It’s no secret that Italy’s myriad of pasta shapes each has its own strengths, often associated with the types of sauce they’re meant to carry. But how do they pair up with other common ingredients?
Here we’ll give you the lowdown on the best pasta shapes to complement fish, seafood, meat, cheese, and a special bonus section on stuffed pastas.
Pasta with fish and seafood
There’s really no point serving most seafood if it isn’t going to be the hero of the dish. For that reason, the ideal pastas are those that are light, delicate and unobtrusive. Pastas like...
Linguine is incredibly versatile and a typical pasta for serving with pesto (as with this recipe here), but its thin and flat shape is perfect for getting well coated in the oils and flavours of fish and seafood. That’s why it’s the Italian coastline’s go-to pasta for serving with clams, mussels and shrimp, often with a creamy sauce and a glass of chilled white wine. You can’t go wrong starting with this recipe for linguine and swordfish.
Spaghetti is a classic not always associated with fish, but the two pair well for all the same reasons as seafood and linguine. It’s relatively light and takes a coat of fishy flavour well, although its rounder shape means it packs more of a bite than linguine, especially when cooked al dente. Try it with clams by following this iconic recipe here, and don’t hesitate to sub the spaghetti for angel’s hair or capellini if you want something similar but more delicate.
Pasta with meat
The secret to a good meat pasta is restraint. Unlike fish and seafood, meat is often used in a supporting role, used as much for its texture as its flavour. Use it sparingly to subtly enhance each bite. These pasta shapes work especially well.
Tubular penne is the king of sauce-holding pasta shapes. It gobbles up tomato sauce effortlessly before you get stuck into it, as you’ll discover just one bite into this spicy arrabbiata recipe. Of course, unlike macaroni (or maccheroni, to give it its original Italian name), the hole surging through each piece of penne is wide enough to take in plenty of small meat pieces too, from minced beef to diced pancetta or lardons. If you do want to ignore the advice above and get greedy with your meat, penne is the shape for you.
We’ve already mentioned spaghetti for serving with fish and seafood, but it’s the noodle’s very versatility that makes it one of the best loved pastas out there. It isn’t just great coated in sauce, but topped with a generous dollop of the stuff – as any good spaghetti bolognese will attest to. However, while you’ll never find us turning noses up at a classic bolognese, our favourite spaghetti and meat dish is surely this spaghetti carbonara with guanciale (a fatty and delicious cut of pork taken from the pig’s cheek).
Speaking of bolognese, why not try this ragu bolognese with tagliatelle recipe courtesy of top chef Alberto Bettini? Tagliatelle doesn’t just carry meaty sauces well, but it’s also one of the easiest pastas to make fresh at home. Almost as easy as...
Don’t get us wrong, we love a veggie lasagne as much as the next guy, but the classic al forno (with meat) is comfort food at its very best. You just can’t beat minced beef and onions in a simple sauce made with the best quality tomatoes. Learn to make correctly with this lasagna bolognese recipe.
Pasta with Cheese
Step one: pick your cheese. Or better still, pick your cheeses, plural. Step two: pick a pasta shape that will give you the highest possible cheese to pasta ratio.
Known to children around the English-speaking world as 'pasta bowties', farfalle come in the shape of… well… bowties. (Honestly, the resemblance is so uncanny it’s a wonder why these aren’t called cravattino.) Farfalle is often the hero in pasta salads because it’s short, holds its own once cooled without clumping together, and it’s easy to stab a fork through while picking up some of the non-pasta ingredients. However, where farfalle really excels is in carrying creamy, cheesy sauces without being catapulted off a spaghetti strand or shot out of a penne cannon.
Sometimes you don’t just want your pasta to carry and complement the rest of the dish, but to completely envelop it. Stuffed pastas are perfect for when you unapologetically want the pasta itself to be the undisputed hero.
No surprises here. Ravioli are about as simple as stuffed pasta gets and almost always the first stuffed variety attempted by those learning to make pasta at home. These simple envelopes filled with meat, cheese or vegetables are unspectacular, but always easy to make, quick to cook, and, of course, delicious to eat. Why not try these beauties stuffed with ricotta cheese and wild herbs?
Nothing against ravioli, but surely we can all agree that tortellini make for a more beautiful meal? The shape is less stuffed envelope and more puffed cushion, folded and curled into a crescent that looks enticing enough to sleep on. They’re often stuffed with meat and served in a thin broth – as with this recipe here – providing a punch of flavour and texture.
Not to be confused with its smaller sibling, tortelloni aren’t just larger than tortellini, but used differently too. Traditionally, the filling inside is typically vegetarian – often a mixture of cheeses, herbs and vegetables – often served with a light sauce, sage butter, or just a sprinkling of cheese. Naturally, these appetising parcels also lend themselves to a lot of imaginative takes on Italian cuisine, as with this recipe for ricotta and pumpkin tortelloni served with butter and black truffle.
These are simply huge tubes of pasta (picture giant pennes) that are usually treated like a lasagne – in other words, baked in a large dish with cheese or sauce (or both) on top. The difference, of course, is that the pasta shapes are stuffed rather than layered – the classic filling being ricotta and spinach, as demonstrated in this recipe here.