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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Experiment with pastas

As you walk down the pasta aisle at your favorite supermarket, you notice over a dozen different shapes of pasta. Every home cook knows what to do with Spaghetti, Lasagna and Egg Noodles. But what about Penne, Cellentani, Rotini and Radiatore? Today, I would like to share with you some of the pasta shapes and the types of sauces that they are best with. I am also including two of my favorite pasta sauces, Alfredo and Pesto.

For thin long noodles like Spaghetti, Angel Hair, Capellini and Vermicelli: These delicate strands are best paired with light sauces, like tomato or garlic and Olive oil, that will coat the strands evenly and won’t get weighed down when twisted around a fork.

For flat long noodles like Fettuccine, Linguine and Pappardelle: Flat ribbon-like pasta is best paired with rich or creamy sauces, as the surface area of the pasta’s flat shape enables it to stand up against the heft of a rich sauce. As a general rule, pair the heartier sauces with the wider noodles: wide Pappardelle with rich meaty sauces and thinner Fettuccine with simple cream sauces like Alfredo or delicate proteins like seafood.

For short tube pasta like Penne, Ziti and Rigatoni: Versatility belongs to these pastas, which work in soups, salads, casseroles and pasta dishes with sauces ranging from creamy to hearty. The larger interior of the tube, the more potential for catching creamy sauces studded with bits of meats or vegetables. If the pasta name includes the word “Rigate”, the pasta shape will include ridges, which makes it easier for sauces like Pesto to cling to the pasta.

For small pasta like Macaroni: The narrow tubes found in the pasta makes it ideal for baked pasta dishes where they are flooded with creamy cheese sauces, ie. Macaroni and Cheese. The slight bite behind these thin small tube pastas also makes them ideal in soups and pasta salads, though their small stature makes them less compatible with hearty, meaty sauces.

For short shaped pasta like Farfalle/Bow Tie, Conchiglie/Shells, Fusilli/Rotini, Cavatelli/Cellentani and Radiatore: The structural shape of these pasta varieties - including riffles, ridges, curls and cones - gives them a sturdier bite or mouthfeel, making them ideal for catching or holding rich, heartier sauces with textures brought in from different proteins and vegetables.

For Manicotti and large Shells: These shapes are made to be stuffed, with cheeses, like ricotta or seafood/meat mixtures. They are then placed in a pan topped with a sauce, cheese and baked.

For long tube noodles like Perciatelli and Bucatini: These types of pasta resemble spaghetti, but with a tube running down the center. The thin tube shape lends itself toward more fluid, loose sauces, so that the sauce can run down the center for more flavor in each bite.

Now on to the recipes.

This is a traditional pasta sauce found on many restaurant menus. Often served with shrimp, it is also great served with chicken or meatless. My wife likes my Alfredo sauce, she agreed to name our white standard poodle, Alfredeaux.

Alfredo Sauce

½ pound (2 sticks) Butter

1 tablespoon fresh Garlic, chopped

1½ cups Milk

1½ cups Heavy Cream

4½ cups Parmesan Cheese grated

1 tablespoon Black Pepper

In a large saucepan, sauté garlic in butter for 2 minutes. Add the

milk and heavy cream. Heat until the edges start to bubble. Slowly

add the Parmesan cheese and mix until well blended. Add the black

pepper and cook for 5 minutes.

This sauce originated in Genoa, Italy. This light herbal sauce, tossed with pasta, makes for an excellent side dish. One of my favorite uses for pesto is to take a few tablespoons and add it to Alfredo sauce. This green hued version packs a flavorable taste.

Pesto Sauce

2 cups fresh Sweet Basil, rinsed and dried, large stems removed

2 or 3 cloves Garlic

1/4 cup toasted Pine Nuts

1/2 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded or grated

Salt and Pepper to taste

Place basil, garlic and nuts into a food processor or blender and pulse to chop coarsely. With the machine running, slowly add oil, forming a loose sauce. For immediate use, add cheese and pulse a few more times to combine thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next time you shop down the pasta aisle, I hope that you reach for a different shape of pasta. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the different varieties. If you follow the above suggestions, you won’t go wrong. You can, however, use whatever shape of pasta any way you want. There is no wrong way to use pasta.

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