
Narrow and elliptical in cross-sectionLong and cylindrical 
Pairs well with chunky fish-based sauces and pestoPairs well with smooth or creamy sauces such as tomato or Carbonara
DriedDried and fresh
Store-bought onlyStore-bought and homemade
10-12 inches (25-30 mm) in length10-12 inches (25-30 mm) in length
Found regionally and on coastal townsCommon throughout Italy
Cook time 9-12 minutes Cook time 8-10 minutes dry, 2-4 fresh

You may also want to read about the Difference Between Linguine and Fettuccine.

Linguine vs Spaghetti FAQ

What can I do with leftover spaghetti or linguine?

It is common in Italian homes (including ours!) to save any leftover spaghetti or linguine and recycle it the next day as a frittata, a large Italian omelet. Simply toss the leftover pasta with beaten eggs (the number will depend on the amount of pasta you have), a handful of parmesan cheese and a splash of milk. Cook in a well oiled skillet over low heat, covered, until the egg is cooked through. Flip and cook on medium heat until golden and crisp

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