Picking the Best Sauces for Pasta is an Art that Anyone Can LearnAuthentic, Italian fresh pasta is a real treat. From the nutty flavor of the semolina to the perfect al dente chew, great pasta is something to be celebrated. And, the way to make the most of fresh pasta is to serve it with the correct sauce.
You might be thinking, “Correct sauce? Don’t all sauces work with pasta?,” which is understandable. Here in the US, decisions about pasta shape mostly come down to personal preference. Classic Italian-American restaurants will often provide a list of sauces and an option of shapes, leaving the ultimate pairing decision up to the diner.
However, in Italy, each shape of pasta gets matched with a specific set of sauces for an elevated dining experience. The right sauce serves as a condiment for the pasta, enhancing each shape.
At Nicola’s we put immense care into all of our handcrafted pastas and we want you to enjoy them to their full potential. Use the following guide to figure out the perfect sauce for any shape of pasta.
The Best Sauces for Ravioli
Ravioli feel like a big mystery when it comes to figuring out the correct sauce pairing. While traditional flavors like spinach or cheese are easily matched with a sauce, it’s hard to know what goes best with beet or ramp and wild mushroom ravioli.
At Nicola’s, we’re proud of our wide range of ravioli flavors made with local vegetables and meats. But we also understand that figuring out how to serve them can be a real challenge. That’s where this guide comes in.
When thinking about pairing sauces with ravioli, consider which flavors pair best with the filling. For example, corn and sweet peppers are a delicious combination which is why serving roasted corn ravioli with a cheese and sweet pepper sauce works perfectly.
Likewise, beef short ribs are delicious with tomatoes so pairing short rib ravioli with tomato sauce is a natural match. However, beets and tomatoes are not as natural of a pairing. Beets do work well with cheese though, which is why you should serve roasted beet ravioli with a cheese sauce instead of a tomato sauce.
When in doubt, you can also always pair filled pastas with simple butter or oil based sauces that don’t distract from the flavors of the fillings. These sauces are delicious and will always work with a ravioli or tortellini, they just aren’t the only option.
For more ravioli and sauce pairing ideas, reference the chart above.
The Best Sauces for Spaghetti and Bucatini
Spaghetti and bucatini are long, thin pastas. They can be paired with a variety of sauces including butter and oil based sauces, creamy or cheesy sauces, meat sauces, and tomato sauces. The key for this shape is the texture.
Avoid sauces that are too thick or filled with large chunks of meat or vegetables. Instead, serve the thin pieces of pasta with a lighter sauce that can coat each delicate strand.
Cacio e pepe is a quick sauce made with black pepper, pecorino romano cheese, olive oil and butter. It’s the perfect complement to bucatini.
The Best Sauces for Pappardelle and Fettuccine
Pappardelle and fettuccine are long, wide ribbons of pasta. They are best when paired with a meat or tomato sauce. The pieces of pasta have a wide surface area for the sauce to attach to and lots of folds for pieces of meat or vegetable to nestle into.
Bolognese is a great sauce for pappardelle. The combination of rich beef, tomato, and fresh pasta is irresistible, especially on cold winter evenings.
The Best Sauces for Rigatoni
Rigatoni and other tube-shaped pasta pair particularly well with thicker, chunky sauces including meat sauces, tomato sauces, and vegetable sauces. The holes in the pasta hold the pieces of meat or vegetables so that each bite has the perfect combination of pasta and sauce.
Alla Gricia is a classic Roman sauce made with guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino romano cheese. The cheese and fat from the guanciale emulsify to form a glossy sauce that coats the rigatoni and the small pieces of guanciale nestle inside the pasta for easy eating.
The Best Sauces for Radiatori
Radiatori is a small pasta shape with lots of ridges. Pasta with ridges and twists are best paired with butter or oil based sauces or thin tomato sauces. You want a sauce that will coat the nooks and crannies of the pasta.
Pesto is a great sauce to serve with radiatori. The ridges hold the sauce and make every bite full of flavor.
The Best Sauces for Orecchiette
Like spaghetti, orecchiette is a versatile pasta shape that can pair with most sauces. The shell-like shape of the small pasta holds the sauce. Sauces with small chunks of vegetables and meat or lots of creamy cheese are especially delicious with cup shaped pasta.
Alla Primavera is a simple sauce with small pieces of asparagus, peas, and zucchini. It’s an excellent complement to orecchiette, especially in the spring when there are lots of fresh, local vegetables.
Picking the right sauce for your favorite pasta shape lets you make the most of each and every bite. And, it doesn’t require years in Italy or a fancy formula. Just reference our handy chart each time you take your favorite Nicola’s pasta out of the freezer and you’ll be good to go!