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which pasta for which sauce?

Welcome to All in the Detail... I am so glad you are here!





Did you know that choosing a pasta shape to suit the nature of your sauce makes a big difference to the finished dish?

ok - Before I jump into the subject of this blog, I thought I would give you just a little background on my pasta knowledge:

I grew up in a small town in Ohio that had a very high percentage population of Italian AmericansWhen I was very small (maybe 4 or 5 years old), my family lived on the same little lane as a wonderful loving matriarch of one of the largest Italian families in town. They owned a very popular Italian restaurant there. I used to wander down the lane to her home (not more than a hundred steps or so) and spend many afternoons with this 'substitute grandmother'. I remember being spoiled, just like a grandmother should do.  There always seemed to be luscious goodies (Italian, of course) awaiting me to nibble on as we spent our afternoons together. Some days, she spent her time in her  basement where large wooden tables (along with the cement floor) were covered in a dusting of white flour. I was always, of course, welcome to accompany her down the stairs and lend a small, inexperienced helping hand. There, in that little oasis of warmth from love, scents from flour powder and yumminess (yeah, I think I just made that word up... but it's a good one, isn't it?) from everything imaginable, we would make all types of pastas. Oh, my goodness, just the memories of this experience now fill my nostrils with scents of ‘heaven on earth’. What a lasting impression this woman made on me. Do you think she even knew? Even at this young of an age, I now remember and recognize and appreciate the labor of love that was given to create delicious food for loved ones.

So even though I may not be 100% Italian, I know my ziti from my fusilli and I am going to share a little bit of this knowledge with you.




First off, we all know Spaghetti Bolognese as one of the world's most well-known pasta dishes, but guess what - it is fundamentally inauthentic. Italian cooks would seldom serve a thick, saucy ragu with thin pasta ribbons - they're far more likely to team such a sauce with large shells or tubes to capture the sauce, or thicker long pasta, like tagliatelle and pappardelle.





The general rule is that delicate noodles are for delicate sauces while heartier noodles are for heartier sauces, but similar to wine pairing, it’s not always that simple. So, here’s a guide to help you sort it all out. And if you can’t tell your radiatore from your penne, I even found gorgeous pictures (compliments of Chowhound) to accompany the guide. Did you know that there are more that 370 shapes of pasta in Italy, it's true!

Plus, we all need a little visual help when we walk down the daunting pasta isle in our grocery store. And oh brother, don't even get me started on the overwhelming choices in a specialty store, wow.




Pasta: ACINI DE PEPE | Sauce: SOUP
Acini di pepe are literally “little peppercorns,” named for their tiny ball shape. Reminiscent of Israeli couscous, you’ll find them floating in recipes like Italian wedding soup.




Pasta: ANELLI/ANELLINI | Sauces: PASTA SALAD, SOUP
Anellini are, wait for it… little rings. These round pieces are best eaten by the spoonful.




Pasta: BUCATINI | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO
Bucatini is a long, pipe-shaped pasta with a hole in the center—just wide enough to soak up a few saucy juices.




Pasta: CALAMARI | Sauces: SEAFOOD, TOMATO
These pasta bands are named for their squid-like shape, and are best with other shapely ingredients and sauces with a bit of substance.




Pasta: CAMPANELLE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, VEGETABLE
Campanelle are bells, just the perfect size for pocketing little nubs of cheese, veg, or meat.




Pasta: CAPELLINI (a.k.a. ANGEL HAIR) | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, PESTO, SEAFOOD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Light and ethereal, these wispy strands do well with lighter, thin sauces.





Pasta: CASARECCE | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PESTO, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Casarecce literally means “homemade,” owing to their loose, free-form shape. Their crevices are great for soaking up sauce.




Pasta: CAVATELLI | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, SOUP, VEGETABLE
Cavatelli is “to scoop” in Italian, appropriate for the hot dog bun–style crevices in cavatelli. They’re a signature shape in the southern region of Puglia. 




Pasta: CAVATURI | Sauces: PASTA SALAD, VEGETABLE
Cavaturi also have that scooped center, but are slightly longer and scroll-like.




Pasta: CONCHIGLIE | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Named for their conch shell–like appearance, these tubes can hold ample amounts of liquid.




Pasta: DITALINI | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, SOUP
These “tiny fingers” are a classic choice for soups like pasta e fagioli, although they are a great choice for soaking up cheese and sauce in bakes, too.




Pasta: FARFALLE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SEAFOOD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
We may know them as bow ties, but these all-purpose shapes are actually named for fluttering butterflies.




Pasta: FETTUCCINE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
A versatile favorite, fettuccine is “little ribbons,” working famously with Alfredo sauce, but also holding steady against robust meat, seafood, and vegetables.




Pasta: FREGULA | Sauces: SOUP, TOMATO
A Sardinian specialty, these grain-like bits add a chewy bite to soups and more. They’re usually toasted, giving them a brown-hued cast.




Pasta: FUSILLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Fusilli is a short “spun” pasta with twisted surfaces that provide a chute for sauce to slide down.




Pasta: FUSILLI COL BUCO | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Also known as fusilli bucati, these long corkscrew spirals have a tiny hole inside each strand. Check out my recipe for Spinach Salad with Cavatappi, Beans, and Asiago Cheese, I use cavatappi but fusilli will work just as nicely. 




Pasta: FUSILLI NAPOLETANI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Fusilli Napoletani look like ribbons that have been tightly twirled, although they have just enough space down the center to hold a range of sauces.




Pasta: GEMELLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, VEGETABLE
Gemelli are “twins,” named for their double helix–shaped strands.




Pasta: GIGLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, MEAT, TOMATO
Similar to campanelle, gigli are a little bit tighter and frillier, resembling the lilies for which they’re named.




Pasta: JUMBO SHELLS | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
An oversized variation on conchiglie, these egg-sized pieces are great for filling with cheese, chopped veggies, and more.




Pasta: LASAGNA | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These flat sheets are well known for their favorite use: baked into saucy belly-filling recipes. Check out my recipes for Lasagna al Forno, Lasagna Florentine, and Portobello Mushroom Lasagna.




Pasta: LINGUINE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PESTO, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLES
Long, flat, and narrow, linguine are best known for their pairing with clam sauce, although they are versatile and suitable for use with a wide range of sauces.




Pasta: LUMACONI | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLES
Named after snails, these large, roly-poly shapes are big enough to stuff with cheese and veggies.




Pasta: MACARONI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLES
Macaroni, of course, are iconic for their ability to hold cheese. It’s a pairing that has already gone down in history. Check out my recipes for Southern-Style Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and Easy Cheesy Baked Macaroni.




Pasta: MALLOREDDUS | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, MEAT, TOMATO
This Sardinian shape may resemble a grub, but its ridged surfaces and chewy, thick texture make it perfect for holding heavier sauces.




Pasta: MANICOTTI | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These large tubes are a favorite shape for stuffing, holding heavy bundles of ricotta or ground meat.




Pasta: ORECCHIETTE | Sauces: MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These “little ears” are popular for their soft, rounded shape that adapts easily around all manner of accompaniments.




Pasta: ORZO | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, SOUP
These rice-shaped pieces can soak up flavor readily, making them perfect for lightly dressed salads or simmering bakes.




Pasta: PACCHERI | Sauces: TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These smooth, thumb-sized tubes have their origins in Naples. They are suited for tossing in tomato-based sauces, but can also be found stuffed in some recipes.




Pasta: PAPPARDELLE | Sauce: MEAT
These long, broad, and weighty egg noodles have the heft to hold up to heavy meat- and cream-based preparations. Check out my recipe for Beef Stroganov




Pasta: PASTINA | Sauces: SOUP
The tiniest pasta of them all, pastina can be eaten almost like a porridge or added to soups.




Pasta: PENNE LISCE (a.k.a. MOSTACCIOLI) | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
A bit on the slippery side, these smooth-surfaced quills are cut on the diagonal.




Pasta: PENNE RIGATE | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These penne have a bumpy surface, which picks up sauce better than their smooth counterparts. 




Pasta: RADIATORE | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO
These short, frilled shapes may look like deep-sea creatures, but they can catch chunks of tomato or cheese between each wing.




Pasta: RICCIOLI | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO
These delicate, twisted scrolls are capable of picking up light sauces and can stud cheesy bakes.




Pasta: RIGATONI | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Named for their ridged lines, rigatoni is most commonly found in Sicily. These guys are sturdy enough to take on thicker and chunkier sauces. Here's where you serve your Bolognese sauce.




Pasta: ROTELLE | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Rotelle are wheels—they even have spokes! These quarter sized circles can be used festively in a number of ways.




Pasta: ROTINI | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Rotini are barely discernible from fusilli, but they do have a slightly tighter spiral and a shorter overall length.




Pasta: SFOGLIA | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
These are broad sheets of pasta—the kind you can make simply by passing through your pasta roller. Use them to make stuffed cannelloni.




Pasta: SPAGHETTI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
The legendary classic: These are long pasta with a rounded shape, perfect for twirling around a fork. 




Pasta: SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Associated with the central region of Abruzzo, these long strands have a square shape, created by running pasta sheets through the guitarlike instrument that gives them their name.




Pasta: SPAGHETTINI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Thinner than regular spaghetti, these wiry pieces are best suited for lighter sauces.




Pasta: STELLINE | Sauce: SOUP
Oh, my stars! (get it?) These twinkling shapes will have you seeking out constellations in your soup.




Pasta: STROZZAPRETI | Sauces: MEAT, VEGETABLE
These twists are made by tightly coiling flat strips of pasta. The origin of their name (“priest stranglers”) is debated—some say that it’s because gluttonous priests would choke themselves on them.




Pasta: TAGLIARINI | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE
Similar in width to fettuccine, these long, flat strands are often served in butter sauce.




Pasta: TRENETTE | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO, VEGETABLE, PESTO
Associated with the northwestern region of Liguria, these linguini-like threads are usually served with pesto or simple sauces.




Pasta: TROFIE | Sauce: PESTO
Trofie pasta is formed from tapered twists of dough. It’s most closely associated with Genoa, where it can often be found with pesto.




Pasta: TUBETTINI | Sauces: BAKED, SOUP
Smaller than ditalini, these tubular pieces are associated with minestrone soup.




Pasta: ZITI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE
Ziti are tubular and short like penne, but lack the ridges and have a square cut. They’re best known as an element in pasta bakes, although they also match up perfectly well with a range of sauces.

Bet your head is spinning now.

Do you have a favorite pasta?

Of course, we all have our favorites no matter what the sauce, mine is fettuccine, my daughter’s is angel hair. Bottom line: No hard rules, just ENJOY THE FOOD AND THE COMPANY, right? The most wonderful thing about comfort food is that paired with love and family members makes any house a home. There is no better time spent than precious moments around a table with loved ones, enjoying a good meal, sharing the thoughts of the day and expressing your feelings for each other.


* Sorry this post has gotten a bit long (but it sure is a pretty one, right?)
    Here are just a couple more important points on cooking pasta.



  
• Always cook pasta in a very large pan of salted, boiling water. If you don’t give the pasta enough space to move in the pan, it will stick together. Italians say the water should be as salty as the sea to flavor the pasta.

• There is no need to add olive oil to your pasta when cooking. It won’t prevent it from sticking together, it will prevent the sauce from adhering to the pasta and the oil will just end up down the drain.
• In Italy, the pasta and sauce are always combined in the pan to ensure every piece of pasta is coated.

Don’t cook the pasta all the way through in the water. Instead, drain it when it still has a little bite, then add to the sauce and continue cooking for a few minutes more until the pasta is cooked and has absorbed a little of the sauce.

• When draining the pasta, make sure you save a cup of the pasta water. Then, when you add the pasta to the sauce, splash in a little of the water if it looks too dry. The starch in the water will help the sauce cling to the pasta.


A short video to explain it better.




What are your top pasta tips?

Can you see my passion for pasta?



"Goditi il cibo e goditi la vita!
Ciao"