How to combine pasta shapes with sauces, soups and more

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If you’ve ever mixed sauce and pasta and thought the combination wasn’t quite right, there could be a reason: not all pasta is perfect for all dishes.

There are over 300 pasta shapes, so you’ll be forgiven for the occasional misstep.

“I get very excited when I see a shape that I don’t know about or haven’t thought about in a long time,” says cookbook author Cathy Parla, whose books include Food of the Italian South and, co-authored with Evan Funke, American Sfoglino: Master class on handmade pasta.

Parla takes two approaches to choosing the shape of the pasta. The American side says: “Do what you want.” The Italian resident side, dating back two decades, takes into account the traditions of its adopted country. (In The Foundations of Classical Italian Cuisine, the legendary Marcella Hazan says that the principles of pasta and sauce pairing “cannot be ignored by those who want to achieve the full and harmonious expression of taste that Italian cuisine is capable of.”)

Parla’s Diplomatic View: “There may be opportunities to taste delicious texture if you don’t follow the strict tradition.”

However, you need to think about what forms of pasta you use for what dishes. Here is a summary of some of the main categories, along with examples and suggestions for their use. Keep in mind that forms can be classified in several ways.

Examples: angel hair, bucatini, fettuccine, linguine, mafaldin, pappardelle, tagliatelle.

“Long and flat pastas like spaghetti, linguine and fettuccine go especially well with butter and homogenized sauces like clam sauce, tomato or garlic butter sauce,” say Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanja Bastianich Manuali in Lidia mastering the art.” Italian cuisine.” Carbonara and cacio e pepe are two popular dishes with sauces that stick well to the strands. The same can be said about Hazana’s tomato, onion and butter sauce.

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Sauces don’t have to be colorless to go well with long noodles, although small pieces work better with these types of pasta. “The Bologna-style meat stew really goes great with noodles of varying thicknesses,” says Parla. Spaghetti or linguine with shellfish or other seafood is the perfect combination. In Genoa, says Parla, you can find pesto paired with linguini.

I wanted the ultimate Bolognese. After six recipes, I came up with the best stew of all.

Think beyond the longer forms you may be familiar with. “I also really like giant versions of things,” says Stephanie Le, who recently released That Noodle Life with her husband Mike. You can find oversized ziti or fusilli, the latter of which works very well in Lesa’s recipe for spicy sesame oil and chili noodles, as does lasagna-style mafaldin.

Examples: Cascatelli, Cavatappi, Fusilli, Radiatori, Rotini.

If you want something to counter a chunky sauce like a stew, ridge, frill, or corkscrew molds provide plenty of “architecture” for grabbing meat or vegetable chunks, says Parla. Same pesto. You’ll find long textured pastas like mafaldin and long fusilli and short ones like rotini and radiari.

One of the latest products on the scene is the cascatelli, a shape coined by Dan Pashman of the Sporkful podcast and New York-based pasta company Sfoglini. (Trader Joe also sells it.) Try the Cascatelli with green olives, Calabrian chili and lemon tuna.

If you want to go beyond Italian sauces, Mike Le recommends pairing mapo tofu with ribbed or wavy shapes.

Italian Basil Pesto is a simple and versatile summer sauce.

Examples: cavatelli, conchile, elbow pasta, farfalle, gemelli, lumache, orecchiette, pipette, trottole.

Although less dramatic than some of their ribbed or pleated counterparts, many short pasta shapes are great for capturing hearty sauces. Think conch-shaped shell holes or a shallow, ear-shaped orecchiette crater. For pasta with Italian sausages, tomatoes and eggplant, choose bluebells, cavatappi, fusilli or gemelli.

Parla says short, round shapes are also good for creamy sauces. See Pasta with bow tie and spicy creamy vodka sauce starring farfalle.

According to Stephanie Le, short pasta creates nice textural contrasts between inside and outside, thick and thin. She notes that they work well with a cold pasta salad, as they trap the ingredients in their crevices and are less likely to break apart when chilled.

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Examples: paccheri, penne, maccheroni, rigatoni, ziti.

Tubes provide many texture variations. “Tubular pasta will collect the flavorful bits of your sauce in its nooks and crannies; the combs on your pasta will give a great mouthfeel,” according to “Lydia Masters the Art of Italian Cooking.” You’ll find these ledges perfect in Rigatoni with broccoli and lemon sauce.

The tubules “pair so well with the concentrated, buttery meat sauces of the south” of Italy, such as when a fatty piece of meat is stewed in tomato sauce to melt it, says Parla.

Consider making carbonara with rigatoni, one of the most popular forms of pasta in Rome.

Examples: Acini, anelletti, ditalini, farfalline, fregula, risi, orzo, stelline.

These fun, miniature shapes can be rings or tubes (anneli, ditalini), balls (fregula), or even stars (stellina). The size means they are easy to scoop up, making them perfect for eating with a spoon. “We make tons of pasta-enriched soups,” says Parla, and you can often find “little chunky shapes” bouncing around in thinner broths or starchy bean or potato soups. Minestre and minestrone, similar but not identical, are two common examples of soups. (The Minestrone Pasta Salad is a cool take on this concept.)

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Small forms are also great in pasta salad and keep well in the refrigerator. For a salad with no difference in size, cut the vegetables in the salad so that they are about the same size as the pasta. In the summer, try a small pasta salad with corn, tomatoes, and feta.

Fill your pantry with multiple shapes. Consider having at least a few types of pasta on hand that can be used for a wide variety of recipes. “If you’re short on space, always keep three pastas handy,” says Mike Le. He recommends having long (tagliatelle) and short (fusilli) uniforms in his office, as well as a fun shape that feels special. Choice of Parla: long (spaghetti or spaghetti); sinuous (fusilli or gemelli); small and scoop-shaped (snail-shaped lumah); tiny (ditalini); and a short pipe (mezze rigatoni).

Smart substitutions. When changing forms, try to replace like with like, Lesya says. Strive to match the length as well as the texture (smooth or ribbed).

Use good pasta. Les strongly recommends choosing pasta that has been extruded through a bronze head. Look for this information on the packaging and for the more crumbly surface of the pasta. The bronze cut paste releases more starch and helps the sauce stick.

Use water for pasta. “I would say that just about any sauce can stick to any shape of pasta,” says Parla. This is true if you emulsify the sauce using pasta water, tossing the pasta into the sauce and adding cheese and other fats to help it stick.

Try new forms for you. “There are so many different shapes that you haven’t seen in the usual supermarket aisles before,” says Stephanie Le. If you want to broaden your horizons, visit the Italian Market. And don’t worry too much if your experiment isn’t perfect. “Pasta is really indulgent,” she says.

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