Shape definitely matters! Here's how to pair your pasta with sauce to get the best flavours and texture
If you’re anything like myself, then you probably don’t ponder too much about why it is that pasta comes in so many shapes and sizes. When cooking pasta, you probably just reach into the pantry or across the grocery aisle and pick out whatever catches your fancy; spaghetti, macaroni, fettuccine, it’s all the same.
But as it turns out, pasta is so much more than a vessel for a delicious sauce. Its shape and size are all well-thought-out in order to complement the gustatory experience. Read on to find out how to match pasta to the sauce—and why putting this extra thought into your recipe could level up your meal completely.
Long, thin pasta
Long, thin kinds of pasta such as spaghetti and capellini are often quite delicate. As such, its accompanying sauces must be the same. Opt for lightness so the pasta doesn’t get weighed down or too soggy. A nice, simple olive oil base or a cacio e pepe would be perfect—add sprinkles of fresh herbs, or baby tomatoes to complement the pasta instead of overwhelming it. A tomato-based sauce would also pair well with these. Think: fresh, light, and easy (much like the pasta itself!).
Long, flat pasta
Unlike thin pasta, noodles such as fettuccine and pappardelle have much more integrity. This is due to its generous surface area which allows it to withstand creamier, heavier sauces. The general rule of thumb is that the wider the pasta, the better it is to be paired with rich and meaty sauces. Think of lasagna, for example, and how it can deliver proteins such as ground beef or pork without crumbling or losing shape.
Tube pasta has an empty space running down its centre. Imagine penne pasta, ziti, or bucatini. This pasta is great for capturing flavour as sauces can easily go down the middle and coat the pasta from the inside and out. Dynamic additions are best for such noodles; things like red pepper flakes, pancetta, or crumbled cheese can easily be caught in its centre for added bursts of flavour after every bite.
Creamy or cheesy sauces are excellent for such pasta, though the best way to take advantage of these shapes is with chunks of meat or vegetable that can cling inside of the noodles. If your pasta has ridges, you may even consider pesto for a more vibrant flavour, as the pesto sauce will easily latch onto the crevices.
Twisted pasta such as fusilli and Gemelli can be a lot of fun! Its ridges and twists allow the sauce to cling to it well—you’ll often see chefs pair it with pesto sauce or sauces with herbs and finely chopped ingredients.
Shell pasta—such as conchiglie or macaroni—goes great with meat sauces or heavy cream (such as cheese). Their compact shape gives them a sturdier bite, making them a fantastic choice to hold rich sauces with proteins or vegetables.
You’ll very rarely find stuffed pasta (like tortellini or ravioli) paired with heavy, rich sauces. More often than not, they’re accompanied by light oil or butter. The reason behind this is simple: the pasta is already stuffed with flavourful ingredients which can range from seafood to poultry, to cheese or egg. Allow the pasta sauce to complement and not overwhelm the flavours already available in a stuffed pasta.