Chances are you know linguine goes with clam sauce and fettuccine loves Alfredo. But which pasta pairs with pesto? Or a hefty carbonara?
"Pasta has evolved over many hundreds of years in Italy and it's taken a long time for them to work out what tastes best," says British chef Jacob Kenedy, co-author with graphic designer Caz Hildebrand of "The Geometry of Pasta" (Quirk Books, 2010). Together they are advocates of a simple truth: pasta and sauce, correctly paired, yield a sublime experience.
They had plenty of material to work with. More than 300 shapes of pasta exist, each with a specific texture and strategy for delivering flavors.
In general, lighter sauces pair well with thin pastas. Oily, punchy sauces go with thicker pastas. Sauce will cling to a rough-textured pasta, such as a ridged penne, Kenedy says, while a smoother one like spaghetti will create a more delicate dish. Short tubes and cup shapes are good for "sauces with bits in them," Kenedy says, such as those with diced meat or vegetables.
"More intricate shapes are quite fun to play with," he says. "It's like when you're a little kid and you put things in your mouth."
For instance, pairing twisted strands of gemelli with long, smooth green beans creates a pun in your mouth, as does pairing snail-shaped lumache with actual snails. "That's a joke, but it does eat well together," Kenedy says.
And a no-fail formula? If you know which region a shape comes from, the sauce from that region will almost certainly be a natural mate. Liguria's spiral-shaped trofie were designed to trap the garlic and basil of pesto Genovese, just as Rome's massive, pipelike bucatini goes with silky, unctuous carbonara, possibly named for the charcoal workers ("carbone" means charcoal) the meal supposedly sustained.
Which doesn't mean you need to fill your cupboard with dozens of different pastas. But at least make room for a few new ideas.
"It's a shame not to feel encouraged to try some of these amazing shapes," says Hildebrand, whose black and white drawings were done to scale, almost as technical drawings of the different pasta varieties.
"Open up your imagination to some of these other things and see where they lead you, which sounds fanciful for a bowl of pasta. But once you look into the stories, it's a microcosm of cultural history on your plate."
Farfalle withProsciutto and Cream
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1/2 pound farfalle pasta
5 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ounces prosciutto, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
Generous 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve
2 egg yolks
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente (still barely firm at the center) according to package directions.
While the pasta cooks. In a large bowl, combine the cream, prosciutto, Parmesan and egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the farfalle and toss into the sauce. Serve with extra cheese.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 409 calories; 150 calories from fat (37 percent of total calories); 17 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 162 mg cholesterol; 44 g carbohydrate; 21 g protein; 2 g fiber; 817 mg sodium.