How to: pairing pasta and sauces.
Pasta. It’s complicated.
Italians are world leaders in the production (3.2 million tons) and consumption (52 lbs per head) of pasta each year. Each region and even each Italian bell tower has its own recipe symbol. And of course, every Italian has their favorite dish. But beyond some basic guidelines, not everyone knows that certain combinations go best with certain types of sauce and not with others. And there are precise rules for matching them.
Rule number one: in pasta, the shape is key . Different shapes have different behaviors in cooking and a different yield on the palate, both in terms of taste and consistency. One element, even if small, changes everything: curvature of shape, a the fragrance of the sauce, timing and baking methods (classic, stuffed in pan or risotto), even the way to serve it in the dish.
This is how it’s done.
Some pasta and sauce combinations are derived from Italian traditions and customs. Among the classics include spaghetti with garlic oil and chili pepper or tomato sauce, trofie with pesto, tagliatelle with bolognese sauce and ziti with genoese sauce. Others like to experiment a bit, such as with carbonara. The traditional dish is made spaghetti, but more and more often it can be found with rigatoni or another short pasta.
But how do you know how to pair the two? There are four factors to take into account: the cooking method, the size, the ability to contain sauces and the intensity of the taste. Depending on the shape (striped, smooth, thick or thin), the taste experience is different.
Generally, the more delicate shapes (such as farfalle) are better matched with light and fresh sauces. The more structured shapes (tortiglioni or bucatini), pair best with robust sauces, meat sauces or amatriciana. Larger shapes, such as paccheri and ziti, are ideal for sauces that combine elegance and texture. While mezzemaniche is more of an everyday and versatile pasta, suitable for quick and practical sauces but also great for carbonara. Pasta with a porous or striped surface better captures thin sauces, while a texture more smooth is perfect with thicker sauces. The width of tagliatelle and pappardelle tends to “spread” on the tongue and therefore calls for an especially hearty sauce, while seashells collect light sauces inside them in perfection like a tiny bowl.
Need more help? We found this handy guide for you via the Huffington Post.