Pasta has long been the perfect and convenient home-cooked meal. Noodles can be quickly cooked with boiling water and easily dressed up with sauces packed with protein and vegetables. It seems like a simple enough recipe, but with endless varieties of noodles and sauces, how do you know which pair best with each other? And is it even possible to go wrong?
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As easy as it may seem, pasta can sometimes prove challenging. You don’t want to overwhelm your delicate angel’s hair with whopping meatballs. You also don’t want to underwhelm your bowtie pasta with a plain, runny sauce. With our guide to different types of pasta and what dishes they can be used for, you’ll find the perfect balance of noodles and sauce every time.
How is pasta made?
Pasta noodles are made from unleavened dough composed of flour, water, and sometimes eggs. The dough is formed into shapes or strips and then cooked in boiling water or baked in an oven. It can be bought fresh (pasta fresca) or dried (pasta secca). Dried pasta can last on the shelf for a long time, but fresh pasta must be consumed quickly. According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta, there are over three hundred different styles of pasta. This means there are quite a few options to choose from when you start craving that comfort food!
Let’s start with the long noodles. This style of pasta is perfect for large chunks of meat, like meatballs or slices of chicken breast, and should be accompanied by a thicker, creamier sauce. If there are any you have not tried before, the accompanying recipes will be sure to inspire you to look for them next time you’re at the grocery store.
This pasta is named for the delicate, thin strands of noodle that add class to any dish. Angel’s hair pairs with light sauces and small ingredients and is often eaten with chicken or another protein on the side. It cooks quickly, reaching al dente in approximately 3 minutes at a boil. To keep your noodles from clumping, boil the angel’s hair in a large pot with a tablespoon of oil added to the water, and don’t overcook it.
Try angel’s hair with butter and olive oil, garnished with parmesan and garlic.
This long, flat noodle pairs perfectly with thick and cheesy sauces, which is perhaps what is it best known for. If you’ve ever had a delicious chicken alfredo, the thick noodle commonly used in that dish is fettucine. This sturdy pasta is an excellent choice for holding creamy sauces and large chunks of meat and vegetables.
Try fettucine with a velvety alfredo sauce.
The next step up from fettucine in width is pappardelle, a wide and long noodle that goes perfectly with thick and meaty sauces. There is no meat too heavy or sauce too thick for this style of pasta. It is commonly eaten as a Ragu or with Bolognese sauce, but can also be used with a cream-based sauce and paired with seafood like shrimp.
Try pappardelle with beef Bolognese sauce.
This isn’t your everyday pasta. Similar to the fettucine noodle, this style of pasta is flat but not quite as wide. Think of it as the next step up in width from your standard spaghetti noodle. Linguine is frequently eaten with a seafood protein and a cream-based sauce – perfect for a fancier meal.
Try linguine with shrimp and scallops and a lemony sauce.
This thick noodle has a surprising hole through the center, like a straw, which serves to hold even more of your delicious sauces. Bucatini is like a standard spaghetti noodle, but a little bigger and rounder. It pairs great with tomato sauces and delicate, flavorful meats. Use it to take your next spaghetti and meatball recipe to the next level.
Try it with prosciutto and tomatoes.
Now for the short noodles. Short pasta holds sauce and meat well and is best paired with smaller chunks of meat and vegetables. You’re likely already familiar with some of these pantry staples, while others might surprise you. Pick one and try its accompanying recipe, or swap out the noodles in your favorite pasta dish for one you haven’t tried yet.
This beautiful pasta is the Italian word for butterfly, but you might know it as bow tie pasta. Farfalle adds elegance to any meal and even comes in larger and smaller variations, the farfalloni and the farfalline, respectively. You’ll love the result when you use this pasta!
Try farfalle with spinach and mushrooms.
This noodle is commonly used in many types of pastas. It looks like a hollow cylinder and effectively holds thick sauces along with chunks of meat and vegetables. Penne is filling and makes for a gorgeous, easy pasta.
Try penne with sausage and peppers.
The rigatoni noodle is like penne, but more cylinder shaped and with more texture. The ridges along the outside of noodle do even more to capture the flavors of your pasta, and the thickness works perfectly for a casserole or baked pasta.
Try rigatoni baked with beef.
Rotini means “twists” and that’s the perfect way to describe these popular corkscrew-shaped noodles. You’ll often see them garnished with a light sauce or dressing and paired with vegetables and cheeses or baked in a hearty tomato sauce with meat. You can’t go wrong with rotini!
Try rotini with lemon, garlic, and broccoli.
These beautiful spirals are similar to rotini but with a slightly different shape. They are often used for pasta salads and can easily be cooked up and tossed with a variety of vegetables layered in a light sauce. Garnish with cheese for a festive and delicious meal.
Try fusilli in this mash-up between a Greek and Italian pasta salad.