Pasta is the ultimate quick-cook, no-fuss meal, but it comes in so many shapes and forms that it is often difficult to decipher your linguine from fettuccine, or your rigatoni from radiatori.
But, no matter what form it takes, this ultimate store-cupboard staple is as simple to make as it is delicious to eat. All it takes is a pan of salted boiling water, pasta of any variety, a dash of olive oil, a grating of Parmesan cheese, a few finely chopped anchovies and what you have is an unbeatable dinner.
Simple though it is to make and serve, it is the sauce that adds zest to any pasta meal. However, when it comes to pairing pasta with its appropriate sauce, many a wannabe chef flounders; but it need not be so difficult if you follow the basic rule: When matching pasta to sauce, thick chunky sauces go with short pastas and thin, smooth or light sauces work with strand pasta.
Now that we have got that tricky part out of the way, here is our guide to a few popular pastas and the sauces that go with it. Remember, the sauces are personal preferences and you need to take our recommendation with the proverbial pinch of salt.
Spaghetti: Always drain the pasta around 20 seconds before the end of the cooking time, because it continues to cook as it cools. Serve it with a hot sauce – clams, or garlic with chili are both perfect. The one thing never to serve with spaghetti is Bolognese as spaghetti works better with olive oil-based sauces that coat it rather than drown it.
Linguine: This is flatter than spaghetti, so absorbs more of the juice, and, like spaghetti, goes best with oil-based accompaniments. Serve it with prawns, fresh tomatoes and chili.
Fettuccine: Though it tastes better when freshly made, if you have no other option, then use the store-bought variety. Just cook for a minute or two, until it rises to the surface. It is best with Bolognese – or, as the Italians call it, ragú. It also goes with a creamy sauce: just reduce your cream and then add some cooked meat and peas.
Ditalini: These tiny pasta shapes are a great way to energize you. Throw a handful in the pan and cook it with a stock cube for an easy instant warming broth.
Farfalle: This goes well with anything chunky. Serve it with vegetables such as peas, broad beans and mint; sautéed aubergine, tomato and a pinch of cumin; or roasted courgettes, garlic and a dash of cream.
Rigatoni: Match the manly rigatoni with some good, thick meaty sauce for an excellent meal.
Penne: This classic shape is great with a tomato-based sauce, a meat sauce, or pesto.
Orecchiette: The 'little ears', as its Italian name implies, originates from southern Italy, where pasta is cooked without egg (using just olive oil, wheat flour and water), which makes it whiter. It is delicious served with tender-stem broccoli, garlic and some grated, dried ricotta, or in a cold pasta salad. Make sure you season your pasta salad with vinaigrette while it is still hot: if you do it when it is cold, it will not absorb as much flavor.
Fusili: The curly twists of this cock-screw shaped pasta delightfully lock in thick, chunky sauces for a delightful dinner.
Conchiglie: Which means shell or seashell in Italian is a perfect vehicle for a tomato or meat sauce. The colorful variety adds texture and a splash of color when tossed in salads.