With over 600 pasta shapes and dozens of pasta sauces to match, sometimes it’s hard to make sense of it. But pairing the right shape with the appropriate sauce can transform the taste of your dish and elevate it to Italian nonna levels without much effort. Whilst the ingredients may be exactly the same, combining your sauce with the right pasta shape actually makes a huge difference to the overall flavour and experience of your dish.
But how do you know which one goes with which? Luckily, we’ve put together a quick guide on how to pair your sauce with the perfect pasta shape, so you get the most satisfaction out of every dish. You can also watch our video below as Chef Roberta advises on the best pasta and sauce pairings.
- Best sauces for long pasta shapes
- Best sauces for ribboned pasta shapes
- Best sauces for tubular pasta shapes
- Best sauces for twisted pasta shapes
- Best sauces for shell pasta shapes
- Best sauces for filled pasta shapes
- Best sauces for baked pasta shapes
A simple visual guide to pairing pasta with sauces
Butter or Oil Sauces
pesto, aglio e olio
Cream or Cheese Sauces
carbonara, cacio e pepe
Tomato or Vegetable Sauces
spaghetti, linguine, tagliolini
tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine
rigatoni, maccheroni, penne
fusilli, casarecce, trofie
conchiglie, orecchiette, cavatelli
ravioli, tortelloni, girasoli
lasagne, cannelloni, conchiglioni
Best sauces for long pasta shapes
We all know the answer to this — spaghetti goes with bolognese, right? Well, wrong. Long and thin pasta shapes like our beloved spaghetti (but also linguine and tagliolini, for example) suit creamy sauces such as carbonara or oil-based sauces like pesto. The key here is to pick a light option as this ensures each strand of delicate pasta is perfectly and evenly coated, enhancing the flavour in every single bite. A hearty ragú like bolognese will simply be too overwhelming for these dainty threads. If you’re still looking for a meaty twist, seafood will be your friend. Check out our to-die-for Spaghetti alle Vongole that uses clams with an oil-based sauce.
Best sauces for ribboned pasta shapes
Don’t worry, the fact that we recommend saving your spaghetti for your carbonara doesn’t mean you need to give up the ragú. Long, ribboned pasta shapes such as pappardelle, tagliatelle and fettuccine would be the perfect fit for rich, hearty meat sauces, like our classic pappardelle with Italian beef shin ragú. However, if you’re on a vegetarian diet, you shouldn’t put the ribbons away just yet. This summer-inspired broccoli, lemon and chilli pappardelle will soak up all the zesty, creamy sauce, showing that ribbon-shaped pasta types are not exclusively for meat-eaters. Seafood sauces are also a great choice for a long ribboned pasta, especially tagliatelle and fettuccine — give it a go with this tagliatelle ai frutti di mare recipe.
Best sauces for tubular pasta shapes
At Pasta Evangelists, we believe that fresh pasta should be given its righteous place as a delicacy. A good fresh pasta carries the perfect flavour and texture even without sauce. However, tubular shapes are a fantastic example of how pasta can act as a vessel for sauce in a way that heightens it to new levels. Tubes like penne, rigatoni and maccheroni take on a chunky vegetable sauce like no other — the holes capture the sauce and keep the pasta from drying, while the short shapes add texture to your veg-filled dish. Our Rigatoni alla Norma will convince you if you’re not already sold. Pasta bake recipes suit the tubular varieties too (did someone say ziti?). Cheesy and meaty sauces will also complement these shapes — they’re truly a jack-of-all-trades.
Best sauces for twisted pasta shapes
Spiral pasta shapes are extremely popular. In fact, a recent YouGov survey found that fusilli is the most beloved pasta type in the UK. The scrumptious spindles can be a great replacement for spaghetti for anyone looking for a twist, and light, smooth sauces pair perfectly with it. This type of sauce will allow the shallow grooves found in fusilli, casarecce and trofie to perfectly cling to the sauce. Try them with pesto or a smooth tomato sauce for a match made in heaven.
Best sauces for shell pasta shapes
The beauty of shell pasta shapes is that they encase the sauce within them, inducing an explosion of flavour with every bite. That’s why you’ll want to pair rich, creamy or meaty sauces with conchiglie, cavatelli, orecchiette and their partners in crime. On the other hand, they also work super well with chunky vegetable sauces or pesto, like our mouth-watering orecchiette with pistachio pesto that’s as simple as it is delicious. When it comes to these pasta types, the idea is to use components that would be small enough to be enfolded in the shape, like a pearl in an oyster shell. Other than that, it’s completely your choice what style of sauce you go with.
Best sauces for filled pasta shapes
Stuffed pasta is all about the filling. You don’t want to overshadow the delicious flavours ensconced inside these delicate pasta parcels with a heavy sauce. Whether it’s ravioli, tortelloni or girasoli, you want the filling to shine. Simple, fragrant, oil or butter-based sauces are the perfect pairing that will enhance the flavours in your pasta ripiena. Even a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil will do the trick with these, whilst a herb-infused butter can really seal the deal. For the true pasta connoisseurs, add some more depth and texture using a crunchy garnish — grissini crumbs or toasted pine nuts perfectly accompany many types of filled pasta. Take this beautiful lobster and crab ravioli recipe, the light butter and sage sauce is topped with pangrattato crumb and samphire for an extra oomph, creating a mouthwatering combination.
Best sauces for baked pasta shapes
Cheesy, meaty goodness. We’re so here for it. Be it lasagne, cannelloni or the big shells known as conchiglioni, we love the rich, flavoursome combinations found in a baked pasta dish. Of course, hearty meat-based sauces are perfect for these pasta shapes, like our perfect traditional lasagne recipe. However, cheese or vegetable-filled sauces are also a scrummy option. For the vegetarians, we particularly enjoy a classic spinach and ricotta pairing, like in this easy cannelloni or the unbelievable Conchiglioni al Forno that we simply cannot get enough of.
At Pasta Evangelists, we bring a taste of Italy to your kitchen. Prepared using the freshest ingredients, our gourmet pasta dishes are perfect for those looking to enjoy restaurant-quality meals, delivered to your door, and ready in under five minutes. Order from our weekly menu today, and we’ll offer you 25% off your first delivery - simply enter the code BLOG25 at checkout.
Want even more pasta perks? Subscribers receive new recipes to try each week, with free delivery and 15% off each dish. Subscribers also gain access to exclusive gifts and perks, as well as early access to Pasta Evangelists events and classes.