With so many pasta shapes out there, selecting the right one can make you feel like a kid in a candy store. Luckily, the kind of sauce you’re planning to make can help narrow down the type of pasta you should be using! While it’s true that you really can’t lose when combining pasta and sauce, certain shapes are ideal for different preparations. Many pasta shapes are specifically designed to cradle and complement specific ingredients, whether it’s tubular pasta with ridges designed to take on thicker, creamier cheese-based sauces, or thinner noodles that pair well with oil-based and generally lighter sauces. Check out some introductory tips on how to choose your pasta shapes below:
Cylinder-shaped pastas like rigatoni or penne are great for capturing thicker sauces. The outsides have ridges carved into them, which means extra surface area to cradle that sauce. This also makes them great for dishes like baked ziti or casseroles, which can be easily filled with a mix of sauce and anything from cheese to vegetables!
Shapes: Penne, Rigatoni, Ziti, Orecchiette, Campanelle, Cannelloni, Elbow
Sauces: Alfredo, Bolognese, Pasta Alla Norma, Vodka Sauce, Arrabbiata
Typically with stuffed pastas like ravioli and tortellini, the filling is based on creamier cheeses — ricotta, mozzarella, and burrata, for instance. Sometimes meat and veggies are added to serve as accents to the rich sauces coating the exterior. Fun fact: ravioli is the first pasta dish Chrissy learned how to make in culinary school, and she also recreated that same dish during a trip to Italy!
Shapes: Ravioli, Tortellini, Conchiglie, Cappelletti, Gnocchi
Sauces: Sage Brown Butter, Marinara, Butter & Garlic, Mushroom Cream Sauce
Squiggly-shaped pasta, like fusilli and rotini, originated by rolling and setting spaghetti around thin rods to dry and create twisted shapes. The corkscrew shape is designed to hold any sauce thrown at its curvatures, particularly thicker sauces and even grated cheese, since they can easily stick to the twisted ridges.
Shapes: Rotini, Fusilli, Cavatappi
Sauces: Mac & Cheese, Marinara, Pesto, Vodka Sauce
These noods tangle up beautifully with many types of sauce, making them the United Nations of pastas! Because they’re so light and thin, this shape particularly works well with simple, oil-based sauces, like puttanesca, or creamier sauces, like Chrissy’s Spicy Miso Pasta. Just be careful not to overwhelm thinner noodles (like capellini) with hearty sauces like ragu or bolognese, as the noodles will get lost in the sauce!
Shapes: Capellini, Spaghetti, Linguine, Bucatini
Sauces: Pomodoro, Carbonara, Cacio e Pepe, White Wine & Clams, Amatriciana, Butter & Garlic, Pesto
Just like thinner pasta noodles, these thicker, wider ribbons are the perfect canvas for just about any sauce thrown at them. They’re typically paired with heavier sauces since they’re shaped much wider, and can handle the heftiness without being overwhelmed. Thicker noodles tend to also be made with an egg-based dough, and serve as carriers of creamier flavor that pair well with richer sauces like alfredo or ragu.
Shapes: Fettuccine, Tagliatelle, Pappardelle, Lasagna
Sauces: Ragu, Bolognese, Alfredo