I have warm and lovely memories of talking pasta shapes with the Silvagio side of my family. One day we had a pasta-making party when my grandmother, Mammy, was getting older. She could not remember our names, but she remembered how to make gnocchi and ravioli from scratch. We threw out a whole batch of dough because it did not meet her standard. I remember my brother, fresh off an NYC cooking class, trying to dictate ala Chef Ramsey how to seal the ravioli. I will never, ever forget the look Mammy gave him. A look that said, “Who do you think you are, boy? Telling me how to make ravioli?”
There are hundreds of different shapes of pasta! You probably have your favorites, so you might not have noticed the wall of pasta choices at your store.
There’s a method to all those varieties. Each shape is designed for a specific purpose-to hold a particular sauce. There’s an actual science to it.
What pasta for which sauce?
A general rule is: The thicker the shape, the heartier and thicker sauce it can hold. Big rigatoni is good with chunks of meat. Thin angel hair is good with lighter, oil-based sauces. Thick Alfredo is typically paired with fettuccine because the thicker noodle can hold the creamy sauce. Ridges are good for holding saucy-bits. Think pesto getting hooked into curly rotini or ridged shells. Tiny shapes are quick-cooking in soup.
Here’s a simple breakdown of how to pair them:
Long & Skinny
Spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, vermicelli
Best for: light seafood sauce, cream sauce, oil-based sauces
Use thicker spaghettis for your basic red sauce. The curly cues in fusilli are nice for holding tomato chunks and pesto. Vermicelli is pretty thin, which makes it nice for tossing in a broth-based soup.
My Aunt Julie calls superthick Perciatelli noodles “chokers.” Think pencil thick noodle with a hole down the middle. We eat them with gravy-like red sauce.
My Mammy & Pappy Joe would make a casserole out of small shells. They would boil the shells and then mix in a giant bowl with sauce, ricotta, shredded mozzarella, pepperoni, and hard boiled eggs. They put the mixture in a baking dish, covered with Parmesan and foil. Then, baked til it was all gooey and delicious.
Fusilli, gemelli, rotini
Light, smooth sauces that cling to to the twists like pesto
Penne, rigatoni, macaroni
Hearty sauces, baked cheese sauces, bolognese or Ragu
Orzo & pastina
soups, stews, pasta salads
My Uncle Bob Casey introduced us to a salad called Rosamarina. So, so good. You use orzo and make a fluffy dessert!
Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti
Light butter or oil sauces
Every single resource says to keep your sauce light with ravioli so you can focus on the flavor inside. I agree–if the filling is homemade. But, on a cold, winter night, I love old-fashioned cheese and meat ravioli with a hearty red sauce.
My mom always made us a chicken-broth-based soup with Tortellini when we were sick as kids. It’s one of those simple recipes that I can’t seem to replicate to taste like hers. Probably because she sneaks in extra butter and Parm.
Veggie Noodles with Mediterranean Sauce
zucchini squash “zoodles” or other veggie “pasta”
1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup artichoke hearts, diced
1 cup sundried tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 can Cannelini beans, water reserved
1 cup black olives, drained and sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the zoodles in a tablespoon of olive oil for 3-5 minutes. I like to use Wegman’s Basting oil. You want them to have a bit of crunch left. Remove from the pan.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the saute pan over medium heat. You just want to heat the ingredients. Toss the zoodles back into the other veggies and beans. And, Mangia!