Pasta Types and When To Use Them

There are approximately 350 types of noodles out there, and even more sauces to mix them with. That leaves infinite combinations when it comes to preparing your next pasta dish for your culinary arts programs. How are you supposed to know what works best? While there’s no right or wrong way to pair your noodles with sauces, there are guidelines that chefs follow to make sure their pasta dishes leave customers satisfied. Here is the information you need to select  noodles.

There are different groups of pasta
Those 350 or so types of noodles can be broken down into different groups, so when a recipe calls for a certain type, you have a little bit of wiggle room. These groups are:

  • Long
    Angel hair, fettuccine, fideo, fusilli, lasagna, lasagne, linguine, mafalda, pappardelle, reginette, spaghetti, tagliatelle, thin spaghetti, vermicelli.
  • Tube
    Bucatini, casarecce, cavatappi, elbow, manicotti, penne, penne mostaccioli, penne rigate, pipe rigate, pipette rigate, riccioli, rigatoni, tortiglioni, tubini, ziti.
  • Soup
    Acini de pepe, alphabet, ditalini, orecchiette, orzo, pastina.
  • Stuffed
    Ravioli, tortellini.
  • Special shape
    Anelli/anellini, campanelle, cappalletti, cavatelli, conchiglie, egg noodles, farfalle, farfalline, gemelli, gigli, radiatori, rocchetti, rotelle, rotini, ruote, tripolini.

What sauces should I pair with which noodles?
Different shapes of noodles hold sauces differently. Thick, robust sauces tend to be paired with thicker, heartier noodles, while light sauces work better with more delicate ones. Of course, when you’re making stuffed pasta, you need to use large shells or manicotti noodles, as it would be impossible to stuff small ones. According to Good Food, here are some guidelines for pairing your noodles and sauces:

  • Light or oil-based sauces pair with long skinny noodles. They need a lot of lubrication to keep them from sticking together, so if you’re using olive oil, a skinny noodle is a good bet.
  • Meat sauces pair with long ribbon noodles.
  • Heavy sauces that are creamy or meaty pair with shells.
  • Smooth sauces pair with twists.
  • Hearty sauces that contain chunks of vegetable or cheese pair with tubes, so the chunks can hide inside the noodles.
  • Soups and pasta salads pair with small, shaped noodles.
  • Light sauces pair with stuffed pastas, since they’re usually very flavorful on their own.

Pasta cooking tips
Since all pasta is not created equal, you can’t expect to cook it all the same. However, there are a few tips and tricks to make sure your noodles come out just how you want them.

  • It’s better to use too much water to boil your pasta than not enough. Too little water will cause the noodles to stick together.
  • Never cook two types of noodles together. Different shaped noodles require different amounts of time to cook.
  • If you break the noodle in half and there’s a white line in the middle, it needs more time to cook.
  • Run cold water on the noodles after you drain them to prevent them from over-cooking. Nobody likes gooey pasta!
  • Put the sauce on the noodles as soon as you strain them so they don’t start drying out and sticking together.
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