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The Best Pasta Shape for your Sauce

The Best Pasta Shape for your Sauce

In The Article

    Why So Many Types of Pasta?

    Corkscrew-shaped fusilli. Ribbons of fettuccine. Bitsy, rice-like orzo. Hundreds of different pasta shapes have evolved over the centuries, each designed with a purpose in mind. Some are meant for soups, but most were built to hold a specific kind of sauce. In a good pairing, the shape absorbs or cradles the sauce, bringing flavor and texture to every bite.

    Here are some of our favorite pairings.

    Best Pasta for Mac ‘n’ Cheese

    The classic choice for this childhood favorite is baked into the recipe’s name: macaroni, whether curvy (i.e. elbows), straight, or the long spiraling type called cavatappi. All have a hollow core, creating a sensation of lightness that balances the cheesy sauce. Shell-shaped pasta works the same way, each tiny cup trapping air while cradling a pool of creamy richness.

    Try: Skillet Mac ‘n’ Cheese

    Best Pasta for Seafood Sauces

    Seafood sauces vary widely, so their pasta pairings aren’t always straightforward. In general, toss thin sauces like seasoned olive oil (as in the anchovy pasta as shown) with long, thin pastas—spaghetti, bucatini, spaghettini, linguine. Thin sauces coat each strand evenly. A chunkier sauce works better with a short, thick pasta like penne.

White Anchovy Linguine with Toasted Breadcrumbs

    Best Pasta for Pesto

    Classic pesto, from Genoa, Italy, is so delicious and so basic: fresh basil leaves pounded in a mortar with pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. It’s easy to riff on the formula by switching out the herbs, the nuts, even the type of oil. Pesto’s bright, fresh flavor and fine, smooth, clingy texture work well with really just about any pasta, from long shapes like spaghetti and fettuccine to shorter ones like fusilli, which traps loads of the garlicky, herby sauce in its coils.

Spinach Walnut Pesto Fusilli

    Best Pasta for Bolognese or Other Meat Sauces

    Named for the place it was born—Bologna, Italy—bolognese also has plenty of variations. The best-known version involves hours of simmering vegetables with ground beef and white wine, until it all breaks down into a beautiful, soulful sauce. Equally substantial pasta is mandatory, and the Bolognese people like to serve it with tagliatelle. Slightly wider than spaghetti, tagliatelle holds the sauce better. That said, Bolognese is equally good with ziti, fusilli or lasagne, thick pastas that can absorb the sauce without getting mushy. The same pasta choices work for other thick, meaty sauces, too.

Chorizo Baked Pasta

    Best Pasta for Vodka Sauce

    Vodka sauce is a new arrival as far as pasta sauces go, splashing onto the scene only in the 1970s. Made with tomatoes, cream, herbs, and vodka—an emulsifier that makes the sauce silkier—vodka sauce is rich, robust and best matched with a sturdy pasta. Its most famous pairing, of course, is penne, as in penne alla vodka.

    Try: Penne Alla Vodka

    Best Pasta for Alfredo Sauce or Other Creamy Sauces

    By definition, there’s only one possible pasta to pair with alfredo sauce: fettuccine. Invented at the famous Roman restaurant Alfredo alla Scrofa in the early 1900s, the original fettuccine Alfredo had just three ingredients: warm fettuccine, lots of butter and plenty of grated Parmesan, tossed together until every strand is coated. The key is the pasta, wide enough to trap the sauce but thin enough to absorb it. Ridged penne or fusilli, full of grooves and crannies, will also do the trick for this and other creamy sauces.

    Try: Blue Cheese Fusilli with Zucchini and Red Peppers

    The Basic Rule for Pasta Pairing (and Why to Choose Bronze Die-Cut)

    If this all sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, here’s the rule of thumb for pasta pairing: The thicker and chunkier the sauce, the thicker the pasta shape; the thinner the sauce, the thinner the pasta. But don’t stress if your sauce ends up on whatever pasta you’ve got in the kitchen cupboard. Well-made sauce tossed with good pasta will rarely let you down. 

    That’s especially true if the pasta was extruded through bronze dies, because the dies produce a rougher, more porous pasta that drinks up sauce and holds on to flavor. Look for “bronze die cut” or “bronze die pasta” when shopping. 

    Learn More

    Shop Pasta and Sauce

    We make three kinds of 100% whole-grain organic pastas: fusilli, penne and shells. All are naturally high in fiber, and made with just two ingredients—durum wheat flour and flour from a wheatlike perennial grain called Kernza®, which gives our pastas a subtle warm, nutty flavor. 

These two grains are Regenerative Organic Certified®, the world’s highest standard for organic agriculture. ROC foods are grown in ways that protect the health of the entire farm system: soil, animals and humans. Kernza in particular is topsoil’s best friend, building up microbial health below ground, reducing erosion and water pollution and requiring less fossil fuel to farm. 

Find all our pastas here, and use them just like you would regular pasta. We’ve put together some of our favorite recipes to get you started.

    Try Our Recipes

    Explore the Pasta-bilities