Pasta comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from tagliatelle and tortellini to penne and pappardelle. Matching pasta with a compatible sauce is instinctive for someone that has grown up eating pasta as a staple, but for the rest of us some guidelines are necessary to attain the best complement of flavour and texture.
Despite the dizzying array of pastas available, there are two main ingredient categories – flour-and-water, and egg-and-flour. Understanding the characteristics of each will help you choose a compatible sauce.
Flour-and-water pastas mainly include dried packeted varieties such as spaghetti and macaroni. These are sturdy pastas and are best suited to highly flavoured olive oil-based sauces.
Egg-and-flour pastas generally refer to the fresh or homemade types. Because egg pasta is more easily able to absorb sauces than flour-and-water pastas, it is better suited to cream and butter sauces with a milder flavour. Egg pasta absorbs oil, so serving it with a sauce with a high oil content would result in a sticky, tacky pasta.
Try these suggested combinations:
One of the most versatile pastas, spaghetti pairs with most sauces. Try Aglio e Olio (garlic and olive oil), Pesto (basil and garlic), Carbonara (eggs and pancetta) or vongole (clams).
As stated above, fresh egg pasta works really well with cream-based sauces, so try Alfredo (butter and cream) or Primavera (spring vegetables and cream).
Tagliatelle (fresh or dried)
Slightly wider than fettuccine, the classic match with this pasta is Ragu (meat Bolognese).
This tubular pasta is available smooth or with ridges. Good with chunky or heavy sauces, such as chicken or sausage.
Orecchiette (fresh or dried)
Meaning “little ears” and a specialty of south-eastern Italy, a popular match for this pasta is a broccoli and anchovy sauce.
This shell-shaped pasta is available in a variety of sizes and can hold a chunky sauce of either meat or vegetables.
The sauce should complement the filling of the Ravioli, but as is an egg-based pasta, butter and cream sauces work best. Try a burnt sage butter or a simple cream sauce.