The Ultimate Noodle-Sauce Matchmaking Guide

Be a pasta expert by using this simple guide to pairing noodle shapes with the ideal sauce.

The Ultimate Noodle-Sauce Matchmaking Guide

Like many, you probably pick your pasta based purely on preference. I love capellini, while my husband prefers rigatoni -- an argument that generally ends with two separate pots of noodles. Logic out the window, sometimes I even pair those delicate strands of angel hair with hearty, thick sauces like a Fra Diavolo. What would my Italian ancestors think? Gasp. Well, fellow noodle-lovers, there are actually pretty straightforward guidelines to follow when pairing pasta with sauce. Follow them and please the pasta gods, or live on the wild side and go rogue!

Long, Skinny, and Slick Noodles

Spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, and capellini all fall into the long, skinny, and slick category. While they are the most common to be served in the U.S., they are also the most common to be served with an incorrect sauce. This shape pairs best with light, oil-base wine or seafood sauces. A basic Marinara Sauce, classic Lemon Butter Clam Sauce, or an Avocado "Alfredo" are all good examples of sauces that pair well with this class of noodle.

Long, Wide Ribbon Noodles

Tagliatelle, pappardelle, and fettuccine all fill the bill for ribbons. These hearty noodles pair best with rich and thick sauces, like a classic Bolognese or Ragu.

Corkscrew Noodles

Fusilli, rotini, elbows, and other twisty pasta complement slick and smooth sauces, which is why you commonly see them in mac and cheese and pasta salads. Bechamel and oil-base dressings stick to all the crevices and "hold" the pasta. Classic Pesto is also a good choice for shapely pasta. Gouda and Sriracha Mac-N-Cheese is a perfect example!

Noodle Shells

Small shells fit the same description as corkscrews when it comes to smooth sauces, but bigger shells are perfect for stuffing! While it is easy to stuff shells with ricotta cheese and smother with marinara, try something new like stuffing them with seafood and using a sherry cream sauce.

Noodle Tubes

Penne, ziti, and rigatoni do well with hearty and thick sauces, like a chunky Lemon Artichoke Pesto. They are also ideal for disintegrating in baked dishes with tomato sauce and cheese, like Baked Ziti. Other favorites include Vodka Sauce and Creamy Smoked Salmon and Straw Mushrooms.

Curved Noodles

Orecchiette, also known as "little ears," is a good example of a curved pasta. However, there are so many specialty shapes that fit this description, it would be impossible to name them all. They serve as tiny bowls for the sauce they carry. They do best with oil-base sauces, like Scallion Pesto with Swiss Chard and Scallops.

Noodle Sheets

Traditional Lasagna is what comes to most minds, but also try filling those layers with other sauces, like Chile Verde and Chicken, or spread filling over the cooked lasagna noodles and roll them up for a Taco Lasagna Roll!

Filled Noodles

Ravioli and tortellini are the most popular filled noodles and will pair with a variety of sauces depending on their filling. However, the exterior is slick, so a creamy sauce typically does best. For example, Creamy Tortellini with Ham and Peas or Tortellini and Sausage Soup.

Mini Noodles

Miniature pastas are just adorable and do best in soups and stews. Check out couscous in Italian Seafood Stew -- ready in just 20 minutes, it has a few less-common ingredients.

Delicious Pasta Recipes

One of the most popular and highest-rated recipes on, this incredibly easy vegetarian pasta dish features fresh mushrooms and spinach, tangy sauteed garlic, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.


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