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Matching Pasta Shapes to Sauces


If there's one thing I've mastered living in Italy, it's pasta! I don't make it from scratch but I've definitely learned what shapes go with what sauces and what flavors to toss for taste! While the idea of Italian cooking feels complex, in practice, it's actually quite simple!  

Long & Skinny Pasta - spaghetti, linguine, fusilli lunghi, capellini and vermicelli with light seafood sauces, cream, or oil based sauces. 

Long Ribbon Shaped Pasta - tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, mafaldine with rich, meaty sauces (think bolognese or ragu). 

Shell Shaped Pasta - conchiglie, lumache, and other shells with heavy cream or thick meat sauces; the large ones are great for stuffing - keep it chunky!

Twist Shaped Pasta - fusili, trofie, strozzapreti, caserecce, gemelli with lighter, smooth sauces which will stick to the twists, such as pesto. I love using fusilli for cold pasta salads too. 

Tube Shaped Pasta - penne, rigatoni, macaroni, paccheri with hearty vegetable sauces or baked cheese dishes. Of course, these are great with bolognese or ragu too.


Mini Shaped Pasta - orzo, fregola, canestrini, farfalle (bow ties), stelline are best in soups and stews or as pasta salads. 

Filled or Stuffed Pasta - ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti with a light butter or oil sauce. Since these pastas are usually filled with lots of flavor, a very simple, light sauce or broth works best. 

And lasagna is for layering ;) 

Pasta Cooking Tips:

Always cook pasta in a large pot. If you don’t give the pasta enough space to move in the pot, it will stick together. 

Always add of salt to your boiling water. Italians say the water should be as salty as the sea to flavor the pasta. A good rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of kosher salt for every pound of pasta. Add the salt once the water is boiling but before you put the pasta in. 

Don't add olive oil to your pasta when cooking. Contrary to popular belief, it does not prevent it from sticking, and you will just end up wasting olive oil down the drain. That said, if you aren't going to use the pasta right away (tossing it with a sauce), once drained, you can add a bit of olive oil to prevent it from drying out and sticking together. 

Don’t cook the pasta all the way in the water. Instead, drain it when it still has a little bite, then add to the sauce and continue cooking for a few minutes more until the pasta is cooked and has absorbed a little of the sauce. 

Cooking types vary with the type of pasta you're cooking, the boiling water, the altitude... The time on the box is a suggestion. The best way to time your pasta is by pulling a piece out and tasting it. You want it to have a little bit of a bite (AKA al dente).

When you drain the pasta, save a cup of the boiled pasta water. Then, when you add the pasta to the sauce, splash in a little of the water if it looks too dry. The starch in the water will help the sauce cling to the pasta.


Never rinse your pasta (unless you're making a cold pasta salad). The starch helps the sauce stick to the noodles and thickens the dish. 

Add your pasta to your sauce not your sauce to your pasta. Adding your pasta to a sauce (in a pan) gives it time to cook in the sauce, absorbing some of it - think flavor! After you strain the pasta, toss it in a pan with your sauce over low heat. Once again, just make sure to undercook your pasta by a minute or two so it doesn't overcook in the sauce.

And finally, break your pasta or don't break your pasta - there's no rule - no matter what any Italian might tell you!