Your Guide to Pairing Pasta with Sauce
Each pasta's shape and texture makes a difference in how your meal tastes. We look at the best pasta for Alfredo, marinara, meat sauces and more.
Best Pasta for Alfredo and Cream Sauces: Fettuccine
Fettuccine Alfredo is a classic for a good reason: fettuccine’s wide, thick shape allows you to sop up the maximum amount of creamy sauce with each bite. Coating thick pasta with creamy sauces is also the best way to keep the noodles from clumping together in the bowl.
Best Pasta for Butter or Sour Cream Sauces: Egg Noodles
Egg noodles are versatile enough to go with any number of sauces, but they’re our go-to choice for simple sauces. The flat, wide noodles have an eggy flavor and a slightly chewy texture that adds depth to plain buttered noodles.
Best Pasta for Carbonara: Bucatini
Bucatini is an interesting pasta shape: a hole runs through the center of these long, round noodles. That makes bucatini a perfect choice for creamy, rich sauces like carbonara because you get to slurp up the tasty sauce inside and out!
Try using bucatini instead of spaghetti the next time you make this carbonara recipe.
Best Pasta for Cheese Sauces: Elbows or Shells
The dish might be called macaroni and cheese, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to elbow pasta. Any shell shape that’s textured with pockets or grooves will work. These types of pasta catch the cheese sauce in every crevice, delivering maximum flavor with each bite.
Try playing around with different shapes (like conchiglie shells, cavatappi or rotini) to take your favorite mac and cheese recipe to the next level.
Best Pasta for Marinara and Tomato Sauces: Spaghetti
It doesn’t get much simpler than spaghetti, a long, round noodle that can be paired with just about any sauce. Spaghetti’s smooth texture makes it a good choice for thin tomato sauces, which evenly coat the noodles as you twirl them around a fork.
Try pairing spaghetti with store-bought tomato sauces, or step your game up by making your own marinara at home.
Best Pasta for Meat Sauces: Tagliatelle
Tagliatelle is similar to fettuccine, but it’s thinner both in width and thickness. These ribbon-like noodles are ideal for thicker sauces, wrapping around large chunks to deliver a tasty package in each bite.
Best Pasta for Pasta Puttanesca or Thick Tomato Sauces: Rigatoni
Rigatoni noodles are similar to penne—they’re both ridged, tube-shaped pasta, but rigatoni is generally wider. It’s our go-to option for thicker tomato sauces that contain heavy toppings like eggplant, prosciutto or olives.
Best Pasta for Pesto: Gemelli
This twisty, helix-shaped pasta is similar to fusilli, but its shape is so curved it almost creates a tube. Toss it with pesto to pack each crevice full of a rich and tasty sauce. You can’t go wrong with that!
Try out gemelli with our top-rated pesto recipes.
Best Pasta for Seafood Sauces: Linguine
It looks like flattened spaghetti or thin fettuccine, but linguine is the best of both worlds. It has the structure of a round noodle with the texture of a flat one. Linguine tastes fantastic with tomato sauces, but it’s even better with rich seafood sauces.
Best Pasta for Veggie Sauces: Orecchiette
This pasta shape got its name from its appearance: It looks like tiny little ears. It’s fairly thick, which creates a springy texture when cooked. That makes it ideal for veggie-heavy sauces, but the concave shape also allows orecchiette to soak up creamy sauces.
Best Pasta for Vodka Sauce: Farfalle
This bowtie pasta can be paired with any type of sauce—cheese, cream, veggie or seafood—but we think it’s best when drowned in a rich vodka sauce. The noodle’s ridges and grooves cling perfectly to the sweet, spicy, smooth sauce.
Try farfalle instead of penne the next time you make vodka sauce.