There is no doubting the popularity of pasta in the UK, but many people overlook the fact that choosing the right shape makes a big difference to the finished product. It’s important to pair your pasta with the sauce if it’s going to be as good as it can be. Before we get started on our guides, it’s also worth noting these general tips to get the most out of any dish.
- Don’t cook the pasta all the way through. Leave it al dente, drain it, add the sauce and let it cook for a couple minutes further. This cooks some of the sauce directly into the pasta
- Store your shapes in proper pasta packaging to keep it as fresh and delicious as possible
- There is no need to add olive oil when cooking – it is often quoted as a good idea to add oil to stop the individual pasta from sticking together but it won’t actually make any difference
- Do make sure that you salt your water properly, however
Follow these rules and you’ll be ready to start making stunning pasta dishes. So here is our guide to seven of the most popular pasta shapes alongside with advice on what to serve them with.
Some of the most popular in the UK, the tube shaped pastas are extremely versatile and typically have ridges which allow them to pick up plenty of the thick sauces that they are paired so well with. However, tubes also worth well with everything from carbonara to a rich ragu.
- Varieties: penne, rigatoni
- Serve with: thick tomato and vegetable sauces
Perhaps the most famous pasta – the humble spaghetti – falls in this category. Like tubes, long strands are a very versatile pasta shape. Spaghetti is, of course, traditionally served with Bolognese (and the Italians would have you mix the sauce and pasta together thoroughly before serving). But you additionally, linguine is traditionally paired with seafood, while the noodle-like vermicelli works well with creamy dishes.
- Varieties: spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli
- Serve with: cream-based sauces or seafood dishes
The ribbon style of pasta are often overlooked in the UK in favour of spaghetti, but they certainly should have a place on your dinner plate. Wider and flatter, ribbons like pappardelle and tagliatelle do a better job of picking up chunky sauces, especially with strong earthy flavours like mushroom and game. They also work especially well with creamy and buttery dishes.
- Varieties: tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine
- Serve with: rich and meaty or creamy sauces
Shells style pasta like conchiglie are perfectly shaped like cups to hold heavier sauces in place. Any time you are planning to enjoy a chunky vegetable sauce or something with minced meat, shells can be the perfect option. Their shape also lends perfectly to pasta bakes.
- Varieties: conchiglie, lumache
- Serve with: heavy and thick sauces with bite
Corkscrew or spiral shaped pasta are another popular variety in the UK, and they come into their own when they are paired with lighter sauces. Anything where the sauce can become caught inside the spiral will provide a very satisfying bite when you come to sample your creation.
- Varieties: fusilli, spirali
- Serve with: lighter and thinner sauces
Finally, there are plenty of pasta shapes that are only really used for a single specific purpose: the speciality types. Once again, these are some of the most renowned and loved varieties in UK kitchens. Lasagne sheets may be the oldest type of pasta in existence and we all know how to best utilise them!
- Varieties: lasagne, ravioli
- Serve with: depends on the pasta
Smaller pasta shapes like orzo are underused in the UK. A similar size to rice, they are best put to work providing bite to stews and soups. It makes a big difference from rice or noodles in your soup, so if you have never tried it before, give small pasta a try.
- Varieties: orzo, fregula
- Serve with: stews or soups