Sexy Mother Foodies understand that pasta is not simply mixed with sauce—nor is it twirled and tossed. Instead, elements are brought together in holy matrimony officiated by a Renaissance-era Italian rulebook.
This is a hard-set guide, so forget about what you just happen to have on hand. Think more of what your pasta needs. Think compatibility.
So what kind of relationship do you want your pasta and sauce to have?
Maybe something dramatic and with contrast, like fresh orecchiette scooping those crunchy bits of spicy browned sausage and bitter broccoli rabe, ultimately united by the nutty-salt of shaved pecorino Romano. Like Carrie Bradshaw and Big in a bowl.
Clingy yet easily caught? Rigatoni Bolognese has those deep ridges slicked with tomatoey sauce and tubes for trapping chunks of meat or simmered vegetables. Its box may as well have a scarlet letter across the top.
Or maybe the recipe craves something slippery and soft like plump-bellied tortellini en brodo. Some shapes were just meant to just slip and move through the broth, like silk sheets on a wedding night (yeeeeeow!)image courtesy Knopf
To dishonor the marriage that brings the correct sauces and pasta shapes together is to ignore the “full and harmonious expression of flavor of which Italian cooking is capable.” (At least according to Marcella Hazan in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.”
Some go-to combos:
fettuccini = Alfredo; pesto (much edgier, must be homemade); sage and butter
gnocchi = tomato sauce (butter version); pesto; gorgonzola sauce
Linguini = white clam sauce
spaghetti = garlic and oil; pesto; carbona
spaghettini = tomato sauce (olive oil version); red clam sauce
tagliatelle = meaty ragu
Then again, a strong marriage is filled with endless possibilities…