Selecting the perfect cut of pasta for your pasta sauce, or vice versa is like uniting the two in marriage. Here are some tips to making the perfect union of the two.
Shape Up Your Pasta Night
With over 500 different denominations for pasta in Italy, the myriad of shapes that pasta now comes in can seem overwhelming. The fanciful shapes of pasta have been designed that way for a reason, with a surface area for optimum holding of the sauce, some with ridges, some smooth, and each is adapted for a particular type of sauce. But, basically they can be broken down into just three simple categories: long cuts, short cuts and soup cuts.
Spaghetti, Linguine, Fettuccine, Capellini, etc.
These long tendrils are perfect for both light olive oil sauces and heartier meat sauces. The long ribbons of mafalda and fettuccine are perfect for wrapping around a rich Bolognese Sauce or soaking up a cream and mushroom sauce. Spaghetti and linguine work best with smoother olive oil and tomato sauces. Delicate capellini and thin spaghetti—also known as angel hair pasta—are great for simple butter and cream sauces accented with herbs or fresh grated cheese. These strands are too fine to stand up to chunkier robust sauces.
Penne, Rigatoni, Farfalle, Orecchiette, etc.
Short cuts are made to capture hearty ragùs and chunky vegetable sauces in their sturdy hollows and ridges, giving satisfying bursts of flavor as you eat. As a general guide, choose a pasta shape that has the right size hollow to catch the pieces in your sauce. For example, peas or crumbles of Italian sausage snuggle nicely into rigatoni or shell pasta, while smaller vegetables are captured easily by the corkscrew twists of fusilli. Smooth-sided pasta shapes like farfalle go brilliantly with creamy sauces, as the thick reduced cream clings to coat each noodle.
Soup Cuts (Pastina)
Orzo, Ditalini, Acini di Pepe, Stelline, etc.
Ranging from small tubes to super tiny grain-shaped noodles, pastina are easy to scoop up with a soup spoon. Though cuts like ditalini and orzo make for excellent soup accents, recently such small cuts have found their way into everything from pasta salads to cheesy baked side dishes.