Choosing the right pasta to suite the nature of your sauce makes a big difference to the finished dish. Children don’t notice the difference and probably don’t care, however its great fun for you to cook with the different shapes, and mixing them up with different meals. I do this all the time.
Spaghetti Bolognese is one of the world’s most well-known pasta. It’s all about the satisfaction of chewing on a bundle of noodles, twirled carefully around your fork, is a thing of beauty. It is usually served with loose, sweet tomato sauce or what is popular is adding mince to the sauce.
Penne are tubular, and cut on an angle to resemble the nib of an old feather quill. The ridges help thicker tomato/veg sauces cling to the pasta. Classic carbonara, Alfredo and pasta bakes.
Conchiglie and Orecchietta
These are shaped like shells and ears, their cup-like forms help to hold heavier veg based sauces. Pasta bakes, all ingredients in a pan, goes well with any sauce.
Linguine is like spaghetti, the flattened shape makes it lie more luxuriously on the plate, making the meal look more indulging. The extra surface also helps it hang onto light sauces made with cream or seafood. Fish, meat balls or pesto.
Imagine a bigger, fatter spaghetti that’s hollow right through the centre, this is what that is. A traditional favourite or thick sauce and ragu style sauces. The hole means that the liquid from a meaty sauce will make its way into the noodles. GENIUS!
Spirali and fusilli
These pastas are curly like corkscrews. There both great for the same thing, thick sauces with chunky meat that can get trapped in the threads and bakes, these are fun for children and they go with everything as well.
These are shaped like butterflies with crinkly edges. The “wings” hold sauces wonderfully, and they’re also perfect for cold pasta salads and children love them. I was so used to having these for pesto pasta as a child.
These are tiny tubes. They don’t need to hold sauces because they’re often found swimming in minestrone, or in a cheese sauce ready to be baked. Macaroni is mall, modest and unfancy, but has become one of the world’s favourite pastas thanks to the simple ‘mac n cheese’.
This is like penne, rigatoni are tubes with ridges on the outside, but they’re bigger and cut square rather than at an angle. They’re great with chunky veg or meat sauces, and are often used for baking in gratins down in the south.
Whether traditional or meat-free, must be one if the world’s favourite dishes. The traditional way to make is not with dried pasta sheets, as has become commonplace, but with delicate sheets of fresh egg pasta. However you can buy fresh pasta sheets everywhere these days, and their uses go further than just lasagne: they can be rolled into cannelloni or cut into pappardelle with a wiggly roller or pizza cutter.
It’s in the same pasta family to lasagne, and is usually paired with the same ingredients. The only difference is that with cannelloni, the sheets are rolled around the filling, rather than layered up with it. This looks very different upon serving, and makes for a real difference in texture. Cannelloni is nowadays available dried and already in tubular form, which means filling simply has to be stuffed in and then baked – pasta bake.
Ravioli is a delight; a small sheet piece of pasta, folded over a dollop of stuffing and pinched together to form a delicate parcel. The stuffing could be meat, veg, fish or cheese – anything goes. Sauces vary rom light herb butters to proper heavy ragus. Filling and sauce are designed to compliment each other, with just tender sheet of egg pasta keeping them separate until the last-minute, when you lift the little envelope to your mouth and blend it all together. Good with simple tomato sauce.
Pappardelle are wide ribbons of egg pasta, normally reserved for heavy, gamey ragus, and made things like wild mushrooms, wild rabbit or wild boar. Lovely chunky bits from the sauce get trapped between the flat noodle and it almost eats like a lasagne. Sausage meat, aromatic herbs, and plenty of Parmesan for a rich and stunningly satisfying dish.
Tag is with fresh egg pasta, spaghetti is dried. It’s the big favourite in Northern Italy, and although in the UK we eat Bolognese sauce with “spag”, Italians traditionally eat it with a lovely fresh tagliatelle, making for a slightly more elegant dish than we’re used to. It’s often served with the cheesy buttery sauces Italians that from the north love so much, and especially with fresh basil pesto in Liguria. Tagliatelle has a soft and unchallenging texture and, when served simply with fresh asparagus, tomato and basil, is perfect for children.
Taliarlini is tagliatelle’s little sister. The fine and delicate noodles require minimal cooking time, but deliver a wonderful melt in the mouth silkiness when eaten. Usually this pasta brought out for very special occasions, and is paired with delicate fresh fish in the summer or delicious white truffle in winter.
Tips with pasta:
- Always cook pasta in a very large pan of boiling water, adding salt and a splash of oil this gives the pasta enough space to move in the pan, otherwise it will stick together. (I use lemon juice as well – still working out if it makes a difference)
- Spag Bol -the British version usually consists of cooked spaghetti topped with saucy mince, but in Italy, the pasta and sauce are always combined in the pan to ensure every piece is coated.