Pasta is the basic component in the daily Italian diet. It could seem the simplest thing to cook, but it isn’t! There are few secrets to success and mistakes to avoid if you want to make the perfect pasta dish.
As mentioned in our previous post about pasta, there’s a rule that Italians never underestimate when cooking it, the thing you should always take into consideration if you don’t want to ruin all your efforts. It is not enough to avoid overcooking. To create magic, you have to choose the right pasta shape for your sauce!
There are approximately 350 existing pasta shapes, with 1200 different names, if you count how each shape is called among Italian regions, and thousands of different sauces. Yes, we are complicated people, when it comes to food. Hadn’t you noticed that?
Well, every sauce gets along with the right pasta shape. I mean, a sauce can even taste differently, based on the pasta shape you choose! Here’s the ultimate guide about how to choose the perfect ones for your favourite sauces.
HOW TO MATCH THE RIGHT PASTA SHAPE TO PASTA SAUCE
As I told you, there are hundreds of pasta shapes and sauces, so it would be quite complicated to make a list of them and their best pairings! To keep things simple, let’s start by separating pasta into categories:
- Long pasta
- Short pasta
- Filled pasta
Long pasta shapes
The most famous among long pasta shapes is Spaghetti. In fact, there are many different types of long pasta, whose names change based on the shape of the die used to cut them, and on their thickness or width.
Broadly speaking, the general rule with regard to long pasta is: the wider the shape, the heavier the sauce.
Pappardelle, fettuccine, tagliatelle or reginette, the widest and flattest among long pasta shapes, are perfect with rich, heavy sauces. Good examples are meat ragù or cream and mushroom sauce, or generally, any creamy sauce with vegetables or meat chunks in it. Spaghetti Bolognese is known as one of the most famous Italian recipes. Actually, flat long pasta is the one that an Italian would rather use for this dish.
Other than flat pasta, there’s a good amount of long shapes that could seem the same as spaghetti. Actually, they are different from each other.
Bucatini and Bavette are wider than Spaghetti, the former with a hole in the center, the latter shaped like flattened Spaghetti. Bucatini are perfect with pancetta or guanciale sauces (like Amatriciana) or other rustic, rich ingredients combinations; Bavette (and Linguine too) are usually matched with fish and shrimps, or basil pesto.
With regard to spaghetti, broadly speaking, they are perfect with almost every type of sauce with simple ingredients, but always cut very thinly: tomato sauce, olio e aglio (extra virgin olive oil and garlic), seafood, and Carbonara too. As shown in the photo above though, even spaghetti are not all the same. They can be thin like Capellini (or Angel hair), thicker (like Vermicelli), or even squared, traditionally cut with a tool called Chitarra (guitar) cutter, more frequently with a squared die nowadays. The rule here is: the thinner the spaghetto, the more delicate and simple the sauce.
So, try to dress your thin Capellini simply with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, your Spaghetti with a seafood sauce or olio e aglio, your Vermicelli or squared spaghetti with Carbonara or Cacio e pepe sauce (Pecorino cheese and black pepper).
Short pasta shapes
When it comes to short pasta, it goes well with almost every sauce. Short pasta shapes have a more artistic design than the long ones: some pasta shapes are simplier, like penne, some others has crevices or other details, such as fusilli; some have a smooth surface, others are ridged.
So, how to choose the perfect short pasta and sauce pairings? First of all, smooth pasta should be matched with smooth, creamy sauces with eggs or cream, while ridged pasta, such as ridged penne or rigatoni, are perfect with robust, chunky meat or vegetables sauces.
Also, simplest pasta shapes like penne are gorgeous with a simple tomato sauce (have you ever eaten penne Arrabbiata?), while design shapes such as conchiglie (shells), fusilli, farfalle (butterflies, or bow ties) inspire rich, chunky sauces, with vegetables or meat, but also sauces that can cling them and be trapped into their crevices, such as Pesto alla genovese!
Filled pasta shapes
Filled pasta is usually prepared with egg dough; the traditional fillings are meat and/or cheese, sometimes vegetables. The most common are ravioli and tortellini.
There’s only a rule here: since filling is always rich and full of flavour, filled pasta sauce should be delicate and simple. Ravioli, which are usually filled with ricotta cheese, vegetables or fish, are perfect dressed just with some melted butter and a few sage leaves, or with tomato sauce.
Tortellini, traditionally filled with prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano, are gorgeous with a light meat broth, or simply with some double cream and black pepper.
In this table I’ve put together my tips on how to choose the perfect pasta sauce.
Other than these tips, there are some traditional pasta shape-sauce pairings people usually tend to respect (we are quite authoritarian when it comes to them, actually), such as:
- Trofie or Linguine with basil pesto sauce;
- Penne Arrabbiata;
- Spaghetti Carbonara;
- Orecchiette with turnip tops, or with broccoli;
- Ravioli with sage and butter;
- Spaghetti olio e aglio (garlic and extra virgin olive oil)
- Tagliatelle with mushrooms and cream…
I could continue to list the most common matches, but the truth is, the great thing in cooking is that we have the chance to use all our creativity. So, use the tips above as the starting point (and never use penne for your clams sauce!), but always model them to your taste. After all, passion is what makes food special, isn’t it?
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