How to pair the perfect sauce with popular pasta shapes

An incredible amount of pasta is consumed across the world each year with the people of the U.S (the largest pasta market) tucking away an impressive 2.7 million tons alone. With hundreds of beautifully crafted pasta shapes involved in Italian cuisine, did you know that each one has a perfect sauce pairing to create the ultimate Italian pasta dish? The right shape can make a good sauce, great, while the wrong shape can ruin the potential of a tasty sauce.

According to the cookbook, The Geometry of Pasta, there are 1,200 different pasta names and approximately 350 pasta shapes. There are many reasons why pasta exists in so many forms, one is regional, as many Italian cities have their own speciality pasta, but it’s down to practicality as well – smaller or thinner requires a simpler sauce sauce, while chunkier pasta shapes will be able to hold onto meatier or chunkier sauces.


As mentioned, certain pastas are best eaten with a particular sauce, while others work best with a variety of sauces. To help you match your pasta with your sauces for the best dish possible, Guido Pedrelli, founder of Nonna Box provides an insight into the most popular pasta shapes and the complementary sauces for that perfect pairing.


Spaghetti is an international dish of happiness, widely loved by everyone and it should be served with a loose and light tomato sauce, or even no sauce at all, only cheese and pepper. Whole wheat spaghetti pairs well with chunky sauces due to the earthy flavour and ridged texture. A thinner spaghetti can fall apart if overcooked, so cook with lashings of olive oil or herbs and broth-based sauces.


penne pasta

Penne are tubular and cut at an angle; penne rigate has a ribbed surface, while penne lisce is smooth. You should opt for thicker base sauces as they will cling to the pasta. They pair well with a wide range of sauces from meat to cheese and those which have a vinaigrette base. Penne also is brilliant with Bolognese or ragu.

Fusilli and Spirali

These pastas have a curly shape like corkscrews, fusilli are slightly tighter but other than that they have very similar properties to spirali. They are perfect paired with coarse sauces that can get captured in the screw threads and make the perfect bite. Lighter and smoother sauces are the perfect accompaniment here and a flavourful pesto makes a great pairing as the rich aroma will sit perfectly on the twists.


farfalle pasta

Farfalle is cut into squares and then pinched in the centre to make the distinctive bow-tie shape. The centre tends to be slightly chewy as it can be difficult to get the perfect bite, so it is great when paired with creamy sauces or tossed with olive oil. The ‘wings’ hold sauces perfectly, since they are of a delicate shape, farfalle is better matched with light and fresh sauces.


The width of tagliatelle tends to ‘spread’ on the tongue and is best accompanied with a thick hearty meat sauce for that extra wow factor. If you want even more flavour, it tastes great with pesto. The wide surface works well with creamy sauces as it sticks firmly onto the pasta for the ultimate flavour.