How to Choose the Best Sauce for Each Pasta Shape

Listen: If your pasta’s good and your sauce is good, dinner will be good. But if you want to take spaghetti night to the next level, follow these noodle-and-sauce pairing rules from chef Steve Gonzalez, pasta pro (he’s worked at some of the bestItalian restaurants in the country) and cofounder of Sfoglini Pasta Shop in West Coxsackie, New York.
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rigatoni with bacon, onion, and balsamic vinegar

The rigatoni in Rach's 30-Minute Meal can handle a hearty sauce like this, but not all pasta shapes can. Recipe: Mezze Rigatoni all'Amatriciana a Modena 

long skinny pastas

For long and skinny noodles, like spaghetti, go with a light sauce with chunky ingredients. “You need something you can spike your fork into, like a zucchini or a tomato.”

filled pastas

Ravioli, tortellini, and other filled pastas should let the stuffings shine, “which means simple, lighter sauces.” Try a good ol’ marinara or a delicious clear brodo (a.k.a. broth).

ridged pastas

Ridged pastas, like rigatoni, shells, or penne rigate, are perfect with a hearty Bolognese or a creamy alfredo. “The sauce will spill into the tubes, creating an explosion of flavor in your mouth.”

flat wide pastas

Pappardelle, fettuccine, and other flat, wide pastas are a match for a meaty ragu or other hearty sauces, says Gonzalez. As a general rule, the wider the noodle, the richer the sauce.


If you are using smooth tubes, like ziti or paccheri, try a sauce with chopped herbs or lemon zest (or both!). “The pieces get trapped and give the pasta a little extra texture.”

ruffle edged pastas

Campanelle, mafaldine, and other ruffle-edged pastas are great for trapping sauces with little bits of stuff, like a meaty ragu or a hearty tomato sauce full of diced veggies.

twisted pastas

The best thing about using twisted pastas, like fusilli and gemelli, is that they’re great warm or cold. Gonzalez pairs them with pesto or uses them in pasta salads.