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When it comes to the perfect pairing of pasta and sauce, however, not all noodles are created equal. Eliminate the guesswork from your next meal with this guide to choosing the ideal noodle shape for any dish. 

Short tubes and spirals 
Examples: penne, rotini, fusilli  
Best for: chunky sauces, like Bolognese, and pasta salads  
Why it works: The holes and ruffles of these short noodles are ideal for holding onto chunky ingredients in hearty sauces and pasta tosses.

Pasta with Broccoli Pesto

Long noodles 
Examples: spaghetti, capellini, vermicelli 
Best for: Light sauces, like pesto and marinara 
Why it works: Thin noodles are all about mouthfeel. They pair best with light sauces that add flavor without bulk.

Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Arugula

Flat noodles 
Examples: fettucine, linguine, pappardelle 
Best for: Cream and butter sauces, like alfredo 
Why it works: With more surface area for sauces to cling to, broad noodles are the ideal canvass for pouring on rich and creamy, typically mild-flavored white sauces.

Spicy Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Shells 
Examples: elbow macaroni, orecchiette, conchiglie  
Best for: Thick and/or chunky sauces, like cheese sauce or meaty ragù 
Why it works: The distinctive curved shape of these noodles makes them sturdy enough to stand up to extra thick sauces, like in classic mac and cheese. The crevices on these shapes also work well to catch chunks of ingredients in textured sauces.  

Whatever the recipe, there’s a noodle to fit every occasion. For the best taste and texture, cook to al dente, aka until just slightly firm. Pasta will finish cooking in the sauce and absorb more flavor. Buon appetito!

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