For most of us, choosing a pasta sauce to match our pasta is an easy task because we limit ourselves to what we find on the supermarket shelves. In Italy, the matter of matching pasta to the right sauce is a skill. Here are a few tips to help.
Ragu is a Bolognese sauce but while most westerners would match this with spaghetti, in Italy, it is a completely different matter. When you are ordering this dish in Italy, it will come complete with pasta shells, pappardelle or tagliatelle. As a general rule, thicker sauces such as these are served with larger pasta shapes.
Thinner pasta ribbons such as spaghetti or linguine should be matched with lighter sauces such as cream or oil-based sauces or some of the thinner seafood sauces. When it comes to the larger shell-style pasta shapes such as lumache, use the heavier meat or cream sauces. The larger pasta shapes can be stuffed with the sauce.
Pasta shaped into twists such as gemelli and fusilli is better suited to lighter sauces including pesto, as these coat the shapes lightly. Tube pasta such as penne or rigatoni is more often used in Italy with cheese sauces that are baked or can be used with the heavier vegetable sauces.
Filled pasta such as tortellini or ravioli is very popular and while most of us would use a tomato or cheese-based sauce with them, this can hide the flavour that is already there. In Italy, these are usually served with a light sauce based on butter or oil.
For an authentic Italian pasta dish, it is better to take tips from the Italians instead of just using what is available in the local supermarket. Home-made pasta sauces often have more flavour than store-bought options and they are often easier to make than you might think.