Finicky aficionados make a big deal out of pairing wines with certain dishes. They expound on subtle flavor notes at work in a particular vintage, swishing it around in their mouth before declaring it’s full-bodied bouquet and crisp nature makes it perfect for a particular cheese or meat.
To the discerning Italian palate, the cuisine has its own set of wine-like characteristics and plenty of pairing potential, whether it’s a red, white, cream, or beyond.
Waiting to be draped in the warm embrace of sauce is pasta. Remarkably, some are seemingly destined for a particular sauce pairing. There’s long strands, tubes with ridges, tubes without ridges, shaped pastas, ribbons, filled pastas, broad noodles, minuscule dots—all capturing delectable sauces in unique ways.
With that in mind, here are the top five sauce-pasta pairings ever attempted by Italian chefs, either in a professional setting or in their home kitchen on a Sunday afternoon.
Bolognese Sauce and Pappardelle
Since bolognese is one of the heartier Italian sauces, it needs a noodle strong enough to stand up to the robust texture of the meat-forward recipe, but delicate enough to allow the sauce to be the star. Categorized as a ribbon pasta, pappardelle is one of the broadest noodles on the market—flat like fettuccine, but boasting ample surface area. It is ideal for catching meat-studded sauce as you twirl pasta onto your fork.
The richness of bolognese is directly related to the slow-cooking method that involves the classic Italian soffritto of onion, celery, and carrots, along with chopped beef and the crucial addition of fatty pork. It’s rounded out with white wine, milk or cream, and tomato sauce, with the requisite salt, pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. And don’t forget to include some tomato paste for an extra depth of flavor before simmering it for a couple of hours.
The result is an intensely flavored and heavily hearty sauce that could work with other pastas as well—but few bring the al dente charm of pappardelle.
Linguine with White Clam Sauce (Linguine alle Vongole)
A sauce as delicate and light as white clam calls for an equally delicate and light pasta. Long, flat, and narrow, linguine marries well with lighter sauces, particularly recipes that are oil-based. This garlicky sauce—slick with olive oil and rich with butter—coats the linguine from end to end. The broad nature of the noodle comes into play here as well, lapping up the sauce in a way that earns the pasta the name it was given long ago in the Genoa region, as linguine translates from Italian as “little tongues.”
The entire creation is given a deeper essence thanks to a hidden flavor assist from anchovy paste or filets
And then there’s the essential ingredients of white clam sauce, starting, of course, with the clams—usually littlenecks or cherrystones. The shellfish delivers a pungent, briny flavor that is enhanced by the garlic, but also smoothed out by the olive oil. The entire creation is given a deeper essence thanks to a hidden flavor assist from anchovy paste or filets—which both melt to a silkiness during the cooking process—along with a bright, spicy kick from crushed red pepper.
Never trust anyone who serves you linguine with clam sauce without at least some of the shells. Not only is it a good barometer for the freshness of the shellfish, but to the industrious eater the shells double as organic spoons, helping you to sip any garlicky nectar left behind by the linguine.
Penne alla Arrabiata
Tubes give ingredients like meaty morsels or chunky tomatoes a place to stowaway on the pasta’s journey to your mouth. And it’s those tubes that make the chunky nature of arrabiata pair perfectly with penne. Beyond the tubular shape, penne rigate works best here as those tiny ridges actually capture much of the thinner elements of the sauce. The last thing you want is a pool of sauce left behind on your plate. Of course, having plenty of bread on hand can remedy that consequence, but you still don’t want your sauce to just slide off your pasta.
This ornery tomato sauce combines chili- and garlic-infused oil with chunky tomato sauce, plenty of fresh herbs like basil and parsley, and sometimes pancetta for an added pork-fat lusciousness. Sauce finding its way into a pasta tube always enhances the eating experience—especially when the sauce is loaded with chili oil and crushed red pepper flakes, as it adds a layer of flavor and serves as a reminder that arrabiata translates to “angry.”
Sometimes this sauce is made with only fresh peppers, other times it’s made with only crushed red pepper flakes. Make the generations that came before you proud and incorporate both fresh and crushed for full heat.
Trofie with Pesto alla Genovese
The reason we search for perfect sauce-pasta pairings is because when culinary components marry together in harmony, it elevates the entire eating experience. Triofe paired with pesto is one of the most superb examples of this food phenomenon.The tight twists of ribbed trofie seem specifically designed to gather the finely pulverized ingredients in pesto. It’s almost as if the northern Italians who invented trofie and developed the herb-heavy pesto planned for the two elements of a bright meal to meet one fine day.
All the components are blended together into an extremely fine consistency, with the cheese folded in to finish the sauce.
Classic pesto is renowned for its bright-green brilliance and for being one of the few Italian sauces that isn’t touched by heat during preparation. The basic ingredients include bunches of fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts (a.k.a pignoli), plenty of garlic, and perhaps some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino sardo. All the components are blended together into an extremely fine consistency, with the cheese folded in to finish the sauce.
With pesto, coarseness is key—after all, the term pesto is derived from the Italian pestare, which translates to grind or crush.
Rigatoni alla Siciliana
Rigatoni offers much of the same characteristics of similarly pipe-like penne rigate, but with a sturdier construct and wider hole. The combination of ridges, tube form, and durability makes rigatoni the optimal pasta for chunky sauces hailing from southern Italy. The grander the ingredients, the more useful those large holes become. They even meld well with cubes of eggplant, thick strips of peppers or other rough-chopped veggies. Sure, meat works here as well, but let’s keep it meatless for rigatoni.
Alla Siciliana is basically any sauce preparation that exclusively uses ingredients from the island that gets a swift kick from the boot of mainland Italy. This could mean the aforementioned eggplants and peppers, but also mushrooms, artichokes, fava beans, olives, and, of course, tomatoes. Choose your favorite combination of those and other ingredients, cut them up and bring them together in a sauce that coalesces inside of those welcoming rigatoni pockets.
Additionally, Rigatoni alla Siciliana is one of those rustic comforting dishes that takes kindly to a heaping dollop of salted ricotta. The cheese, which stands up well to heat, can bind the rest of the ingredients together so that each bite embodies all the varied flavors.
Pasta & Sauce Create Classic Meals
It’s pretty clear that wine isn’t the only thing that deserves an expertly curated food pairing. Besides, what is sauce other than thick wine sold in decidedly more stout packages? For it’s part, Paesana offers an array of sauces that all pair with multiple pastas and Italian preparations. Try our Vodka Sauce with penne or our Roasted Garlic in your next batch of rigatoni alla Sicilliana.