How to Pick the Perfect Sauce for Your Pasta

For Italians, pasta is an art. Not only is Italy a world leader when it comes to pasta production, making over 3.2 million tonnes annually, but Italians also consumes a whopping 24 kg per head each year!

The beautiful thing about pasta is its versatility and the diversity of dishes that you can create, from creamy carbonara to spicy arrabiata with pesto creations in between. But with more than 300 different types of pasta, each with its own unique shape, how can you know which sauce goes with each type of pasta? If you love Italian cuisine then this guide to preparing the perfect pasta dish is for you!

In Italy, chefs believe that each pasta “waits” for its perfect culinary partner, and each region of Italy has its own style. For example, in Rome, Bucatini all'Amatriciana is a popular pasta dish that teams bucatini or spaghetti pasta with a tomato-based sauce made with pork and pecorino cheese. Meanwhile, in Liguria, Trofie al Pesto takes centre stage, combining decadent green pesto with a special type of pasta called trofie, which resembles ribbed spirals.

Pasta largely falls into two main types: long and short. And within those realms there are classic styles, such as spaghetti, linguine, penne, fusilli and rigatoni, which are the main and most popular types.


Long Pasta

Examples: Spaghetti and linguine

Although all long, each type is quite different and this is reflected in the sauces that team best with long pasta.

For example, spaghetti is thin and cylindrical in shape, while linguine, which translates as “little tongues”, is about 4 mm in width and so wider than spaghetti, allowing it to have a “creamy” effect. Consequently, spaghetti is typically teamed with meat and tomato dishes (for example, Spaghetti Bolognese), while linguine is usually combined with clams or pesto.

If you love twirling long pasta, then here are the perfect pasta and sauce combinations for long pasta:

Bucatini: Amatriciana, “gricia”, or tomato sauces and cheese
Bavette: Simple sauces made with fish, or pesto
Caps: Use in soups
Lasagne: Sauces rich in meat, cheese and vegetables
Macaroni: Neapolitan ragu (meat-based sauces)
Rigatoni: Thick sauces, including those made with meat (especially sausage) and/or vegetables (also suitable for baking)
Spaghetti: Best topped with tomatoes or extra-virgin olive oil and herbs, or served in an Italian carbonara
Ziti: Serve with a Neapolitan ragu or meat-based sauces


Short Pasta

Examples: Penne and fusilli

Short pasta is particularly diverse, with numerous styles, including shells, spirals and tubes. Generally, short pasta “holds” sauce very well and so teams perfectly with tomato-based dishes.

Here are a few examples of perfect pasta and sauce combinations using short pasta styles:

Shells: Simple tomato or meat-based sauces
Farfalle (butterflies): Simple sauces with oil (lovely eaten as a cold pasta salad in the summer)
Orecchiette: Best with a tomato sauce, drizzled with rapeseed oil and decorated with crumbled ricotta cheese
Paccheri: Ideal with fish – although we recommend a thick sauce with vegetables
Trofie: Boil with green beans and potatoes, and then season with a classic pesto for a typical Genoa-style pasta dish
Fusilli: Perfect in a pasta salad or with a sauce based on ricotta cheese


Italy is one of our favourite European destinations for a multi-centre holiday and can be enjoyed alone, with popular Italy multi-centre tours including Rome, Florence and Venice, or combined into a European tour, such as Italy and Greece. If you would love to try an authentic pasta dish in its birthplace, why not chat to one of our expert travel advisers, who will take the time to listen to what you want from your Italy vacation and will put together the perfect tour itinerary for you. To find out more, call us on +44 1223 637328, or click here to send an online enquiry.

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