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Spaghetti goes well with tomato sauce with ground meat. Fettucini goes well with a creamy sauce. Why? What general principles about the characteristics of the pasta and the sauce make them work well together? When is angel hair superior to spaghetti, and why does macaroni work well with cheese?

This question suggests some related reading; The Geometry of Pasta looks especially interesting. I'm hoping to get science-y answers that will talk about surface area, viscosity, etc.

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Shape, rugosity etc. of course, but don't forget the most important thing: tradition :) –  nico Dec 1 '11 at 20:02
    
@nico Yes, but tradition created by what works well! –  Gregor Dec 1 '11 at 20:44
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yes and no. I have friends who will cringe if you do pasta al pesto with spaghetti instead of trenette, because that is the traditional way of doing it. I think that is going a step too much towards being silly :D –  nico Dec 2 '11 at 7:35
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I think traditional snobbery has a lot to do with it. Just remember that no two Italians prepare the same dish the same way -- There is no such thing as an in-authentic Italian dish. –  Chris Cudmore Dec 2 '11 at 16:23
    
There could not be in-authentic Italian dishes, but there are "traditional" dishes. For example, it's traditional to eat spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino; you will difficulty see penne aglio, olio e peperoncino. –  kiamlaluno Dec 3 '11 at 0:35

1 Answer 1

up vote 13 down vote accepted
  • Fats adhere to broad or flat areas nicely (fettucini, linguine) and press the creamier sauces against more tongue surface to enhance/emphasize their smoothness
  • Pooling sauces needs nested, medium pasta (round or flat) that help to punctuate the sharper and more diverse flavors of a smooth, acidic by alternating between pasta and sauce
  • Angel hair and other fine pasta do well with a chunky sauce as it is effective with pick up but doesn't obstruct the sauce's texture once you get it in your mouth

My basis for this is (1) ease and volume of transport, plate to mouth of sauce; as well as (2) how the pasta interacts with the sauce to create mouth feel and churn of sauce against tongue. As for gnocchi and other variously shaped pasta; if it has a cavity, it should have fats, if it has a textured surface acidic sauces will cling nicely.

Obviously, I would shy away from pretending any of these were definitive answers, they are reasoned and seasoned, based on sauce/pasta dynamics and experience preparing them.

I don't seem to be able to find any good, objective maxims for when to use what; but, considering the variety of pastas and the prolific diversity of sauces (i.e. a different ragu for every house), it seems only appropriate that every person should have an opinion on why a particular sauce works with a particular pasta.

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I'd also add that sauces which in involve large, firm chunks of vegetables or seafood need short, fat pasta to match the size and shape of what they're tossed with. –  FuzzyChef Dec 2 '11 at 4:46
    
I'd also add that, some pasta has a rougher surface which clings more, which goes well with stew type sauces. –  vwiggins Dec 2 '11 at 12:25
    
Good answer. This also explains why coupling spaghetti with ground meat based sauce (such as bolognese or meatballs) is generally a bad idea: such a fat sauce requires a broad shaped, preferably fresh, pasta to better stick on it. Spaghetti should be reserved for lighter, less dense sauces. It is also worth to note that spaghetti with bolognese sauce is also "historically" inaccurate: bolognese is traditionally associated with Bologna area (Northern Italy), also famous for fresh pasta (e.g. tortellini, fettuccine); dried pasta, particularly spaghetti, is typical of Naples and Southern Italy. –  Pino Pinto Dec 5 '11 at 10:38

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