This super quick video by America's Test Kitchen provides a primer on pairing pasta
shapes and sauces. Their general rule? You should be able to eat the pasta and sauce
easily with each bite. To get you started, follow these general guidelines to match the
texture of the sauce to the consistency of the pasta...
For wider noodles (fettuccini, tagliatelle, pappardelle), a chunkier sauce such as meaty Bolognese works well. These shapes are also good with creamy sauces such as alfredo, vodka sauce, roasted cherry tomato sauce, etc.
Molded and shaped pasta (shells, rigatoni, etc.) are great for really chunky sauces. Pasta a la Norma is a good example.
Smaller shaped pasta (penne, fusilli, farfalle, etc.) are perfect for tomato sauces and chunky sauces like primavera.
Personal Note: Part of the joy of pasta is the "mouth feel" that you experience when eating it. Mix up the pasta shapes with various sauces to find your personal preferences. For example, I learned to make pasta carbonara (eggs and bacon) with either a spaghetti or a linguini pasta. One night, I was craving this dish but we were out of linguini so I made it with farfalle (butterflies in Italian, also called bow ties) instead. I discovered that the folds of the bow tie pasta caught and held the bits of bacon beautifully! Now I use farfalle for my carbonara.
For Fresh Pasta and filled pasta (tortellini, ravioli, etc.): Choose a sauce that won't overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of these delectable pastas. Sometimes just a bit of butter and sage, a bright lemon sauce with fresh herbs, basil pesto, or fresh tomato, basil and garlic is all you need for that perfect "bite".
Use the guide above to start but then mix it up! Share your successes (and failures...if there is such a thing with pasta?) with us in the comments section.