Sauce Mates: Tips for a Pasta-Sauce Matchmaker

What does this recipe call for elbow macaroni and that – for penne pasta? Aren’t those basically the same product, only shaped differently? Turns out, the shape is the key. Some pasta types are interchangeable; others can only be used for certain dishes. One should choose from the many varieties of pasta shapes the one that will pair up with a certain sauce. Let’s find the perfect sauce match for some of the most popular pasta shapes!

Matching Game

Look at the pictures to finally learn the names for most popular pasta shapes and find out what sauce is perfect for each variety.

Long, thin pasta

Skinny pasta varieties pair up perfectly with oil- or cream-based sauces and seafood

Skinny pasta varieties like:

  • fusilli lunghi,
  • linguine,
  • spaghetti,
  • vermicelli 

pair up perfectly with oil- or cream-based sauces and seafood.

Ribbon pasta

Ribbon pasta varieties work fine with hearty sauces cooked with meat

So-called ribbon pasta varieties like:

  • fettuccine,
  • mafaldine,
  • pappardelle,
  • tagliatelle

work fine with hearty sauces cooked with meat.

Shell shaped pasta

Pasta shells should be paired up with hearty sauces

Shorter, rounder pasta shapes like:

  • conchiglie,
  • lumache

reveal their potential in the best way when accompanied by a heavy sauce, cream-based or meat. Large varieties of the same shapes are called conchiglione and lumaconi, and they can be stuffed!

Twisted pasta

Twisted pasta shapes taste best when coated in lighter sauces with a smooth texture

Pasta shaped in twists like:

  • caserecce,
  • fusilli,
  • gemelli,
  • strozzapreti,
  • trofie

tastes best when coated in lighter sauces with a smooth texture (like pesto) that cling to all of its twists.

Tube shaped pasta

Pasta tubes combine nicely with thicker vegetable sauces or minced meat sauces like Bolognese.

The size and shape of pasta tubes like:

  • macaroni,
  • paccheri,
  • penne,
  • rigatoni

combine nicely with thicker vegetable sauces or minced meat sauces like Bolognese.

Fun fact: Spaghetti Bolognese is obviously not an authentic Italian dish, as it calls for a wrong type of pasta! Italians call a similar dish “ragu” and cook it with one of the above-mentioned pasta varieties.

Miniature pasta

Miniature pasta adds wonderful texture to stews, soups and pasta-based salads

Smaller pasta shapes, such as:

  • fregola,
  • orzo,
  • stelline

add wonderful texture to stews, soups and pasta-based salads.

Pasta with filling

Pasta with filling is to be served with simpler, lighter sauces, oil- or butter-based

Dumpling-like pasta, such as

  • ravioli,
  • tortellini

is flavorful enough as it is, thanks to its filling, so it is best when coated in simpler, lighter sauces, oil- or butter-based.

Foolproof pasta cooking tips

It’s not enough to cook the sauce, boil the pasta, and throw the two together. Mushy, soggy, or sticky pasta can spoil the dish. Follow those easy tips to always cook your pasta like Italians do.

Don’t spare the water

Use the largest pan you have and fill it with water up to three-fourths. Your pasta needs space to move, to let bubbles of boiling water pass in between its shells, tubes, or ribbons to cook properly. If the pan is too small or there is not enough water, you will get a ball of gummed up something instead of delicious al-dente pasta.

Add enough salt

Italians believe that the water you use should be as salty as the sea itself to give pasta its proper flavor.

Add pasta to boiling water

It needs to start cooking immediately to prevent sticking.

Don’t add olive oil to water

It will not prevent sticking into a ball if you do not use enough water and will only all go to waste when you drain your pasta. Rather, add the extra virgin to your pasta sauce.

Combine pasta with sauce in a pan

Of course, you can plop the sauce on top of the pasta when it is already sitting in bowls or plates, but only if you combine the two together in a pan like Italians do, will you get the perfectly sauce-coated pasta.

Cook pasta al dente

Don’t let it sit in water until it is all limp. Let some bite remain in the center when you drain your pasta. It will fully cook in the pan with sauce and absorb more flavor.

Reserve a cup of water when you drain pasta

You will need it if it turns out you miscalculated the amounts of sauce and pasta and the ready dish looks too dry. Note: only pasta water can serve this purpose, as the starch in it will not only weaken the sauce but make it cling to pasta as well.

Is there any other type of product that has many varieties that you are interested in? Feel free to share in the comments and we will try to make a guide on it, too!



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