Spaghetti and meatballs is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most popular foods. It’s no accident that string shaped noodles met a meatball and tasted so good. The noodle was made for the sauce. Yes, not all noodles and sauce combos are created equally.
Italian chefs would balk at the service of bolognese sauce – the traditional Italian red sauce ragu accented with hunks of sausage, braciole and pork – with anything other than thick and hearty rigatoni. The ridges on the pasta are the perfect spot for sauce to sneak in and the hollow of the pasta is the perfect place for bits of sausage and meat to nestle for the perfect bite. See, the wrong noodle could wreck a great sauce.
When it comes to sauce and pasta pairings, generally, larger shaped noodles work better with thick, robust sauces. Similarly, skinny-thing pastas, like vermicelli or angel hair spaghetti, prefer more delicate or light sauces. Shaped noodles with holes or pockets, like elbows, are perfect for thick cheesy sauces as the sauce has a place to hide inside the pasta.
Still unsure of how to plate your pasta dinner? Here’s your guide for the ultimate Sunday supper.
This pipe-shaped pasta is basically a tube version of spaghetti. It’s perfect for soaking up tomato sauce and since it’s heartier than regular spaghetti, it benefits from a little more flavor.
Long and lean, capellini is often called angel hair pasta or spaghetti. It’s ideal for light, thin sauces like butter and cheese, oil and garlic, or a very light tomato sauce.
Traditionally found in the southern region of Italy called Puglia, cavatelli are short noodles that resemble mini hot dog buns.
Since it’s a small noodle, no sauce should be heavy. Instead simple veggie sauces are ideal. Traditionally, cavatelli is served with broccoli, garlic and oil.
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Ditalini translates to ‘little fingers.” The opening is ideal for soaking up thin sauce or broth, so this tiny tube-shaped noodle is great for soups like pasta e fagioli .
The traditional noodle for mac and cheese, the hollow in this elbow shaped noodle is ideal for cheese and cream-based sauces like Alfredo, four cheese, cheddar, and the like. Because it’s a hearty noodle, it can take the heat of the oven, too.
Farfalle (Bow Ties)
Shaped after the wings of a butterfly, farfalle pasta is ideal for light to medium-bodied sauces like four cheese, pesto, and butter and Parmesan. The pinch where the ‘wings’ meet creates a tiny hollow where the sauce can pocket for a deliciously balanced bite of sauce and pasta.
Fettuccine is a long ribbon shaped pasta that’s famous for its pairing with cream-based Alfredo sauces.
It’s long and thick, so it holds up to heavier sauces and benefits from texture that comes with the addition of seafood and veggies.
Filled pasta like ravioli and tortellini typically hold a lot of flavor in their stuffing.
So, the sauce should be light – a simple tomato sauce, a seasoned butter sauce, or a simple oil and garlic sauce should do the trick.
Shaped like a corkscrew, this is the ideal pasta for tighter, smoother sauces that have a bit of olive oil in them like pesto. The sauce clings perfectly to the twists in the pasta.
These noodles are called lasagna noodles for a reason. They are flat and made for layering. Their thickness allows for a heavy layer of sauce and cheese to be piled high and the entire dish baked.
Slightly thinner than fettuccini, linguini have a nice thickness that allow for them to hold up to protein without being lost – as long as the sauce isn’t too heavy.
One of the most versatile of the noodles, they are most commonly paired with clams or mussels to create the perfect balance of starch, broth/sauce and protein in every fork full.
This rice-shaped pasta can soak up flavor easily and is often boiled in broth as opposed to water for extra flavor. When prepared that way, orzo is ideal for light and cold salads or soups.
Pappardelle are long, broad noodles that are often made with an extra yolk or two. They have the weight and heft to stand up to hearty meat and cream sauces like bolognese and vodka sauce.
This is the first food of almost every kid in Italy. A tiny spec of pasta, pastina would get lost in sauce, so it is traditionally served with a pat of butter and shaking of Parmesan cheese for an easy-to-eat meal for kids. Stelline are star-shapped pastina used in the same way.
Perfect for sauce and pasta salads, the shape catches tidbits of cheese and flavor inside one neat little package. When large enough, they should be stuffed with cheese, topped with more cheese, and baked.
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Thicker than angel hair pasta but thinner than fettuccine, spaghetti is ideal with medium-thickness sauces like traditional pomodoro, egg-based carbonara and pesto. Meatballs add texture and flavor, creating the iconic spaghetti and meatballs that the whole world loves.
Long, flat and similar in size and shape to fettuccine, tagliatelle is the perfect noodle for rich meat sauces and cream-based sauces like vodka, Alfredo and light bolognese.
Penne, rigatoni and ziti all fall into the tube-shaped pasta category. They are all similar in shape, but just have larger hallows, with penne being the thinnest, ziti next in size and rigatoni as the largest.
They are ideal for hearty vegetables and meat sauces, and can be topped with sauce or baked since their thickness can hold up to high heat and lots (and lots) of cheese.