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Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Pairing pasta shapes and sauces


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Below are just some of the pasta types on the market.

LONG STRANDS

Spaghetti: Match with meaty tomato, creamy seafood, broth or olive oil-based sauces. The earthy flavor and rough texture of whole-wheat or spelt spaghetti pair well with chunky, country-style sauces, especially ones composed of mushrooms and sweet bell peppers. A delicate spaghetti made with rice flour will fall apart easily if overcooked. Toss with olive oil or broth-based sauces, herbs and spring vegetables.

Spaghettini: This is slightly thinner and more delicate than spaghetti. Pair with broth, olive oil or light tomato sauces.

Vermicelli: Thinner than spaghettini, this will be overwhelmed by thick, heavy sauces. Use lighter tomato, olive oil or broth-based sauces.

Angel hair: It cooks quickly, often in just 2 minutes. It's great in lighter entrees or sides dishes, or when broken up for soups. Use with thin, tomato or broth-based sauces, or toss with olive oil, finely chopped cooked vegetables and shrimp.

Bucatini: A hollow strand that pairs well with thicker sauces.

RIBBON STRIPS

The following types can measure up to several inches wide.

Linguine: Both white or red clam sauces are traditional with this 1/16-inch-wide pasta. But linguine marries well with almost any sauce.

Fettuccine: This 1/8-inch-wide noodle is classically paired with creamy alfredo sauce, but any sauce with a medium to thick consistency is good.

Tagliatelle: These are wider than fettuccine and are traditionally paired with meat or light fish sauces, or pesto.

Pappardelle: These 1-inch-wide noodles match up to hearty meat, cream and vegetable sauces. In Tuscany, they're served with wine-and-tomato-based duck or rabbit sauces.

Lasagna: A familiar noodle about 2 inches wide with curly edges. The no-boil variety has straight edges. If using this, don't be tempted to cook even briefly. Noodles will stick together and become almost impossible to separate. Have a little extra sauce or broth on hand, or even use a bit of water to drizzle around edges that may become dry.

TUBULAR PASTAS

These are usually 2 to 3 inches long, with a center hole

ranging from ½ to 1 inch wide. All of these are perfect for baked dishes.

Rigatoni: Short, fat tubes with ridges on the exterior can be paired with hearty meat sauces, or chunky vegetable sauces of eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers. Thick tomato or cream-based sauces work well.

Penne: Short, hollow tubes that are cut diagonally. Penne rigate have ribbed surfaces, while penne lisce are smooth. These can go with a wide range of sauces, from meat to cheese to those with vinaigrette bases.

Ziti: This medium-sized tube is slightly curved and pairs well with any hearty tomato, cheese, cream or roasted-vegetable-based sauce.

Manicotti: These large tubes can be filled with meat, cheese, seafood or vegetable fillings. Cannelloni fillings can also be used in manicotti.

MOLDED SHAPES

These shapes capture sauce in their grooves, and can be used with the same kinds of sauces as tube-shaped pastas.

Conchiglie or shells: Choose a tiny shape for soups or a medium size for baked dishes and other entrees, salads and side dishes. Large shells can be stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetable fillings and baked.

Farfalle (bow-ties or butterflies): The pasta is cut into squares, then pinched in the center to make the distinctive shape. It can be difficult to get the thicker center to cook, so it should be tested repeatedly for tenderness. Even so, the center will probably be a little chewy. Pair with creamy béchamel-based sauces, or toss with olive oil, herbs and finely diced vegetables.

Orecchiette: This round, thumbprint-shaped pasta is often paired with vegetable- or broth-based sauces, or with vegetables such as broccoli rabe that have been lightly cooked with olive oil and garlic.

Fusilli: The twisted shape is great for salads, side-dishes and entrees because it matches well to any sauce. A flavorful pesto is a wonderful choice.

Radiatore: This is a fun shape with ruffled edges that marries well with most sauces and zesty vinaigrettes.

SOUPS AND SIDE DISHES

Tiny pastas that kids love, including the alphabet, stars and tiny butterflies.

Orzo: A small, rice-shaped pasta for soups, salads or quick sides dishes. Use with lighter sauces.

Acini pepe: If you were to cut a dry strand of spaghetti into 1/16-inch pieces, you'd have the approximate size of this pasta. Toss into soups, or serve as a side dish instead of rice.

Fregola sarda: These tiny, rough-textured balls have been toasted and are wonderful cooked in broth and tossed with chopped herbs and fine shreds of cheese.

Sources: "Cook's Illustrated Italian Classics"; "Bugialli on Pasta" by Giuliano Bugialli; www.ronzoni.com; www.barilla.com.


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