What Is Linguine?

Cooking and Recipes

Dried linguine

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Linguine (pronounced "lin-GWEE-nee") is a long, strand pasta originating in Italy’s Liguria region in the northwestern part of the country. It's available in both fresh and dried forms, and is traditionally served with seafood, such as clams, with pesto sauce, and with a variety of red sauces.

Fast Facts

  • Category: Strand pasta (extruded)
  • Cook Time: 1 to 4 minutes (fresh), 9 to 13 minutes (dry)
  • Main Ingredients: Durum semolina, eggs
  • Meaning: Little tongues
  • Variants: Linguettine
  • Substitutes: Spaghetti, trenette, fettuccine

What Is Linguine?

Linguine is a long, strand pasta made from durum wheat semolina and eggs. Its name is derived from the Italian word, lingua, meaning "tongue," so the word linguine translates to "little tongues." This is most likely due to the fact that the cross-sections of the strands of pasta are not quite round, like spaghetti, not flat like fettuccine, but oval-shaped, which suggests the shape of a tongue. The pasta is usually around 4 millimeters wide.

Although it's a strand pasta, linguine is made differently than ribbon pastas like fettuccine, which are rolled flat and then simply cut into ribbons, either by machine or using a knife. Instead, linguine is an extruded pasta, which means that the dough is forced through a specially shaped die, causing it to emerge from the die in whatever shape the die produces. Because it's extruded, making homemade fresh linguine is a bit more difficult than making homemade fettuccine or tagliatelle. It can be done, but you'd typically need a special pasta extruder attachment on a stand mixer.

Spaghetti is another extruded pasta, along with tubular pastas, like penne, macaroni, and rigatoni.

Linguine is thought to have originated in Liguria, a coastal region in northwestern Italy which borders the Ligurian sea. Because of this, linguine is traditionally served with seafood, such as the classic linguine alle vongole, or linguine with clams.

Other common linguine preparations include linguine alla Genovese, made with cubed potatoes, green beans, and pesto; linguine alla pescatore, which typically features mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid in a sauce of crushed tomatoes; and linguine al limon, which is made with heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, parsley, lemons, and butter.

Linguine vs. Spaghetti

Because they are both extruded strand pastas, spaghetti and linguine are often compared with one another. They're both long strand pastas and often used interchangeably with thinner sauces that are based on olive oil, cream, or tomatoes, since their long strands are easily coated with sauces like these. Think marinara, carbonara or alfredo. On the other hand, heavier, thicker sauces, such as Bolognese are usually paired with either wider ribbons like fettuccine or tagliatelle, or tubular pasta like rigatoni or tortiglioni. Given their similarities, spaghetti would be the best and most common substitute for linguine. 

Although linguine is an Italian pasta, it can be used in other cuisines, such as Chinese, where linguine is sometimes used in stir-fried noodles dishes in place of lo mein noodles, chow mein, or sesame noodles. 

How to Cook Linguine

Cooking linguine is a simple matter of simmering it in salted water until it reaches the al dente stage, and how long that will take depends on whether you're cooking with the fresh version or the dried one. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, and depending on the thickness, it can be done in anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes. It's best to check it after about 90 seconds to make sure it doesn't overcook. With dried linguine, cooking time to achieve al dente is anywhere from 9 to 13 minutes.

The starches in the pasta absorb liquid when it's cooked, like a sponge, and will continue to do so after the cooking water is drained away. For that reason, many chefs prepare the sauce before the pasta finishes boiling, immediately adding the cooked pasta to the pan with the sauce. Cooking the pasta in the sauce for about a minute allows the pasta to absorb the sauce, improving its flavor. This technique is much more effective than tossing the cooked pasta in olive oil and then spooning the sauce over it, since the olive oil will cause the sauce to slide off the pasta rather than being absorbed by it.

Linguine with pesto

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Linguine with smoked salmon

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Linguine with clams

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Linguine with tomato sauce

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Varieties

There's a narrower version of linguine, which goes by the name linguettine, or linguette fini. The only difference is that the strands are narrower than regular linguine, around 2 millimeters wide, or about half the width of regular linguine. 

Substitutes

Trenette, a ribbon pasta that is midway between linguine and fettuccine in width, would be the best substitute for linguine, although it may be hard to find. Spaghetti, which is widely available, would be a decent substitute. And fettuccine, which is also widely available, is another possible substitute, although it's quite a bit wider than linguine.

Linguine Recipes

Here are a few basic recipes that feature linguine.