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5 Best Substitutes for Ditalini Pasta: Elevate Your Recipes

There’s something universally comforting about a bowl of steaming hot pasta. It’s a canvas for flavors and a beacon of comfort in the world of gastronomy.

One pasta shape that’s particularly beloved for its versatility and heartiness is ditalini. These small, rounded tubes of pasta are widely used in soups, salads, and as a base for various sauces, making them a staple in many kitchens.

But what happens when your recipe calls for ditalini and you don’t have any on hand? Today, we’ll explore five equally delightful substitutes for ditalini pasta that will keep your dishes on the delicious track.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ditalini is a small, hollow pasta commonly used in soups and stews.
  • There are several substitutes for ditalini including orzo, acini di pepe, small shell pasta, tubettini and elbows.
  • When using a substitute for ditalini, it is important to adjust the cook time and liquid ratio accordingly. Each type of pasta may have different characteristics that can affect the overall dish.

Things to Know about Ditalini

Before we dive into our favorite Ditalini recipes, here are a few things you should know about this tiny pasta.

Ditalini, also known as “little thimbles” in Italian, are short-cut tubes of pasta that resemble small macaroni. They are typically around 1/3 inch in length and have a hollow center. Ditalini is often used in soups and stews as they hold their shape well and add a hearty texture to the dish.

When cooking Ditalini, it’s important to follow the package instructions and cook them al dente (firm to the bite). This will ensure that the pasta retains its shape and texture. It is also recommended to stir the pasta occasionally while cooking to prevent them from sticking together.

While Ditalini is most commonly used in soups and stews, they can also be paired with a variety of sauces. Because of their small size, they work well with thick and chunky sauces that can get stuck in the hollow center, such as a hearty tomato sauce or a creamy cheese sauce.

5 Best Substitutes for Ditalini Pasta

Without further ado, here are five of the best substitutes for Ditalini pasta:

1 – Orzo

Surprise, surprise – orzo isn’t rice, but a small, grain-shaped pasta that’s perfectly poised to step in for ditalini. Commonly found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, orzo cooks fairly quickly and can absorb flavors like a sponge. If your grocery store shelves are lamentably devoid of ditalini, orzo can celebrate your culinary needs just as well.

Characteristics: Orzo is slightly larger than ditalini and looks like an overachieving piece of rice. Its small, elliptical shape makes it great for soups, side dishes, and even stirred into casseroles for an added textural element.

Cooking Tips: In ratio, use 1 cup of orzo for every 2 cups of liquid, and cook for 8-10 minutes for al dente. When swapping it into a recipe that calls for ditalini, remember that its slightly bigger size means orzo will need a bit more time to cook.

2 – Acini di Pepe

Don’t be fooled by the spice-like name; acini di pepe (which means “peppercorns” in Italian) is a diminutive round pasta that can add a touch of whimsy and texture to dishes. Though often seen as “the one for minestrone,” these little guys function marvelously in just about any ditalini role.

Characteristics: Acini di pepe is the same size and shape as farro or barley, making it perfect for thickening soups and stews or giving a salad a delightful pasta-is as-heavy-as-the-veggies-where?-vibe.

Cooking Tips: Because of its small size, this pasta cooks quickly. Use it in place of ditalini in soups, adjusting the cooking time as needed to prevent overcooking. It’s generally best to add acini di pepe towards the end of the soup’s cooking time.

3 – Small Shell Pasta

Shell pasta, or conchiglie, offers a graceful transition into ditalini’s place. With a similar shape designed to cradle the sauce, it’s not just a pretty pasta, it’s also wonderfully functional. You won’t just be substituting, you’ll be upgrading.

Characteristics: Small shell pasta is tube-shaped with a slight curve, creating a shape that’s somewhere between ditalini and orzo in terms of size and texture. This makes it great for soups, but also a stellar mac and cheese contender.

Cooking Tips: Like orzo, use a 1:2 ratio of shell pasta to liquid. Adjust the cooking time according to what the recipe calls for ditalini, keeping in mind that shells may need a minute or two more to cook through properly.

4 – Tubettini

Tubettini is another small, ridged pasta shape that could easily be mistaken for ditalini’s twin. It’s incredibly versatile and can hold its own in a range of dishes, particularly where a small pasta star is required.

Characteristics: Small in size, but big in versatility, tubettini’s straight, smooth texture makes it a great pick for recipes that need a pasta to bind ingredients lightly.

Cooking Tips: Just like ditalini, tubettini can often cook in 5 to 8 minutes and absorbs the flavor of the dish well. If using it as a one-to-one substitute, bear in mind the tube may need a little more or less liquid to cook to your desired consistency.

5 – Elbows

Who says elbows are only for mac and cheese? They’re perfect, familiar and friendly substitutes for ditalini. With their signature semicircular shape, they can easily be slid into nearly any recipe that calls for ditalini, adding a touch of childhood nostalgia, too.

Characteristics: Elbow pasta is slightly larger than ditalini but offers the same substantial feel in a spoon. It’s fantastic for absorbing sauces and, due to its size, works particularly well in pasta salads and baked pasta dishes.

Cooking Tips: Use a 1:2 ratio of elbows to liquid, and cook for around 8-10 minutes for the perfect al dente texture. But remember, elbows need a bit of space to dance in the pot, so use enough water to prevent clumping.

Creamy Tomato Macaroni & Cheese

Creamy Tomato Macaroni & Cheese

This delicious and comforting soup is perfect for a cold day. It features elbow pasta as a substitute for ditalini, creating a hearty and flavorful dish.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 people
Calories 147 kcal


  • Large pot
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Measuring cups and spoons


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 can 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup elbow pasta
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened.
  • Stir in minced garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook for 1 minute.
  • Pour in crushed tomatoes, chicken or vegetable broth, and water. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and let the soup simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add elbow pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  • Serve hot, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil (if desired).


Serving: 1cupCalories: 147kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 4gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 441mgPotassium: 115mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 10IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 27mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Creamy Tomato Soup with Elbows, Substitutes for Ditalini Pasta
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5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)
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