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In your Italian cooking, how important to you is the shape of the pasta vis–à–vis the sauce?

Are you a stickler that certain pasta shapes must be paired with certain sauces, e.g. Carbonara with spaghetti or ragu with pici?

Or do you just go with whatever is in the cupboard or pantry?

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  1. For a very specific pasta ie: carbonara, fetticini al fredo, etc I try to hold true to the pasta type but have been known to substitute something close if it's a craving and I am throwing it together for the family with what I have on hand. If I am planning a specific dinner/dinner party than I make a point of buying the appropriate noodles.

    I guess the only real "rule" I follow is for heartier sauces I prefer heartier noodles and for more delicate sauces and marinaras I prefer finer, more delicate pastas.

    1. I don't necessarily use traditional 'rules', but I stick pretty close to them because, as foodie says, certain pastas lend themselves to holding certain sauces better.

      A baked ziti can have any short tubular pasta instead of the ziti, but you wouldn't want an angel hair or orzo in that dish.

      What do you do, ipsedixit? Are you a rebel or a traditionalist?

      1 Reply
      1. re: jmcarthur8

        This is probably where I fall. Very limited in shape in the local stores I will pair by family instead of exact match.

      2. If the sauce includes larger chunky components such as large slices of vegetables or sausages, olives, etc I'll choose a pasta of similar size/shape (e.g. rigatoni). Cream sauces I think are better w/ fetticine and other long noodles. Pesto and simple red sauces are good with anything.

        1. i often use heartier pastas for heartier sauces, and vice versa. but there is one huge exception; and thats spaghetti! as in spaghetti and american style chunky tomatoey sweet heavily seasoned long cooking meat sauce. i love that, and i always will.

          1. Usually I use something somewhat appropriate but I don't obsess about it nor get bothered about using another shape if that other shape is the only one available and I didn't have my preferred one at hand. However, I generally don't care too much for the tubular ones in short-ish lengths (penne, ziti, etc) so I tend to NOT use them even with sauces meant for them - but substitute some sort of long-ish (usually solid) pasta instead. "Shaped" pasta - that depends...I like something like radiatore, so might use that instead of something that I don't care for like farfalle or conchiglie or similar, (or penne or ziti etc - see above) again even if the recipe was meant for those latter shapes to be used.

            1. It really depends on the kind of sauce - if I've really put in an effort to make a proper, full-bodied sauce, I'll try and find pasta that matches it.
              Personally, I'm really not keen on farfalle, conchiglie, and similarly elaborate shapes usually, so I don't use them much. I always have basic elbow macaroni, linguine and spaghetti in my pantry, with rigatoni and gemellini rotating in and out.

              There's a fantastic (and absolutely beautiful) book called The Geometry of Pasta that goes into great detail on how to make assorted pastas and which sauces to pair with them. I gave it to my mum as a Christmas present a few years ago and ended up stealing it back because it was just so beautiful!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chocolatetpetitpois

                HA HA! That's basically what I did with the French Laundry' I gave to a relative. After a year or so I noticed it was stuck away with a bunch of junk in her hall closet. One time on the way out the door I happened to glance up at the book and said" Oh yeah, would you mind if I borrowed that book. There a couple of recipes I'd like to photo copy". She shrugged and said: "Go ahead and take it. Someone gave it to me but I'll never use it".

              2. I like ziti with lines, to hold onto sauce better, at least that's my perception. Sounds like a good AB episode to prove it

                1. I'm not overly picky as long as it's in the same "family"... ie penne can be switched out for rigatoni or rotini or whatever. I generally wouldn't make a carbonara with a non-noodley type of pasta though, although I will interchange spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine, depending on what's around.

                  Lately though I've been pretty limited, as I'm trying to stick to whole grain pastas. They don't offer much variation... Safeway doesn't even carry the whole grain rotini, even though I know it's made.

                  1. Somewhat a stickler here. A Casa Katty:

                    Broccoli and elbows (garlic and oil) from my childhood years has morphed into Sclafani's double (BOUBLE) elbows, a.k.a. cellentani. Just seems the right shape for the dish. Works nicely for vodka sauce, too, as do penne rigate or bite size rigs (rigatoni). Any of these are also good shapes for lots of my favorite go-to pasta creations--variations on sausage, vegetable (broc/spinach/roasted tomato), garlic and oil, e.g.

                    Clam sauce must be served over capellini.

                    I made Bolognese exactly once, but made an effort to buy a proper shape to go with. I chose mafaldine a.k.a. reginette--"little queens"--quite appropriate given my cat's nickname. One of them, anyway.

                    For pasta fazool (yeah, pasta e fagiole, I know), I like pipette or small cavatelli rather than the traditional ho-hum tubettini.

                    Growing up, meat sauce was almost always served over Ronzoni ziti with lines, maybe screws (rotini), but that was an exception. I really don't remember ziti varying much. I also don't remember having choices between so many shapes back then. We've come a long way, baby.

                    1. We eat pasta a LOT. In fact, at the moment I have more than a dozen boxes/bags of it in my pantry - lol!!

                      That said, as others have posted, as far as pasta types with specific sauce types, I stick with pasta-shape "families". For instance, if I decide to make "Fettucini Alfredo" but suddenly find I only have Linguini - that'll work for me. Radiatore for Rotini? That works. Tagliatelle for Papardelle? Works. So long as the basic shape & factor for using it is met, I'm not a stickler.

                      And frequently you'll find a new favorite combination. :)

                      1. This might deserves it's own thread, but I'm going to hijack my own post ...

                        ... but for those that are not sticklers, do you ever mix pasta shapes?

                        Let's say you have 3 boxes of pasta (e.g., pappardelle, spaghetti, rigatoni) with minute amounts in each, ever just throw them all together and top with your sauce of choice?

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I do, now and then. I just throw them in the water at the proper time if they have different cooking times. If I do that, it will go in some sort of casserole where you don't notice it so much. And they can't be totally different in shape and size, that is, no farfalle with linguini, or orzo with ziti.

                          Usually I just cook up the whole pound of pasta at once, though. Whatever doesn't go in the dish I'm making that day will turn into a pasta salad or be served for lunch with some cheese and butter on top.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I rarely don't finish a box since cold pasta makes a nice breakfast but when I do I will cook them together. My son loves it and calls it crazy mixed up pasta night.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Nah - not a fan of that at all. But that's just my own personal preference.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Ya, when I've got a few pasta box 'heels' i throw what's in them together.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I have done it before just for kicks, like using the last of the cassarece mixed with some penne...BOCCA PAZZESCO!!!

                                  Makes my eyes cross when eating!

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    I did it just recently when making a "chicken enchilada spaghetti". In fact the recipe said specifically that it was good to use up the last bits and pieces of pastas from your pantry. I used thin whole grain spaghetti and some linguine.

                                  2. I have never been a fan of long pasta shapes which require either twirling or careful fork preparation. I am not sure why, but just always hated the process of eating spaghetti, fettucine, linguini, etc. My favorite pasta shapes are tubes - love penne and gobetti. I whip up alfredo at least once a week and it's always penne for me but I think it's still hearty enough to hold up to the sauce so it works. I also use tubes with my bolognese when it's just for me, when there are others I go with the traditional spaghetti but I love the penne. There is something to me about stabbing a good helping of 4 tubes on a fork and perhaps it helps me get the delicious food into my mouth faster :)

                                    1. I like having a generic education of what various shapes are used for so that when I do choose to mix and match or just play with what I have around, I know what's a better idea and what's a poor idea.

                                      I recently bought a box of bucatini on a whim and asked what sauces/dishes were generically associated with the shape - not necessarily to follow it exactly, but to have an idea of kind of sauce makes the most sense.

                                      1. I never mix pasta shape.

                                        The only time I am a stickler is if I name the pasta then I use that type (Baked Ziti will be Ziti, but I have no problem making a baked penne or mostacolli.) Instead I follow the heartier the sauce the heartier the pasta.

                                        As far as carbonara goes the first two times I had it, both made by 100% italian chefs they used linguini, I never knew it was traditionally make with spaghetti till later. To this day I still make it with linguini.