Pasta is pretty amazing. With just a few ingredients—flour, water, and salt—a simple dough can be formed to create over 600 different types of pasta. There are long noodles, short tubes, flat sheets, little grains, and on and on. And each of these pasta shapes serves a different purpose. The ridges on one type are good for catching tomato sauce; another's bulk will stand up to a creamy three-cheese sauce; and another might be the star of the show with a simple butter and herb sauce.
We consulted some pasta experts (the best job in the world) to get the low-down on all the common types of pasta and the sauces they pair best with. Matthew Adler is a partner and executive chef at old-school Italian restaurant Caruso's Grocery in Washington D.C. "The texture of whatever the sauce you're serving should be congruent with the pasta itself," he explained. Dino Borri, Global VP of Eataly, echoed that sentiment, saying that the pasta shape and sauce pairing can depend on where you are in Italy. "Not just every region, but every little town, every little area changes the way to make the sauce and the shape of pasta," he said.
It's also important to note that pasta sauce pairings are not one size fits all. Penne doesn't always have to dressed in vodka sauce. Fettuccine doesn't need to be covered in Alfredo sauce. Check out the list below to expand your pasta world, so the next time you're at the store, you might think twice about reaching for that box of penne and try something new.
The word cascatelli comes from the Italian word for waterfalls. The shape is the brainchild of The Sporkful podcast host Dan Pashman. He set out to create the perfect pasta shape, combining saucability, forkability, and tooth-sinkability. The ruffles make a trough for the sauce, the long shape makes it easy to fork, and the complicated texture makes it fun to eat.
Cavatappi are less like a corkscrew and more like a tubular curl with ridges. All that built-in texture makes them great for just about any sauce—creamy, chunky, tomato-y, or oil-based.
Gnocchi is the most pillow-like of all the pillowy pastas. The soft and tender dumpling is made from boiled potato and flour, making it filling but so delicious. It can be used in soups, like this Olive Garden chicken gnocchi soup, in cream sauces, like this cacio e pepe, or in any tomato or butter sauces.
On most restaurant menus, you'll find linguine, a flat noodle with slightly less width than fettuccine, paired with seafood dishes. There's the traditional linguine with clams, but you'll also see it served with shrimp, calamari, scallops, and other shellfish. It also goes well with cream-based sauces.
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