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How to match pasta shapes and sauce

Learn how to pair the right pasta sauce to the right pasta shape, from linguine to tagliatelle, penne rigate and spaghetti. Written by Caz Hildebrand

Want to know how to match your pasta sauce to the right pasta shape? Read on to find out more from Geometry of Pasta author Caz Hildebrand…

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17 posh pasta recipes for easy entertaining

Orecchiette Pasta Recipe with Prawns

The geometry of pasta

Serve a dollop of meat and tomato sauce on top of a mound of spaghetti (or whatever you have to hand) and cover with ready-grated parmesan. Hey presto, spaghetti bolognese! But alas, this is a dish unknown in Italy.

The Italians always know exactly how to pair pasta with the right pasta shape. Chef Jacob Kenedy and I discovered that there are more than 300 different types of pasta – the handmade shapes such as strozzapreti (or ‘priest stranglers’); and the mechanically extruded shapes that perhaps we know better, such as fusilli or penne.

Our range of Tuscan pastas and sauces, The Geometry of Pasta brand of pasta and sauces, is a celebration of the most basic staples of Italian cooking. First, pasta is very regional. If a shape is made in a certain part of Italy then it’s more than likely the sauce will be made from something grown in the same area. For example, Liguria has the biggest and best basil production in the world, so of course pesto is Ligurian and goes best with Ligurian pasta shapes like linguine.


The Italian rule – which pasta shapes go with which sauces

A general guide is that lighter, more delicate sauces of thinner, more liquid consistency are best suited to thinner pasta shapes or filled pasta, stuffed with gently-flavoured ingredients.

Chunky, heavier sauces, more concentrated and often spicier, meatier or richer, are best served with bigger, thicker pasta shapes that collect more sauce in their grooves or ridges.

Not all shapes work with complex sauces – for example, stuffed pastas often have a simple broth, because they’ve already got quite a lot happening on the inside. And the tiny shapes like stellini or risoare generally used in soup rather than a heavy sauce where they’d get lost.

Remember to buy the best quality pasta you can afford. It really does matter that the semolina is 100% durum wheat; that the shapes have been extruded through bronze dies; and that they have been dried slowly at low temperatures.

It makes the dish so much more delicious if you get the right shape and the right sauce. It tastes better, feels better, looks better and works better. Here’s how to pair pasta with the right pasta shape…


Linguine

Linguine (or ‘little tongues’) is of course perfect with pesto, but linguine alle vongole (with clams) has to be one of life’s finest pleasures. And, as far as I am concerned, one of the quickest, easiest dishes to make… but please, always in bianco and never, ever with tomatoes!

Spicy Prawn Linguine Pasta Recipe

Tagliatelle

The only shape of pasta any self-respecting Italian would eat al ragù (or bolognese sauce to us). This is a rich and complex sauce, but well worth the effort. Tagliatelle are flat, wide ribbons of pasta, often made with egg. Good fresh or dried.

Tagliatelle Recipe With Peas And Pesto

Penne Rigate

Ridged tubes of pasta, cut at an angle like an olde worlde writing implement, these have to be one of the most popular shapes going. Perfect with arrabbiata, a spicy tomato sauce.

Penne Alla Norma Recipe

Spaghetti

For the world’s most popular form of pasta, there are many perfect sauces. Especially puttanesca (or whore’s sauce), originally a Neapolitan recipe that’s very delicious whatever the connotations!

Chorizo Spaghetti Recipe with Pangritata

38 quick and easy pasta recipes ready in under 30 minutes

Sausage Meatball Pasta Recipe with Broccoli

Written by Caz Hildebrand

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About Caz

Caz is an award-winning graphic designer and art director. Her cookbook, The Geometry of Pasta (co-authored with Jacob Kenedy), has been published world-wide and 2015 saw the launch of The Geometry of Pasta brand of pasta and sauces.