Most of us who are not Italian are probably familiar with just a dozen or so types of pasta - flat varieties, including capellini, spaghetti, linguine, tagliatelle, pappardelle and lasagne; a few shaped types, such as rigatoni, fusilli and penne; and filled pasta like ravioli and tortellini. That leaves several hundreds that we don't know about.

In the introduction to The Geometry of Pasta, Jacob Kenedy writes, "Pasta is different across Italy. In the poorer south, pastes of semolina and water are shaped by hand into chunky peasant forms. In south-central Italy, the same semolina dough is extruded by machine into simple long shapes and complex short ones, dried, packaged and sold. North and north-central Italy, far wealthier, use expensive egg yolks and refined flours to make exquisite golden-yellow marvels - silky ribbons and tiny stuffed shapes like fine jewellery. In the far north, cold and under the influence of Germany and Eastern Europe, white flour is often replaced by other starches - breadcrumb, chestnut, buckwheat and rye. The properties of each type of dough, the mechanics of each shape and the tastes and tradition of each region have determined also that an equal panoply of sauces exists, to match the requirements of the pasta and people's palates.

"The diversity is true at every level. From region to region, the same pasta is cooked with a different sauce. Oily sauces to coat, light ones to dress, rich ones to enhance and impress, fresh ones to lighten, and all to enjoy. From town to town, the same sauce with differing ingredients. From door to door, the same ingredients in differing proportions and to different effect, each cook convinced their method is the best, the only correct way."

There's a pasta that resembles butterflies (farfalle) and, the writers advise, is good with light vegetable sauces. Lumache (snails) are crimped so they're partially closed, "better to hold the sauce once it gets into the pasta". It's possible tortellini was created to resemble a beautiful woman's bellybutton.

Of course, the authors don't expect us to have hundreds of shapes of pasta on our kitchen shelves, and if you don't have the particular one that a recipe calls for, they give alternatives.

Recipes given for sauces with suggested pastas include bigoli with anchovy sauce; farfalle with smoked salmon, asparagus and cream; gnocchi with sausage sauce; lasagne alla Bolognese; lumache with snail sauce; orzo salad with prawns; spinach and ricotta ravioli; and spaghetti with tomato sauce.

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy