Don’t ever tell my Italian neighbor, Anna Maria, but growing up in northern Wisconsin, other the macaroni and cheese, the only pasta I ever knew was spaghetti. And in our very non-Italian neighborhood spaghetti was served with a tomato-y meat sauce. Period.
Nowadays, being fortunate enough to live in Italy, I’m always eager to learn about yet another pasta – and yet another sauce. There are seemingly countless combinations and just as many rules about which pasta pairs well with which sauce. Spaghetti with ragù (meat sauce)? Not so much. Tagliatelle or pici with ragù? Absolutely!
So here are a few acceptable pairings of pastas and sauces, straight from the lips – and tables – of my Italian friends.
Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Black Pepper). A popular Roman dish made with a thin-medium spaghetti tossed while hot with a mountain of grated pecorino romano and freshly ground black pepper.
Spaghetti con Pomodorini e Basilico (Cherry Tomatoes and Basil) This simple dish calls for a thicker spaghetti tossed together with olive oil, lightly simmered cherry tomatoes and freshly chopped basil leaves.
Orecchiette con Cozze e Verdure (Mussels and Vegetables): A popular dish in the region of Liguria, the “little ears” pasta is perfect for catching the juice of the mussels.
Lasagna con Sugo di Basilico (Basil Sauce): Lasagna pasta not only combines well with tomato-based sauces, but also with white sauces that are typically based in bechamel, like this creamy, basil lasagna baked with fresh mozzarella and parmigiano on top.
Tagliatelle con Porcini: A wonderful autumn combination, the rich porcini mushrooms (first simmered in olive oil) are the ideal compliment to the egg-based tagliatelle. Tagliatelle with truffles is another great autumn combination.
And then there’s pinci! On one of our recent women’s tours, the gals learned how to roll pinci pasta by hand with some lovely ladies in Montalcino. A popular pasta in parts of Tuscany, thick pinci combines beautifully with thick ragù. Topped with freshly grated parmigiano, it’s heavenly!
Of course these few examples are merely the tip of the pasta iceberg, so to speak, and rather than read about them, it’s really best to sample them yourself.
So just let me know when you’re coming. We’ll set a place for you at the table … right next to a glass of bel vino.
Pamela Haack is the founder of Off the Beaten Strada, where she creates and hosts small group tours that are a combination of the very best of Italy: the exciting and the peaceful, the popular and the secret, the talked about and the never-heard-of-before. From art experts and operettas to authentic cooking classes and ancient Etruscans, Pamela helps visitors experience the spectacularly beautiful, endlessly interesting cities and countryside of Italy in an up-close and personal way.
She is also the author of Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites, as well as her popular blog, Off the Beaten Strada in Italy.
Pamela lives with her husband, Lou, in Umbria, Italy.