Travel the length and breadth of Italy and you may very well encounter in the neighborhood of 200 different shapes of pasta. Serious cooks will tell you certain dishes should only be made with long noodles, while others should be made with small shapes. And although it all ends up in your stomach, there are some guidelines most foodies try to adhere to when pairing their pastas and their sauces.
Long and skinny noodles, such as spaghetti or linguine, are best served in light sauces: tomato and garlic in olive oil; light or cream-based seafood sauces; or a sprinkling of fresh herbs.
Flat, ribbony noodles, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle, go well with richer, heavier sauces: Alfredo or a meat sauce. The wider pieces can carry and deliver these sauces more efficiently.
Tube-shaped pasta, like penne or rigatoni, are super-versatile. The interior space can catch just about any sauce, and, if the exterior is ridged, it can do the same. These shapes can handle just about any assignment - soup, salad, or casserole, and any kind of sauce.
Fun-shaped pasta - fusilli, orecchiette, conchiglia - have curves, ridges, and crevices in which sauce can be caught, making them almost as versatile as their tube-shaped cousins. When no amount of sauce in each bite is too much, these shapes will deliver maximum flavor. Feel free to pair these with hearty, heavy sauces and proteins.
Can you put Alfredo sauce on your spaghetti? Can you eat conchiglia with tomatoes and olive oil? Of course. But when you're ready to put a professional spin on your weeknight dinners, take an extra minute to plan the ideal pairing of pasta and sauce. If nothing else, you'll impress yourself with the effort!