There are literally a hundred different types of pasta, coming in all sorts of different shapes, many of which have more than just one name, making it difficult to keep track of which pasta is which. But why does it even matter? Most pasta consists of the same ingredients, so does it even matter which pasta you use? It does, and then some.
What you need to understand about pasta is that taste alone isn’t the be-all-end-all of culinary delight. Hashbrowns, baked potatoes, and French fries are all made of the same exact ingredient but differ in consistency and shape, and that same logic applies to pasta, as different shapes of pasta are more naturally chewy, interact better with different sauces and more.
Here is all you need to know about pairing the various types of pasta with different sauces.
1. Spaghetti and Capellini
Spaghetti is one of the most well-known and popular types of pasta around the world. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misused. Spaghetti and capellini (angel’s hair pasta) are both pasta noodles shaped as fine rods. As such, they go best with smooth, delicate sauces, the best example of which is aglio e olio, a Neapolitan sauce of olive oil and garlics, or marinara.
2. Pappardelle, Fettuccine, and Tagliatelle
All of the above are long, flat egg noodles of varying width, pappardelle being the widest and tagliatelle being the thinnest. Their length and large surface area work best with creamier sauces that employ butter, cream or cheese. Good examples of sauces that work well with this variety of pasta are the famed Alfredo sauce (al burro in Italy) which consists of butter and parmesan, roux-based sauces or carbonara.
3. Radiatori and Fusilli
Frilled pasta like fusilli and radiatori work well with chunky sauces like ragù (“Bolognese”). This is because the external ribs tend to “trap” pieces of meat and vegetables within them. These also work best in cold pasta salads, for much the same reason.
4. Penne, Maccheroni, Ziti, and Rigatoni
Tubular pasta works best with heavy sauces containing larger chunks of meat or generous amount of cheese (one of the reasons mac n’ cheese is so popular), as the tubes perfectly contain the substantial parts of the sauce, making for perfect bites.
5. Conchiglie, Gnocchi, and Lumache
Curved, hollow pasta like the shell-shaped conchiglie, gnocchi (not to be confused with gnocchi potato dumplings) and lumache are like tiny bowls and are thus best served with brothy sauces with chunks of meat and vegetables, such as the bean-based pasta e fagioli (“pasta fazool”).