The Ultimate Guide to Pasta and Sauce

The dried pasta options at the store can be bewildering. Do you want corkscrews, stovepipes, or little ears tonight? Perhaps a big dish of priest stranglers—that’d be strozzapreti in Italian. There are reasons that pasta exists in so many forms. It’s partly regional (Italian cities big and small always seem to have a specialty pasta), but it’s also practical: Certain pastas are best eaten with certain sauces. Others work well with a wide variety of sauces—the workhorse pastas, like farfalle.

The general rule is that delicate noodles are for delicate sauces while heartier noodles are for heartier sauces, but similar to wine pairing, it’s not always that simple. So here’s a guide to help you sort it all out. And if you can’t tell your radiatore from your penne, we’ve got pictures. Of course, if this is too much pasta structure for you, we won’t snitch if your gemelli ends up in a seafood sauce.

We’ve cross-referenced this chart by pasta or by sauce and included some suggestions for specific recipes you can try.

Pasta: ACINI DE PEPE | Sauce: SOUP

Acini di pepe are literally “little peppercorns,” named for their tiny ball shape. Reminiscent of Israeli couscous, you’ll find them floating in recipes like Italian wedding soup.

Pasta: ANELLI/ANELLINI | Sauces: PASTA SALAD, SOUP

Annelli are, wait for it… little rings. These round pieces are best eaten by the spoonful.

Pasta: BUCATINI | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO

Bucatini is a long, pipe-shaped pasta with a hole in the center—just wide enough to soak up a few saucy juices. Check out our recipe for Bucatini all'Amatriciana alla Robert Sietsema.

Pasta: CALAMARI | Sauces: SEAFOOD, TOMATO

These pasta bands are named for their squidlike shape, and are best with other shapely ingredients and sauces with a bit of substance.

Pasta: CAMPANELLE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, VEGETABLE

Campanelle are bells, just the perfect size for pocketing little nubs of cheese, veg, or meat. Check out our recipe for Heirloom Tomato–Basil Pasta with Olives and Feta with campanelle.

Pasta: CAPELLINI (a.k.a. ANGEL HAIR) | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, PESTO, SEAFOOD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Light and ethereal, these wispy strands do well with lighter, thin sauces. Check out our recipes for Angel Hair Pasta with Green Garlic Cream Sauce and Angel Hair Pasta with Spicy Vodka Sauce.

Pasta: CASARECCE | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PESTO, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Casarecce literally means "homemade," owing to their loose, free-form shape. Their crevices are great for soaking up sauce.

Pasta: CAVATELLI | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, SOUP, VEGETABLE

Cavare is "to scoop" in Italian, appropriate for the hot dog bun–style crevices in cavatelli. They’re a signature shape in the southern region of Puglia.

Pasta: CAVATURI | Sauces: PASTA SALAD, VEGETABLE

Cavaturi also have that scooped center, but are slightly longer and scroll-like.

Pasta: CONCHIGLIE | Sauces: CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Named for their conch shell–like appearance, these tubes can hold ample amounts of liquid. Check out our recipe for Pasta with Arugula Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts with conchiglie.

Pasta: DITALINI | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, SOUP

These "tiny fingers" are a classic choice for soups like pasta e fagioli, although they are a great choice for soaking up cheese and sauce in bakes, too. Check out our recipe for Pasta e Fagioli with ditalini.

Pasta: FARFALLE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SEAFOOD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

We may know them as bow ties, but these all-purpose shapes are actually named for fluttering butterflies. Check out our recipe for Bow Tie Pasta with Corn, Thyme, and Parmesan.

Pasta: FETTUCCINE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

A versatile favorite, fettuccine are "little ribbons," working famously with Alfredo sauce, but also holding steady against robust meat, seafood, and vegetables. Check out our recipes for Fettuccine Alfredo, Fettuccine with Pesto, Asparagus, and Artichoke, and Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder Ragu with Fresh Fettuccine.

Pasta: FREGULA | Sauces: SOUP, TOMATO

A Sardinian specialty, these grainlike bits add a chewy bite to soups and more. They’re usually toasted, giving them a brown-hued cast. Check out our recipe for Soup of Fregula with Baby Clams (Fregula kin Arsellas).

Pasta: FUSILLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Fusilli is a short "spun" pasta with twisted surfaces that provide a chute for sauce to slide down. Check out our recipes for Spinach Pesto Fusilli and Fusilli with Parsley, Walnut, and Black Olive Pesto.

Pasta: FUSILLI COL BUCO | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Also known as fusilli bucati, these long corkscrew spirals have a tiny hole inside each strand.

Pasta: FUSILLI NAPOLETANI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Fusilli Napoletani look like ribbons that have been tightly twirled, although they have just enough space down the center to hold a range of sauces.

Pasta: GEMELLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, SOUP, VEGETABLE

Gemelli are "twins," named for their double helix–shaped strands. Check out our recipe for Dill, Chickpea, and Feta Pasta Salad with gemelli.

Pasta: GIGLI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, MEAT, TOMATO

Similar to campanelle, gigli are a little bit tighter and frillier, resembling the lilies for which they're named.

Pasta: JUMBO SHELLS | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

An oversized variation on conchiglie, these egg-sized pieces are great for filling with cheese, chopped veggies, and more. Check out our recipe for Swiss Chard Stuffed Shells.

Pasta: LASAGNA | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These flat sheets are well known for their favorite use: baked into saucy belly-filling recipes. Check out our recipes for Lasagna alla Bolognese, Butternut Squash Lasagna, Pesto and Pea Lasagna, and Vegan Lasagna.

Pasta: LINGUINE | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PESTO, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLES

Long, flat, and narrow, linguine are best known for their pairing with clam sauce, although they are versatile and suitable for use with a wide range of sauces. Check out our recipes for Linguine with Clams and Zucchini (Linguine con Vongole e Zucchini), Linguine with Squash Noodles and Pine Nuts, and Linguine with Clams and Chorizo.

Pasta: LUMACONI | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLES

Named after snails, these large, roly-poly shapes are big enough to stuff with cheese and veggies.

Pasta: MACARONI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLES

Macaroni, of course, are iconic for their ability to hold cheese. It's a pairing that has already gone down in history. Check out our recipes for Classic Macaroni and Cheese and Tex-Mex Macaroni and Cheese.

Pasta: MALLOREDDUS | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, MEAT, TOMATO

This Sardinian shape may resemble a grub, but its ridged surfaces and chewy, thick texture make it perfect for holding heavier sauces. Check out our recipe for Malloreddus with Pork and Pancetta (Malloreddus kin Purpuzza).

Pasta: MANICOTTI | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These large tubes are a favorite shape for stuffing, holding heavy bundles of ricotta or ground meat.

Pasta: ORECCHIETTE | Sauces: MEAT, PASTA SALAD, PESTO, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These "little ears" are popular for their soft, rounded shape that adapts easily around all manner of accompaniments. Check out our recipes for Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Red Pepper Flakes, and Anchovies, Orecchiette with Chorizo and Swiss Chard, and Orecchiette with Pistachios.

Pasta: ORZO | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, SOUP

These rice-shaped pieces can soak up flavor readily, making them perfect for lightly dressed salads or simmering bakes. Check out our recipes for Celery and Olive Orzo Salad and Poached Chicken and Pomegranate Orzo.

Pasta: PACCHERI | Sauces: TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These smooth, thumb-sized tubes have their origins in Naples. They are suited for tossing in tomato-based sauces, but can also be found stuffed in some recipes.

Pasta: PAPPARDELLE | Sauce: MEAT

These long, broad, and weighty egg noodles have the heft to hold up to heavy meat- and cream-based preparations. Check out our recipe for Fresh Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Thyme Cream Sauce.

Pasta: PASTINA | Sauces: SOUP

The tiniest pasta of them all, pastina can be eaten almost like a porridge or added to soups.

Pasta: PENNE LISCE (a.k.a. MOSTACCIOLI) | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

A bit on the slippery side, these smooth-surfaced quills are cut on the diagonal. Check out our recipe for Beet Greens and Feta Pasta.

Pasta: PENNE RIGATE | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These penne have a bumpy surface, which picks up sauce better than their smooth counterparts. Check out our recipe for Fresh Tomato Sauce with penne.

Pasta: RADIATORE | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO

These short, frilled shapes may look like deep-sea creatures, but they can catch chunks of tomato or cheese between each wing.

Pasta: RICCIOLI | Sauces: BAKED, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO

These delicate, twisted scrolls are capable of picking up light sauces and can stud cheesy bakes.

Pasta: RIGATONI | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Named for their ridged lines, rigatoni are most commonly found in Sicily. These guys are sturdy enough to take on thicker and chunkier sauces. Check out our recipe for Creamy Rigatoni with Chicken and Mushrooms.

Pasta: ROTELLE | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, SOUP, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Rotelle are wheels—they even have spokes! These quarter sized circles can be used festively in a number of ways.

Pasta: ROTINI | Sauces: BAKED, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Rotini are barely discernible from fusilli, but they do have a slightly tighter spiral and a shorter overall length. Check out our recipe for Pasta with Broccoli, Crispy Prosciutto, and Toasted Breadcrumbs.

Pasta: SFOGLIA | Sauces: BAKED, MEAT, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

These are broad sheets of pasta—the kind you can make simply by passing through your pasta roller. Use them to make stuffed cannelloni.

Pasta: SPAGHETTI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

The legendary classic: These are long pasta with a rounded shape, perfect for twirling around a fork. Check out our recipes for Spaghetti and Meatballs and Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese.

Pasta: SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Associated with the central region of Abruzzo, these long strands have a square shape, created by running pasta sheets through the guitarlike instrument that gives them their name.

Pasta: SPAGHETTINI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, SEAFOOD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Thinner than regular spaghetti, these wiry pieces are best suited for lighter sauces.

Pasta: STELLINE | Sauce: SOUP

Oh my stars! These twinkling shapes will have you seeking out constellations in your soup.

Pasta: STROZZAPRETI | Sauces: MEAT, VEGETABLE

These twists are made by tightly coiling flat strips of pasta. The origin of their name (“priest stranglers”) is debated—some say that it’s because gluttonous priests would choke themselves on them.

Pasta: TAGLIARINI | Sauces: BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE

Similar in width to fettuccine, these long, flat strands are often served in butter sauce.

Pasta: TRENETTE | Sauces: BAKED, TOMATO, VEGETABLE, PESTO

Associated with the northwestern region of Liguria, these linguini-like threads are usually served with pesto or simple sauces.

Pasta: TROFIE | Sauce: PESTO

Trofie pasta is formed from tapered twists of dough. It’s most closely associated with Genoa, where it can often be found with pesto.

Pasta: TUBETTINI | Sauces: BAKED, SOUP

Smaller than ditalini, these tubular pieces are associated with minestrone soup. Check out our recipe for Minestrone.

Pasta: ZITI | Sauces: BAKED, BUTTER/OIL, CREAM/CHEESE, MEAT, PASTA SALAD, TOMATO, VEGETABLE

Ziti are tubular and short like penne, but lack the ridges and have a square cut. They’re best known as an element in pasta bakes, although they also match up perfectly well with a range of sauces. Check out our recipe for Baked Ziti with Prosciutto.

Accompaniments and Preparations Index

BAKED
Pictured: Easy Baked Macaroni and Cheese recipe from CHOW

These shapes work best in baked casseroles such as Winter Greens Lasagna or Baked Radicchio and Mozzarella Pasta: Bucatini, Ditalini, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Gigli, Jumbo Shells, Lasagna, Lumaconi, Macaroni, Manicotti, Orzo, Penne Lisce (a.k.a. Mostaccioli), Penne Rigate, Radiatore, Riccioli, Rigatoni, Rotelle, Rotini, Sfoglia, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Trenette, Tubettini, Ziti

BUTTER/OIL
Pictured: Basic Garlicky Spaghetti recipe from CHOW

These pastas are best with delicate butter- and oil-based sauces, such as sage brown butter or aglio e olio: Campanelle, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Farfalle, Fettuccine, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Gigli, Linguine, Macaroni, Malloreddus, Penne Rigate, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Tagliarini, Ziti

CREAM/CHEESE
Pictured: Fettuccine Alfredo recipe from CHOW

Use more delicate sauces such as cacio e pepe or green garlic cream sauce with the thinner noodles in this list, and a robust sauce such as one made with Robiola Bosina cheese for the more substantial noodles: Campanelle, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Casarecce, Cavatelli, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fettuccine, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Jumbo Shells, Lasagna, Linguine, Macaroni, Penne Lisce (a.k.a. Mostaccioli), Penne Rigate, Rigatoni, Rotelle, Rotini, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Tagliarini, Ziti

MEAT
Pictured: Pasta with Roasted Chicken, Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Parsley recipe from CHOW

Pair these pastas with chunky meat sauces such as Wild Boar Ragu or Ragu alla Bolognese: Campanelle, Casarecce, Cavatelli, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fettuccine, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Gigli, Jumbo Shells, Lasagna, Linguine, Lumaconi, Macaroni, Malloreddus, Manicotti, Orecchiette, Pappardelle, Penne Lisce (a.k.a. Mostaccioli), Rigatoni, Rotelle, Rotini, Sfoglia, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Strozzapreti, Ziti

PASTA SALAD
Pictured: Pasta Salad with Spinach, Olives, and Mozzarella recipe from CHOW

Match the smaller pastas with recipes using finely chopped ingredients, such as this salad with zucchini and pine nuts in which you can substitute pasta for the couscous. The larger pastas will hold up well with recipes that call for coarsely chopped ingredients, such as the pasta salad pictured above: Anelli/Anellini, Campanelle, Cavatelli, Cavaturi, Conchiglie, Ditalini, Farfalle, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Macaroni, Orecchiette, Orzo, Penne Rigate, Riccioli, Rotelle, Rotini, Ziti

PESTO
Pictured: Basil-Parsley Pesto recipe from CHOW

Try anything from a Watercress-Walnut Dip or arugula pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts to parsley, walnut, and black olive pesto with these shapes: Bavette, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Casarecce, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Linguine, Orecchiette, Trofie

SEAFOOD
Pictured: Shrimp, Lemon, and Herb Kamut Spaghetti recipe from CHOW

These shapes are ideal for scooping up pieces of seafood; try them with this San Marzano red clam sauce or clams and chorizo: Bavette, Calamari, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Casarecce, Farfalle, Fettuccine, Linguine, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini

SOUP
Pictured: Easy Chicken Noodle Soup from a Leftover Roasted Chicken recipe from CHOW

Brothy soups are made even better when a handful of pasta is thrown in. Try these in Minestrone, Pasta e Fagioli, or as a substitute for the rice in this chicken soup: Acini di Pepe, Anelli/Anellini, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Cavatelli, Ditalini, Farfalle, Fregula, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Orzo, Pastina, Rotelle, Stelline, Tubettini

TOMATO
Pictured: Angel Hair Pasta with Spicy Vodka Sauce recipe from CHOW

The more delicate noodles pair well with simple sauces, such as a Basic Tomato Sauce or raw tomato sauce (marinate tomatoes and garlic in oil for a few minutes, then toss with cooked pasta and torn basil), while the more substantial noodles hold up nicely when prepared all’Amatriciana or paired with caramelized tomatoes and sausage: Bavette, Bucatini, Calamari, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Casarecce, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fettuccine, Fregula, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gigli, Jumbo Shells, Lasagna, Linguine, Lumaconi, Macaroni, Malloreddus, Manicotti, Orecchiette, Paccheri, Penne Lisce (a.k.a. Mostaccioli), Penne Rigate, Radiatore, Riccioli, Rigatoni, Rotelle, Rotini, Sfoglia, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Trenette, Ziti

VEGETABLE
Pictured: Kale and Mushroom Stroganoff recipe from CHOW

Try these pastas with an assortment of vegetable sauces, from Eggplant-Pepper Tomato Sauce to beet greens and feta or broccoli, prosciutto, and toasted breadcrumbs: Campanelle, Capellini (a.k.a. Angel Hair), Casarecce, Cavatelli, Cavaturi, Conchiglie, Farfalle, Fettuccine, Fusilli, Fusilli col Buco, Fusilli Napoletani, Gemelli, Jumbo Shells, Lasagna, Linguine, Lumaconi, Macaroni, Manicotti, Orecchiette, Paccheri, Penne Lisce (a.k.a. Mostaccioli), Penne Rigate, Rigatoni, Rotelle, Rotini, Sfoglia, Spaghetti, Spaghetti alla Chitarra, Spaghettini, Strozzapreti, Trenette, Ziti

All photos by Chris Rochelle / CHOW.
This post was originally published by the CHOW Editorial Team on May 12, 2008.

Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.