Your complete guide to pairing pasta shapes to sauces

The perfect sauce for your favorite pasta: Italian food expert explains how to choose the ideal pairing – from flavorful pesto with tagliatelle to hearty ragu with penne

  • Italian Guido Pedrelli warned wrong shape pasta could ruin potential of sauce 
  • Advised whole-wheat spaghetti pairs with chunky sauces due to earthy flavor
  • Added penne works best with range of sauces which have a vinaigrette base

There are hundreds of beautifully-crafted pasta shapes involved in Italian cuisine, and each one has perfect sauce pairings to create the ultimate pasta dish. 

But while the right shape can make a good sauce extra special, the wrong shape can ruin the meal.   

US-based Italian food expert Guido Pedrelli, founder of food subscription service Nonna Box, has given FEMAIL his expert insight into the best combinations for you to try at home. 

Among the recommendations includes pairing whole-wheat spaghetti with chunky sauces due to the earthy flavor, and penne with ragu or a sauce with a vinaigrette base because the thicker texture holds the flavor perfectly.   

Time to get pairing!


Best with: Tomato sauce, bolognase or no sauce 

Guido Pedrelli, founder of food subscription service Nonna Box, has provided an insight into the most popular pasta shapes and their sauces to help you match your pasta with your sauces

‘Spaghetti is an international dish of happiness, widely loved by everyone and very versatile. It is best 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 flavor and ridged texture, while thinner spaghetti can fall apart if overcooked, so is best served with lashings of olive oil or herbs and broth-based sauces.

The traditional bolognese is always a winner with spaghetti because the rich tomato sauce clings well to the thick strands, whilst still being wrapped full of flavor. 

When it comes to how much sauce, always apply generously to ensure the spaghetti is soaked – applying sparingly will leave the dish lacking flavor. 


Best with: Thicker, chunkier sauces; ragu 

Penne (pictured) is the perfect match for a bolognese or ragu because the thicker texture holds the flavour well

Penne are tubular shapes and cut at an angle. Penne rigate has a ribbed surface whilst penne lisce is smooth, but despite their differences in texture, you should opt for thicker base sauces with lots of ingredients for both as they cling to the pasta. 

The angled ends help to capture the sauce in the center, meaning they pair best with a wide range of sauces from meat to cheese and those which have a vinaigrette base. 

Penne is also brilliant with bolognese or ragu because the thicker texture holds the flavor perfectly. As it can be baked in sauce, it makes for a very versatile pasta shape that stands up to many sauces.


Best with: Light sauces with creamy bases; fresh vegetables 

The expert advises farfalle (pictured) is better matched with light and fresh sauces such as creamy bases due to the delicate weight of the pasta

Farfalle is cut into squares and then pinched in the center to make the distinctive bow-tie shape. 

Guido Pedrelli (pictured) has advised which pasta shapes pair with which sauces

The center tends to be slightly chewy meaning it can be difficult to get the perfect bite, so it is great with creamy sauces or when tossed with olive oil. 

The ‘wings’ hold sauces perfectly since they are of a delicate shape, so farfalle is better matched with light and fresh sauces.

Anything heavy could leave the pasta feeling too weighed down. 

Creamy bases work better than tomato as the pasta is weightless, but the perfect blend of flavors is key for it to absorb into the farfalle.

Traditionally the pasta is enjoyed in the summer with a light sauce, topped off with fresh vegetables.


Best with: Hearty meat sauce; rich and heavy sauces 

Tagliatelle (pictured) is versatile and works will with most sauces, but the expert advises adding pesto to give it even more flavour

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 flavor, it tastes great with pesto. 

The long wide ribbons work perfectly with rich and heavy sauces because it picks them up and absorbs the flavor without becoming too gluey.

Meanwhile, the wide surface complements creamy sauces as they stick firmly onto the pasta for the ultimate flavor. 

This pasta is very versatile and works well with most sauces, but just ensure you have cooked it to the perfect bite so the pasta works together with the sauce, as opposed to sitting next to it. 


Best with: Pesto and arrabbiata  

The expert says fusilli (pictured) are perfect paired with coarse sauces that can get captured in the screw threads – such as a pesto and arrabbiata 

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 best when paired with coarse sauces that can get captured in the screw threads. 

A tasty pesto and arrabbiata make for a great pair as the rich aroma will sit perfectly on the twists.

Lighter and smoother sauces can work with the shapes, but thicker sauces will be locked up firmer in the swirls. Meanwhile, the chewy texture of the pasta makes it a great addition to any salad. 

When pairing, analyse how narrow or wide the curves are and match the chunky ingredients of the sauce accordingly.

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