Pasta Pairing Guide

No matter the occasion or the season, pasta is a crowd-pleaser. To achieve the perfect pasta dish, it’s important to choose the right pairing of pasta and sauce. In this guide, I will share tips and recommendations for pairing different pasta types with their perfect sauces. Get ready to take your pasta game to the next level!

Key Takeaways:

  • Pair spaghetti with tomato sauce or pesto for a classic combination.
  • Elbow macaroni is perfect for macaroni and cheese, creamy sauces, and casseroles.
  • Fusilli’s twisted shape is ideal for sautéed vegetables and pasta salads.
  • Shells are great for filling with cheese or meat and baking in tomato or cheese sauces.
  • Penne’s ridged surface pairs well with hearty sauces like veg or meat ragouts.

Spaghetti – Classic and Versatile

Spaghetti is a classic and versatile pasta that should be a staple in every kitchen. Its long and thin shape makes it perfect for pairing with various sauces, from simple tomato sauce to flavorful pesto. The possibilities are endless!

One of the most popular ways to enjoy spaghetti is with a rich and tangy tomato sauce. The acidity of the tomatoes beautifully complements the al dente pasta. If you’re looking for a twist, try adding sautéed garlic and basil to your tomato sauce for an extra burst of flavor.

For those who prefer a lighter and fresher option, spaghetti with pesto is a delightful choice. The combination of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil creates a vibrant and aromatic sauce that coats each strand of pasta perfectly.

“Spaghetti is like life itself. There is always a way out.”

Table: Perfect Pairings for Spaghetti

Sauce Beverage
Basil and Garlic-infused Tomato Sauce Classic Italian red wine, like Chianti
Pesto Sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon

Take your spaghetti game to the next level by exploring different variations and experimenting with your favorite ingredients. The simplicity of spaghetti paired with the right sauce can create a truly divine dining experience.

Elbow Macaroni – Comfort Food at its Best

macaroni and cheese image

When it comes to comfort food, nothing beats a piping hot bowl of macaroni and cheese. Elbow macaroni, with its small tubular shape, is the perfect pasta for this classic dish. Its hollow center and ridged exterior capture and hold onto creamy cheese sauce, creating a delectable bite every time.

To make the ultimate mac and cheese, start by boiling the elbow macaroni until it’s al dente. While the pasta cooks, prepare a rich and velvety cheese sauce using a combination of sharp cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan cheeses. Once the sauce is smooth and bubbly, toss it with the cooked macaroni, ensuring every piece is coated in cheesy goodness.

For added flavor and texture, consider incorporating crispy bacon or sautéed mushrooms into the dish. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try mixing in cooked lobster or crab for a luxurious seafood mac and cheese. Top it all off with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and then bake until golden and bubbly.

Table: Macaroni and Cheese Variations

Mac and Cheese Variation Ingredients Topping
Classic Elbow macaroni, cheddar cheese, milk, butter Breadcrumbs
Bacon and Mushroom Elbow macaroni, cheddar cheese, milk, butter, bacon, mushrooms Panko breadcrumbs
Lobster Mac and Cheese Elbow macaroni, cheddar cheese, Gruyere cheese, Parmesan cheese, milk, butter, cooked lobster meat Crushed Ritz crackers

As a versatile pasta, elbow macaroni is not limited to just mac and cheese. It also works well in casseroles and one-pot dishes. From creamy chicken mac and cheese to macaroni and cheese stuffed meatballs, the possibilities are endless. So next time you’re craving comfort food, reach for a box of elbow macaroni and prepare to indulge in a bowl of pure cheesy bliss.

Fusilli – Perfect Texture for Sauces

Fusilli, with its twisted pasta shape, is a versatile option that can be enjoyed in both hot and cold dishes. The unique ridges of fusilli help it hold onto sauces, making it the perfect choice for sautéed vegetables. Whether you prefer a vegetarian medley or a mix of meat and veggies, this pasta shape provides a delightful combination of flavors and textures.

For a refreshing twist, try serving fusilli with a light lemon and herb dressing for a zesty pasta salad. The tangy flavors of the dressing complement the crispness of the sautéed vegetables, creating a vibrant and satisfying dish. It’s the perfect option for a summer picnic or a light lunch.

When it comes to beverages, a cold glass of lemonade or a white wine spritzer pairs beautifully with the zingy flavors of the herbs and veggies. The crispness of the lemonade or the effervescence of the wine spritzer helps cleanse the palate, enhancing the overall dining experience.

Suggested Recipe: Pasta with Snap Peas, Parsley & Smoked Bacon

For a go-to dish at spring lunches or summertime picnics, try this vibrant and flavorful pasta recipe. The combination of snap peas, fresh parsley, and smoky bacon creates a harmony of flavors that pairs perfectly with the texture of fusilli. This recipe is quick and easy to prepare, making it a great option for busy days when you want to enjoy a delicious and wholesome meal.

“The twisted shape of fusilli holds onto the flavors of the sautéed vegetables, creating a delightful medley of textures in every bite.”

Table: Vegetable and Herb Pairings for Fusilli

Vegetable Herb
Broccoli Garlic
Zucchini Basil
Cherry Tomatoes Parsley
Asparagus Lemon Zest

Experiment with different combinations of sautéed vegetables and fresh herbs to create your own signature fusilli dish. The possibilities are endless!

Shells: Perfect Pockets for Fillings

When it comes to pasta, shells are a versatile and delicious choice. Their unique shape, reminiscent of sea shells, creates perfect pockets for delectable fillings. Whether it’s a cheesy and creamy blend or a hearty meaty mixture, stuffed shells are a crowd-pleasing dish that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters.

One popular variation is cheese stuffed shells baked in a tomato or cheese sauce. The combination of gooey melted cheese and rich, savory sauce is a match made in pasta heaven. The shells provide the perfect vessel to hold the cheesy filling, ensuring every bite is bursting with flavor.

Indulge in the cheesy goodness of stuffed shells. The combination of gooey melted cheese and rich, savory sauce is a match made in pasta heaven.

Pairing suggestions for stuffed shells include hoppy brews or fizzy ciders, which complement the cheese-laden shells wonderfully. If you prefer a bold and spicy flavor, opt for a Zinfandel or Primitivo wine to enhance the taste of the robust red sauce. These beverage choices add an extra layer of enjoyment to your dining experience.

For an intimate weekend gathering, why not try making Cheese Stuffed Shells with Chicken Bolognese? This recipe combines the creaminess of cheese-filled shells with a flavorful and hearty chicken Bolognese sauce. It’s a dish that is sure to impress your guests and leave them wanting more.

A Delectable Recipe: Cheese Stuffed Shells with Chicken Bolognese

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Cook the shells according to the package instructions, then drain and set aside.
  3. In a skillet, cook ground chicken until browned. Add onions, garlic, and your choice of herbs for extra flavor.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella, grated Parmesan, and beaten eggs. Add salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings.
  5. Stuff each shell generously with the cheese mixture and place in a baking dish.
  6. Pour the chicken Bolognese sauce over the stuffed shells, ensuring they are covered completely.
  7. Sprinkle additional shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan on top.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
  9. Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, and serve hot.

These cheese stuffed shells with chicken Bolognese are not only visually appealing but also incredibly tasty. The combination of the creamy cheese filling and the flavorful Bolognese sauce is sure to win over the hearts and taste buds of all who try it.

Ingredients: Bolognese Sauce Cheese Filling
Ground chicken Onions Ricotta cheese
Onions Garlic Shredded mozzarella
Garlic Choice of herbs Grated Parmesan
Choice of herbs Tomato sauce Beaten eggs
Tomato sauce Salt and pepper

Penne – Ridged Tubes for Hearty Sauces

penne pasta

When it comes to pasta, penne is a favorite choice for many Italian food lovers. Its ridged shape and hollow center make it perfect for holding onto hearty sauces, like vegetable ragout or meat ragouts and marinaras. The ridges of penne provide the ideal texture for the sauce to cling to, ensuring each bite is bursting with flavor.

To enhance the taste of a penne dish, try serving it with a spicy virgin Caesar. The fruity and sweet notes of the tomato sauce pair beautifully with the kick of the Caesar, creating a delightful harmony of flavors. The spicy Caesar adds a touch of heat that complements the heartiness of the penne and the richness of the sauce.

“Penne with vegetable ragout is a classic Italian dish that brings together the flavors of sautéed vegetables in a rich tomato sauce. The ridged tubes of penne create the perfect bite, allowing the sauce to envelop each piece of pasta,” says Italian chef Stefano Rossi.

For a comforting and satisfying meal, try making an Easy Spinach & Meatball Pasta Bake with penne. This dish combines the robust flavors of homemade meatballs, wilted spinach, and a rich tomato sauce. The penne absorbs the flavors of the sauce as it bakes, resulting in a mouthwatering pasta dish that will have everyone coming back for seconds.

Table: Penne Pasta Pairings

Pasta Dish Sauce Beverage Pairing
Penne with Vegetable Ragout Sautéed vegetables in a rich tomato sauce Spicy virgin Caesar
Easy Spinach & Meatball Pasta Bake Homemade meatballs, wilted spinach, and a rich tomato sauce Red wine, such as Sangiovese or Zinfandel

Rigatoni – Chunky Sauces and Sausages

Rigatoni, with its large tube shape and ridges, is the perfect pasta for hearty and chunky sauces. Its hollow center and textured surface allow the sauce to cling to every bite, ensuring a flavorful and satisfying dish. Rigatoni pairs particularly well with sauces that feature bold ingredients like sausages or chunky vegetables.

One popular way to enjoy rigatoni is with a hearty sausage sauce. The rich and savory flavors of the sausage infuse the pasta, creating a delicious and comforting meal. Whether you choose spicy Italian sausage or a milder variety, the combination of the meaty sausage and chunky tomato sauce creates a harmonious blend of flavors. Add some sautéed vegetables like bell peppers or onions for extra texture and taste.

When it comes to pairing beverages with rigatoni and chunky sauces, opt for wines that can stand up to the robust flavors. Sangiovese and Zinfandel wines are excellent choices, as their bold and fruity profiles complement the richness of the sauce. These wines bring out the flavors of the sausage and enhance the overall dining experience. For a non-alcoholic option, try a sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon to cleanse the palate between bites.

Recipe Recommendation: Creamy Chicken, Spinach & Tomato Rigatoni Bake

“I absolutely love the combination of creamy sauce, tender chicken, and vibrant spinach in this rigatoni bake. The rigatoni’s hollow tubes capture the flavors, making every bite a burst of deliciousness. It’s a comforting and satisfying dish that never fails to impress!” – Chef Amanda

To showcase the versatility of rigatoni and chunky sauces, try making Creamy Chicken, Spinach & Tomato Rigatoni Bake. This recipe combines tender chicken, wilted spinach, and a creamy tomato sauce infused with herbs and spices. The rigatoni noodles provide the perfect vehicle for the robust flavors, ensuring a tasty and filling meal. Top it off with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a side of garlic bread for a complete and satisfying dining experience.

Remember, rigatoni is the ideal pasta choice when you want a hearty and flavorful meal. Its large size and ridges make it perfect for chunky sauces and sausages, allowing you to create delicious and satisfying dishes. So grab a box of rigatoni, whip up a flavorful sauce, and enjoy a comforting pasta meal that will leave you wanting more!

Orzo – Tiny Pasta for Salads and Comfort Food

If you’re looking for a versatile pasta that can be used in a variety of dishes, look no further than orzo. This tiny rice-like pasta is perfect for salads, stews, and soups, making it a great addition to your culinary repertoire.

One of the best things about orzo is its ability to absorb flavors. It pairs exceptionally well with oil-based sauces like pesto or fresh dressings made with lime juice or red wine vinegar. The small size of the orzo allows it to soak up the flavors, creating a delicious and satisfying dish.

When it comes to beverages, consider pairing orzo dishes with Gewürztraminer, a fruity and semi-dry wine that complements the vegetable and herb flavors in orzo-based salads and bakes. The slight sweetness of the wine enhances the overall taste experience.

Next time you’re looking to add some variety to your pasta repertoire, give orzo a try. Whether you’re making a refreshing orzo salad for a summer barbecue or a comforting orzo soup for a cozy night in, this tiny pasta is sure to deliver big on flavor.


How do I choose the right pasta shape for my sauce?

It’s all about the texture! Long and thin pastas like spaghetti pair well with light and delicate sauces, while tubular pastas like elbow macaroni are perfect for creamy and cheesy sauces. Twisted shapes like fusilli are great for sautéed vegetables, and shells work well with hearty meat or cheese fillings. Penne is ideal for thick and hearty sauces, while rigatoni is perfect for chunky sauces with added ingredients. Orzo is a tiny pasta that works well in salads and soups.

What are some classic sauce pairings for spaghetti?

Spaghetti goes well with basil and garlic-infused tomato sauce or nut-based pestos. Classic Italian red wines like Chianti or sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon are great beverage choices to accompany spaghetti.

What is the best sauce to pair with elbow macaroni?

Elbow macaroni is perfect for cheese and cream sauces, as well as vegetable and meat casseroles. Pair the decadent and cheesy sauce with a dry sparkling wine for adults or tart cranberry juice for the kids.

What sauces work well with fusilli?

Fusilli is versatile and can be served in both hot and cold dishes. Its ridges grab onto sauces, making it perfect for sautéed vegetables flavored with Parmesan. Cold lemonade or a white wine spritzer are refreshing beverage choices to bring out the zing in herbs and veggies.

How can I make the most out of shells pasta?

Shells have pockets that help hold sauce and fillings. They pair well with hearty meat or ricotta-herb fillings and are delicious when nestled in tomato or cheese sauces and baked. Hoppy brews and fizzy ciders complement the cheese-laden shells, while spicy red sauces go well with Zinfandel or Primitivo wines.

What types of sauces work well with penne pasta?

Penne is a cylindrical pasta shape with ridges, perfect for hearty sauces like veg or meat ragouts and marinaras. The ridged surface helps the sauce adhere to the pasta. Enhance the fruity, sweet notes of the tomato sauce by serving a spicy virgin Caesar.

Rigatoni, a larger tube-shaped pasta with ridges, is ideal for thick, chunky sauces. Add chopped vegetables, bits of chicken, or sausage for a satisfying dish. Sangiovese or Zinfandel wines pair well with hearty sausage or Bolognese-style sauces.

How can I use orzo pasta in my dishes?

Orzo, a tiny rice-like pasta, is perfect for salads, stews, and soups. Its small size works well with oil-based sauces like pesto or fresh dressings made with lime juice or red wine vinegar. Gewürztraminer, a fruity and semi-dry wine, complements the vegetable and herb flavors in orzo-based salads and bakes.

By Mat Stuckey

Ex professional chef with a passion for cooking and unique flavours.

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