What Pasta Shapes Go with What Pasta Sauces?

Photo credit: Penne from Stuart Webster, FarfalleFusilli, and Linguine from Wikimedia Commons, Spaghetti from paPisc, Orzo from I Believe I Can Fry)

The pasta aisle: So many shapes, so many choices. We encourage getting creative with any type that catches your eye (who doesn’t reminisce of alphabet letters now and then?), but everyone tends to gravitate toward one type over another, restocking the pantry with the same old shapes. For most people, Italian pastas feel interchangeable: fresh, homemade marinara sauce tastes just as delicious atop penne as piled on linguine. But traditional Italian cooking holds a method to the unending list of noodles.

Each pasta’s form and texture play a bigger part in sauce pairings, thick or thin, warm or cold. Sturdier noodles stand up to heavy cream-based and meat sauces while more delicate types compliment oil-based entrées. And of course, a few of our favorites play well with nearly any “gravy” out there. We’ve provided a run-through of accessible noodle-sauce pairings for pasta dinners that satisfy everyone around the table.


Penne, like other ribbed, tube-shaped pastas, grips thick sauces, with or without meat. Chunky tomato sauce sneaks into the tube-shaped pasta with every bite. Like rigatoni, penne binds together in a tomatoey baked ziti with a generous serving of cheese. For a creamier pasta dinner, top penne with chunky parma rosa or vodka sauce.

Pork Ragu from NoshOn.It

Pasta alla Norma Nuda from Juanita’s Cocina featured on NoshOn.It

Mushroom Marinara with Penne from Bake Your Day

Penne with Vodka Sauce from Eat Yourself Skinny (pictured below)

Mushroom Marinara with Penne


Farfalle (AKA bowtie pasta), supports any type of sauce with its ribbon-like pleats. Scoop up a farfalle noodle pooled in pesto, drenched in creamy wine sauce, or dripping with four cheese for a more sophisticated version of macaroni and cheese that kids and adults will love.

Farfalle Pasta with Chicken and Spinach Pesto from Bev Cooks (pictured below)

Curried Farfalle Pasta from Spicie Foodie

Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta from Bev Cooks

Farfalle Pasta with Chicken and Spinach Pesto


Fusilli stands up to thicker sauces. The spiral shape grabs hold of chunky tomato sauce and bolognese so you can get a little piece of every add-in on each forkfull. The tri-color fusilli you can find in most grocery stores adds extra vibrancy to colorful pasta salads with grape tomatoes, feta and broccoli.

Colorful Bell Pepper Pasta Salad from The Healthy Foodie

A Bowl of Sicily Goodness: Fusilli with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Capers from The Wimpy Vegetarian (pictured below)

Bison Bolognese from Healthy, Seasonal Recipes

A Bowl of Sicily Goodness: Fusilli with Eggplant, Tomatoes and Capers


With spaghetti, the classic meatball combination is only the beginning. Just like the similar, thinner angel hair pasta, skinny spaghetti strands can’t cling onto much sauce. Smoother, often olive oil-based  sauces allow the pasta to soak up flavor. Keep it traditional with homemade marinara, try a creative kale pesto, or let the vegetable add-ins shine with a simple toss of olive oil.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs from No Recipes featured on NoshOn.It

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio from NoshOn.It (pictured below)

Kale Pesto Pasta from Inspired Taste featured on NoshOn.It

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio


Linguine offers a much-needed in-between for narrow spaghetti and wide, flat fettuccine. The thin, flat noodles cling just as well to thick, rich alfredo as to a lighter, basic tomato sauce. We recommend linguine for an alternative bolognese-without-the-beef, or tossed with broth, clam juice, and herbs for a traditional Linguine Vongole.

Linguine Vongole from Bite Sized featured on NoshOn.It (pictured below)

Mushroom Bolognese with Gremolata from Culinary Colleen featured on NoshOn.It

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Fettuccine Alfredo with Crispy Fried Sage from Closet Cooking

Linguine Vongole


Large shells are meant for stuffing with ricotta cheese, coating in marinara sauce and topping with mountains of melting mozzarella. Medium-sized shells can still be stuffed individually, but also make great bases for pasta salads, scooping up cherry tomatoes, peas and other small add-ins. Kids love the mini shells for mac and cheese. Each noodle swims around in the creamy mixture and spoons a little extra sauce in each bite.

Stuffed Shells with Eggplant, Ricotta, and Greens from Mountain Mama Cooks featured on NoshOn.It (pictured below)

Shells with Pesto, Peas and Sun Dried Tomatoes from Eat Yourself Skinny

Roasted Red Pepper Macaroni and Cheese– Oh Sweet Basil

Stuffed Shells with Eggplant, Ricotta, and Greens


Rice-shaped orzo tends to get lost in thick sauces. Instead, these tiny pieces are typically eaten cold in oil-based pasta salads. When you’re craving a warm dish, try orzo with a thinner white wine- or browned butter- based sauce.

Greek Orzo Salad with Roasted Shrimp from NoshOn.It (pictured below)

Orzo Salad with Kale, Chickpeas, Lemon, and Feta from Kalyn’s Kitchen featured on NoshOn.It

Grilled Corn and Tomato Orzo with Wine Sauce from Making Thyme For Health featured on NoshOn.It

Greek Orzo Salad with Roasted Shrimp

And now for our first ever handy-dandy infographic!

What pasta shapes go with what types of sauces?