Pairing Pasta with Sauce

Pasta shapes tend to fall into a few basic camps. Learn their differences with Food Network to understand how best to pair pasta with sauce — upon closer inspection, the shape of things tells you all you need to know.

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Thin Long Noodles Like Spaghetti, Angel Hair, Capellini and Spaghettini

These delicate strands are best paired with light sauces, like tomato or garlic and olive oil, that will coat the strands evenly and won't get weighed down when wound up with a fork. Small, light additions like chopped fresh herbs, diced tomatoes or crumbled crisp pancetta add layers to a dish without overwhelming the simple pairing.

Flat Long Noodles Like Fettuccine, Linguine, Tagliatelle and Pappardelle

Flat ribbon-like pasta is best paired with rich or creamy sauces, as the surface area of the pasta's flat shape enables it to stand up against the heft of a rich sauce. As a general rule, pair the heartier sauces with the wider noodles: Wide ribbons like pappardelle pair well with rich, meaty sauces while the thinner flat noodles, like fettuccine or linguine, are best paired with simple cream sauces like Alfredo or delicate proteins like seafood.

Long Tube Noodles Like Perciatelli and Bucatini

These long tubes of pasta resemble spaghetti, but with a tube running down the center. They have an extra heft to their bite, making them ideal for louder, brighter flavors like crushed red pepper flakes or tangy pancetta. The thin tube shape lends itself toward more fluid, loose sauces, so that the sauce can run down the center for more flavor in each bite.

Short Tube Pasta Like Penne, Rigatoni, Ziti, Cavatappi and Campanelle

Versatility belongs to the short tube pasta, which works in soups, salads, casseroles and pasta dishes with sauces ranging from creamy to hearty. The larger the tube, the more potential for catching creamy sauces studded with bits of meats or vegetables. If the pasta name includes the word "rigate," the pasta shape will include ridges, which make it easier for sauces like pesto to cling to the pasta.

Small Tube Pasta Like Macaroni and Ditalini

The narrow tubes found in this pasta make it ideal for baked pasta dishes where they are flooded with creamy cheese sauces. The slight bite behind these thin, small tube pastas also makes them ideal in soups and pasta salads, though their small stature makes them less compatible with hearty, meaty sauces.

Short Shaped Pasta Like Farfalle/Bow Tie, Conchiglie, Fusilli, Gemelli, Orecchiette, Rotelle/Wagon Wheels, Rotini, Cavatelli and Campanelle

The structural shape of these pasta varieties — including ruffles, ridges, curls and cones — gives them a sturdier bite or mouthfeel, making them ideal for catching or holding rich, heartier sauces with textures brought in from different proteins and vegetables.