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Perfect pasta: A guide to choosing your pasta shape

If you take a walk down the pasta aisle of your local grocer’s, it’s easy to see that there is more to this kitchen staple than just spaghetti and macaroni. In fact, a huge variety of shapes and sizes can be found, but that raises the question, which shape for which sauce?

Assortment of pasta varieties in a wood organizer

The choice is up to you, but the right pairing of pasta and sauce can give a more satisfying outcome to your dish, and even though there are hundreds of varieties of pasta to consider, choosing the right pasta doesn’t have to stress you out. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular pasta and sauce pairings.

Strand pasta

  • Capellini (angel hair), vermicelli and spaghettini: Thin, long pastas best suited to light, delicate sauces, such as those based on wine, olive oil, butter and herbs. Such ingredients as herbs, shallots and garlic should be chopped finely to not overpower the pasta.
  • Spaghetti: A medium-weight, long strand that’s a nice all-around pasta well suited for most pestos and tomato, vegetable or meat sauces. Also a traditional favourite for baked pasta dishes.
  • Linguine, fettuccine and tagliatelle: Flat and wider than spaghetti, these pastas pair well with heavier sauces, like seafood, cream (such as alfredo) and ragús.

Learn how to host a “spaghettata” >>

Tube pastas

  • Rigatoni, penne and ziti: These tubular pastas have hollow centres, which is ideal for holding lots of sauce. They stand up well to cheese or cream as well as heavy meat, vegetable or tomato sauces. Additionally, they work well in cold pasta salad with cubed meat/tofu, cheese and chopped vegetables or in a baked pasta dish.
  • Macaroni and small conchiglie (shell pasta): Although smaller than rigatoni and penne, these pastas can handle the same sauces and recipes as their larger counterparts. They are also a perfect addition to a soup such as minestrone.
  • Manicotti and cannelloni: There are differences between the two, but we tend to treat them the same, considering both types are best served filled with spinach and ricotta or various meats, such as veal or chicken, topped with a béchamel, tomato or meat sauce and then baked.

Shaped short pasta

  • Rotini, fusilli and gemelli: All three are twisted shapes, much like a corkscrew, and are well suited to holding pasta sauce. Use these varieties with pesto or cheese, tomato, vegetable or meat sauces. As well, try them in a pasta salad or a hearty soup.
  • Farfalle: Because of its unique bow tie shape, it holds on to pasta sauce especially well. Use it with seafood, butter, oil, herb, tomato and meat sauces. This is another pasta that’s a great addition to a pasta salad dressed with either a creamy or oil-based sauce.

Pasta rollerSheet pasta

  • Lasagna: This pasta is a large, flat sheet that’s perfectly suited for layering. Pair it with almost any cream, tomato, meat or vegetable sauce and whatever other ingredients you choose to create a layered baked pasta dish, individual pasta rolls or a free-form lasagna.

Small pasta

  • Orzo, pastina and ditalini: These smaller-scale pastas tend to get lost in most sauces. Use them with an oil-based or light wine sauce, or add them to brothy soups, vinegar-based salads and other light dishes.

More on pasta

Tomato and goat cheese whole-wheat spaghetti
Healthy and delicious pasta salad recipes
Butternut squash ravioli with browned butter sage sauce

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