While American pasta lovers may not have the ardent passion of the Italian people whose culture has perfected the tasty food, it is still wise to avoid saying all pastas are the same.
Fettuccine and Linguine may seem similar, but the truth is that they could not be more different.
What’s the difference between fettuccine and linguine? While both are flat and long noodles, fettuccine is heavier and wider and contains egg. Fettuccine is from Rome, while linguine is from Genoa, Italy. They are each paired with different ingredients to produce completely different dishes.
We tend to blur the rules with pasta here in the States, a flexibility that is sometimes met with dislike by traditionalists in Italy.
It is hard to argue against culinary fusion and creativity, but it’s always wise to understand the rules and original recipes before you reinterpret them.
Read on to learn the differences between fettuccine and linguine, from their varied history, appearance, and preparation, to their very specific uses when it comes to sauces and ingredient pairing.
What Is Fettuccine?
Fettuccine, which has been around much longer than linguine, originated from Rome.
Traditionally made fresh, fettuccine translates to “small ribbons” in Italian, an accurate description of its appearance and telling description of how it is made.
Considered one of the earliest forms of pasta ever made, fettuccine consists of flour, water, and egg rolled together, flattened out, and then cut into large strips or ribbons.
If you have a pasta maker, fettuccine is one of the easiest pastas to make. Even by hand, it is still pretty easy to do.
Even though dried fettuccine noodles can be found in nearly every grocery store, most pasta fanatics still make fettuccine from scratch these days.
Nowadays, people often add spinach or other flavors to create unique or healthier versions of the original.
Some people add different colors to their pasta as well. For example, pitch-black squid ink noodles are slowly gaining popularity for their unique color and savory taste.
While fettuccine and linguine are both flat, long pastas, they are markedly different. Fettuccine is wider, flatter, thicker, and much heartier than linguine.
It is designed to be used with heavier sauces, using its width and flatness to cause the sauce to stick.
Most heavier sauces are thickened by butter, cream, melted cheese, or a roux, and the fat in these ingredients is attracted to the wide floury surfaces of fettuccine noodles. Sticking to them much better than an oil-based sauce would.
What Is Linguine?
Linguine was created in the capital of Italy’s Liguria region, the ancient city of Genoa.
Linguine may look slightly like fettuccine, but it is vastly different.
Linguine means “little tongues” in Italian and, like fettuccine, this name accurately describes its appearance. Linguine is smaller, thinner, and not as flat as fettuccine.
It would be more accurate to describe its shape as elliptical, which is where the tongue description comes into play.
Linguine is also much more fragile than fettuccine due to its thinness and limited ingredients.
Unlike fettuccine, which has egg in it to add flavor and texture but also to help bind the pasta, linguine is just water and flour, although different flours can be used.
Typically made from white or wheat flour and without the egg or an additional fat to create a stronger bind, linguine ends up being much more delicate than fettuccine, relying solely on wheat gluten strands to keep it together.
This is the primary reason Linguine is more fragile. The differences in ingredients, preparation, as well as size and shape between fettuccine and linguine, make these two pastas better for different sauce and ingredient pairings.
Linguine is better suited for thinner, light sauces while fettuccine is more suited for heavier, filling sauces.
Italians do not typically serve either pasta with large pieces of meat or vegetables, and they also tend to use pasta as the main entrée.
However, in the US, pasta is either a side dish or becomes a main meal by being served with chicken, seafood, meats, and vegetables.
The use of red meats other than ground beef or lamb with linguine or fettuccine is rare, even here in the United States.
We would typically serve ground meat sauces and seafood with linguine, while usually serving chicken and sometimes shrimp with fettuccine.
Which Is Better for Thick Sauces?
Due to its thick, wide, and flat characteristics, fettuccine is the ideal pasta for thick sauces like alfredo.
While fettuccine alfredo is more popular in America, it was originally based on an old Roman dish known as fettuccine al burro, one of a few heavy sauces that Italians typically pair with fettuccine noodles.
Traditional Italian sauces like bolognese and carbonara are intended to be served with fettuccine as well. Here in the states, we also like to pair fettuccine with heavy and meaty sauces, often including chicken or pieces of other meats.
The biggest reason that fettuccine is better suited for heavier sauces and ingredients is due to its wide and flat shape.
The increased surface area allows the heavy, often fat-laden, sauces to stick to the pasta. The fat in these sauces grabs onto the surface of the pasta and sticks.
Fettuccine pasta dishes are commonly associated with winter meals in Italy due to their heartiness and their propensity to be paired with heavy sauces.
They are mostly intended to supply the increased calories needed to keep our bodies warm when it’s cold out.
Here in the States, we eat fettuccine year-round, and it is very common to find fettuccine alfredo served with chicken or shrimp in many types of restaurants, not just Italian ones.
Nearly every American fast-casual concept from Fridays to Chilis has a chicken or shrimp alfredo on its menu.
Which Is Better for Thin Sauces?
While the large surface area offered by fettuccine is ideal for collecting heavier, thick sauces, the opposite affect occurs when paired with lighter, thin sauces.
In this case, the sauce would not stick to the pasta at all. As such, thinner sauces are better served on the more delicate linguine.
Linguine would be buried underneath heavy sauces and large chunks of meat or vegetables. In a thick sauce like alfredo, it would literally disappear into the dish.
In fact, Italians rarely even use flavorful cheeses like asiago or parmesan when serving linguine dishes. Linguine is thinner, narrower, and not as flat as fettuccine.
These features, when combined with its elliptical, tongue-like shape make it the ideal pasta for thin, lighter sauces like pesto, some tomato-based sauces, and many olive oil-based sauces. Sauces that will envelop the noodles.
Traditionally, linguine was invented to serve many of the same purposes as spaghetti, the only marked difference being that spaghetti is round while linguine is elliptical.
Since linguine’s shape makes it wider, it can handle some sauces that would be too heavy for spaghetti.
There is also a lesser-known and much thinner variation of linguine known as linguinette that is only used with the most delicate of sauces, often oil-based sauces including ingredients like lemon, capers, and various herbs.
Linguinette is often described as a flatter version of angel hair pasta. It is not intended to be accompanied by large pieces of meat or even vegetables.
Instead, it is typically prepared with lighter ingredients like sautéed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and different types of seafood like mussels, clams, and delicate varieties of white fish.
There is a very common linguine dish served in American that features mussels and tomatoes in a light sauce featuring white wine and garlic.
While this sauce may be inspired by an Italian classic, Italians do not put tomatoes in when they prepare linguine with mussels or clams.
Which One Is More Versatile?
The question of which one is more versatile may in the end be up for you to decide. In Italy, it would likely be universally agreed upon that linguine is the more versatile option.
There are many linguine dishes that are prepared year-round, while fettuccine is more of a winter staple.
Linguine can also handle the job of spaghetti and can even handle cream-based sauces, so long as they are not as thick as alfredo.
As we have mentioned, many Italian cooks are also purists, and there are quite a few food items we serve with pasta here in the States that are mostly unheard of in Italian cuisine. Some notable examples include the use of meatballs and chicken.
When considering the flexibility afforded by Americanized Italian food, it may be harder to make the case that linguine is the more versatile option, especially where we tend to put not just chicken, but often red meats and pork on pasta.
Most pasta fanatics would probably still agree that linguine offers the ability to be accompanied with a wider range of sauces, proteins, and other ingredients.
While fettuccine is mostly used with alfredo and sometimes bolognaise sauce, linguine can be served with dozens of sauces.
With the right sauce, linguine could easily be served with chicken or steak. There is even a way to make a lighter alfredo or carbonara-like sauce that would still work with linguine.
Is All Pasta from Italy?
Most people may be under the impression that the Italians invented pasta, but the truth is the idea of pasta is much, much older.
If you consider that pasta is just another type of noodle, then it becomes clear that pasta was invented thousands of years ago.
The Chinese were making different types of noodles as far back as 3000 BC and a 4th century Etruscan tomb reveals people making what looks to be noodles.
Noodles were most likely introduced into the Mediterranean by ancient Arab traders as they explored the region.
There is even a Greek myth involving the god Vulcan creating a device that cut strings from rolled dough made from crushed wheat. The noodle it produced is often hailed as one of the first types of spaghetti.
There is a popular legend that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy when he returned from his travels in the Far East during the 1400’s as well.
However, considering the evidence of Etruscan and subsequent Roman pasta making, it is clear that pasta was already being made in Italy by then.
The first recorded mentions of pasta in Italy occurred around the year 1150 AD in Sicily. Over time, the Italians embraced the dish and cultivated a cuisine around it.
Despite not having originated in Italy, the preparation and cooking of pasta was certainly perfected there.
As individual cities in Italy quickly added to the variety of pastas by inventing and naming their own unique variations, each type of pasta was soon associated with very specific methods of preparation and ingredient pairing.
How Did Pasta Make It to the United States?
During the age of European exploration, the English, who had discovered pasta while touring Italy several decades prior, brought pasta to the New World when they colonized what would eventually become the United States of America.
Back then, the typical method of preparation used by the English involved cooking the noodles for over half an hour and then covering them in a sauce made of cream and melted cheese.
This may be where the idea for macaroni and cheese started, another dish not found in Italy, though béchamel, or cheese sauce, has its roots in France.
After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson brought a macaroni machine over from France, and within a few years pasta was being produced all over the country.
These days, macaroni and cheese is as American as apple pie.
Could I Serve a Pesto With Fettuccine?
While pesto is often chunky and sometimes very heavy, it would not be well-suited to be served with fettuccine. Despite its relative thickness, pesto is still olive oil-based and would run off the wide surface of fettuccine.
If you are not afraid of breaking tradition, you could potentially mix a pesto into a thick cream sauce and serve it with fettuccine noodles.
You would have to take care to make sure the rich and flavorful pesto is blended into the cream sauce, otherwise the pesto may be too powerful.
What Are Some of the Most Popular Sauces for Linguine?
Linguine is traditionally served with sauces like pesto, lighter olive oil or butter-based sauces, and sometimes used as a substitution for spaghetti in spaghetti and meatballs.
In the States, we will often pair linguine with a light tomato sauce or even a light cream sauce.
Linguine is also usually paired with seafood, usually shrimp, clams, or mussels, but can work well with chicken and fish. It is very popular to pair linguine with buttery sauces accented by lemon and herbs, or even sundried tomatoes.
Sometimes a light sauce and a meat dish will be fused together, like adding shrimp scampi on top.
One of our favorite simple recipes is linguine aglio e olio (or linguine with garlic and oil). If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, we suggest watching this handy tutorial from the Sip and Feast channel on YouTube.