Why Pasta Shapes Matter

You’ve read our articles about pairing cigars with alcohol as well as the basics of wine pairing. But pasta and sauce? It’s not just random. There’s history involved, but also just some basic practicality.


If you ever find yourself in the pasta aisle, with dozens of choices and brands around you, it’s easy to reach for tried-and-true favorites like spaghetti, linguini, or macaroni. Part of that is simplicity – we are reaching for what we know. But by doing that we are underscoring why there are so many dizzying choices of pasta: almost all of them came from a specific region or town, developed by locals and paired with ingredients. While we in the United States, as the citizens of a young country, might favor culinary experimentation, in the old world, and particularly in Italy, hundreds of years of experimentation led to set dishes: these pastas go with these sauces, and so on.


Those “set dishes” are less a slavish template than general guidelines. For example:

  • chunky sauces go with shorter noodles (a penne dish with bits of sausage)
  • heavy sauces go with tubes or shells (like mac and cheese)
  • smooth sauces go with long noodles or twists (think of a linguine dish with pesto)

The reasons might seem a bit clearer now when you see the pairings. Macaroni and other elbow pastas provide crevices and hollows for that sauce to gather. If your fork is gathering up chunks of meat it makes less sense to also spend it twirling up long pasta, and conversely, it’s much easier to twirl up long pasta if it’s not throwing off chunks towards your clothes as you do so.

Some Pasta to Try

So, now that you know a little bit more about why pasta shape matters (if you really want to nerd out, click here), here are three pastas you can try the next time you don’t just want to have spaghetti (as good as it can be) again.

  • Bucatini. Think spaghetti, but hollow. It’s got a bit of a firmer bite than spaghetti, and that hollow center is a magnet for sauce.
  • Farfalle. You may have seen this bowtie pasta while dining out but may not have tried it at home. It’s a great substitute for penne in a dish you may already be familiar with.
  • Orzo. It looks like rice, but it’s not. It’s a nice way to add something to a soup or a salad, and if often comes in different colors as well.

Is there a favorite pasta you have or that reminds you of childhood? Share with us in the comments to receive 25% off your next purchase of Rascal products at any of our clubs.

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