No matter the occasion or the season, pasta is always a crowd-pleaser. And the secret to perfect pasta is prepping and pairing the right sauces and drinks to take this meal staple to the next level. Read on for tips on how to master your family favourites.
This long and thin pasta is a pantry essential — from college dorms to family homes. Other slender noodles like spaghettini, tagliatelle and linguine can be subbed in when needed.
Sauce it Up: Basil and garlic-infused tomato sauce is a natural partner, but spaghetti is also delicious tossed with nut-based pestos or a simple cheese and pepper sauce.
What to Drink: Pour a classic Italian red wine like Chianti; its higher acidity can hold its own against the sharpness of tomato sauce. Squeeze some lemon into sparkling water to tame the richness of cream-based sauces.
Dinner is Served: Put Mediterranean Chicken Spaghetti on the menu for a casual, family-style alfresco lunch.
Tubular macaroni is synonymous with macaroni and cheese in North America. It’s traditionally made with water and semolina, and usually does not contain eggs. Check the product label to confirm.
Sauce it Up: A perfect companion for cheese and cream sauces, elbow macaroni is also great in vegetable and meat casseroles.
What to Drink: If the sauce is decadent and cheesy, pair it with a dry sparkling wine to balance the richness. Try tart cranberry juice for the kids.
Dinner is Served: This Big-Batch Stove Top Chicken Mac & Cheese stars Canadian Cheddar and adds chicken breast for a protein lift. It’s a kid favourite that is perfect for birthday parties and sleepovers.
This pasta grabs up sauce in its ridges and is at home in both hot and cold pasta dishes. It’s available in two versions: solid and hollow.
Sauce it Up: Sautéed vegetables flavoured with reserved cooking water and plenty of fresh Parmesan make for pasta perfection.
What to Drink: A tall glass of cold lemonade or a white wine spritzer brings out the natural zing in herbs and veggies.
Dinner is Served: Pasta with Snap Peas, Parsley & Smoked Bacon can be served hot or cold and is a go-to for spring lunch gatherings or summertime picnics.
The pockets of these large, ridged shells help hug the sauce inside.
Sauce it Up: Shells crave hearty meat or ricotta-herb fillings before being nestled in tomato or cheese sauces and baked until golden.
What to Drink: Having a party? Cheese-laden shells are complemented by hoppy brews and fizzy ciders. Spicy red sauces pair well with Zinfandel or Primitivo wines.
Dinner is Served:Try Cheese Stuffed Shells with Chicken Bolognese if you’re hosting an intimate weekend gathering for family and friends.
Penne’s cylindrical shape ends with a point on each end. It’s available in two varieties: smooth (penne lisce) and ridged (penne rigate).
Sauce it Up: Veg or meat ragouts and marinaras adhere more easily to ridged penne tubes than to their smooth siblings.
What to Drink: Think beyond the wine bottle and in terms of contrasting flavours. Enhance the fruity, sweet notes of the tomato sauce by serving a spicy virgin Caesar, complete with fun celery or string bean garnish.
Dinner is Served: Prepare this Easy Spinach & Meatball Pasta Bake on family movie or game night.
A larger tube, always-ridged rigatoni comes in a variety of lengths and sizes. In a pinch, penne rigate can easily be substituted for it in recipes.
Sauce it Up: Thick, chunky sauces are a great match for this pasta. Add chopped vegetables, bits of chicken or sausage for a satisfying dish.
What to Drink: Look for a Sangiovese or Zinfandel, which stand up to hearty sausage or Bolognese-style sauces.
Dinner is Served: Make Creamy Chicken, Spinach & Tomato Rigatoni Bake your easy-to-prep weeknight go-to.
Literally translated as “barley” from Italian, orzo is tiny, rice-like pasta perfect for salads, stews and soups.
Sauce it Up: Oil-based sauces like pesto, or fresh dressings made with zesty lime juice or red wine vinegar bring out orzo’s flavour. Or save time making a “cheater” risotto using orzo in place of rice.
What to Drink: Vegetables and herbs enjoy the semi-dry character of a fruit-forward wine like Gewürztraminer, which is an ideal partner for orzo-based salads and bakes.
Dinner is Served: This Grilled Pork & Pesto Orzo Salad is a winner for summer barbecue potlucks. It’s ready in 30 minutes and will be a hit with kids.
The frilled edges of this butterfly-shaped pasta guarantees a picture-worthy presentation every time.
Sauce it Up: Extremely versatile, bow tie pasta can be served warm with lighter tasting dairy-based sauces (think butter and cheese) or cold in a salad with an olive oil vinaigrette or pesto.
What to Drink: Play with the nutty-herby pesto notes by sipping on a refreshing Pinot Grigio. Soda mixed with cucumber and basil is ideal for non-drinkers.
Dinner is Served: Grilled Vegetable & Wild Mushroom Pasta is ready in 30 minutes and a snap to put together when the kids have a play date (and makes a convenient re-heatable lunch for work and school).
Technically dumplings, ravioli are little pillows of pasta dough stuffed with meat, vegetables or cheese.
Sauce it Up: Cheese-filled ravioli are complemented by tomato and vegetable sauces. For rich and cheesy dishes, select meat ravioli for flavour balance.
What to Drink: Say salut! to a cheese sauce paired with a Chardonnay, or to a veggie and herb-based sauce with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Dinner is Served: Easy Tomato-Basil Ravioli is a Monday night lifesaver! Two steps and 15 minutes is all you need to put dinner on the table.
These pasta twists are stuffed with cheese or meat and traditionally hail from Modena, Italy.
Sauce it Up: Already packed with flavourful fillings, tortellini pasta doesn’t need to be doused in sauce. Toss with your favourite vegetables or bake them in a dish alongside cooked meats.
What to Drink: Think outside the wine rack. Savoury meat-filled and cheesy tortellini fit like a glove with any bourbon-based cocktail.
Dinner is Served: Cheese Tortellini with Roasted Cauliflower & Filberts makes elegant comfort food for date night or intimate dinners at home.
Commonly made with potato and flour (or semolina), gnocchi can be boiled, fried or baked.
Sauce it Up: Gnocchi is traditionally served with butter and Parmesan, but also partners well with tomato-based sauces. Alternatively, top it off with a meat or vegetable ragout.
What to Drink: Red wine drinker? Pick Italian Barbera d’Asti if you’re going with the tomato-gnocchi coupling. For a veggie and herb gnocchi dish, try a citrusy Riesling.
Dinner is Served: Gnocchi with Leeks, Red Pepper & Feta is easily multiplied to serve as a hearty sidekick to roast chicken or pork chops for a casual weeknight dinner party.
You have the sauce and drinks picked out, so now it’s time to put your pasta cooking skills to the test. These tips will help turn out a perfect batch every time.
- Bring out the big pot. Pasta almost doubles when cooked, so it’s important it has plenty of room to move around. If the pot is too small, the water temperature will drop when the pasta is added, making it too starchy, or worse still, mushy.
- Be patient. To avoid ending up with sticky pasta, which is harder to handle, wait for the water to be at a full boil before adding it. A rough ratio is four quarts of water to each pound of pasta. Don’t forget to salt the water before introducing the pasta to season it.
- Give it a stir. As soon as the pasta is added to the boiling, salted water, stir it around. This prevents it from sticking to the pot, deters clumps from forming and ensures it cooks uniformly. Then give it an occasional stir a couple of times after while it cooks.
- Watch the clock. Keep it al dente! Check the pasta cooking instructions on the package and start testing it for al dente doneness at least three minutes before the end of the specified cooking time. Shorten the boiling period if the pasta is being used in a baked dish, as it will finish cooking in the oven. Filled pasta (like tortellini and ravioli) and gnocchi come with a built-in self-timer: they float to the top when cooked.
- Serve it up. Hold off on rinsing cooked pasta, as this washes away flavour along with starches that help herbs and sauces stick. The exception is if you’re using orzo in a cold salad. Remember, add the pasta to the sauce, not vice versa. Save some of the pasta water to loosen up the sauce if needed.