Know your pasta – Bar & Kitchen

Know your pasta

Pasta is one of life’s great pleasures and always a hit on the menu. But what do you need to know to make your pasta dishes stand out from the rest?
“Not all pastas were created equal, which means each shape suits a particular sauce. Generally larger pasta shapes suit more robust sauces, whereas delicate or long pasta is better for smoother, cream-based sauce.”
- Mark Reynolds Vice Chair of the Craft Guild of Chefs


Spaghetti suits a seafood sauce, carbonara, or any light tomato sauce, so it coats the pasta all round.


Linguine is good with fish-based cream sauce – add fresh clams and mussels finished with lots of chopped herbs.


Serve tagliatelle with creamy sauces such as carbonara. Cook the pasta fresh and serve with lots of parmesan.


Pappardelle is my favourite pasta. It holds a good arrabbiata sauce, slightly spiced and finished with goats curd. The British often serve bolognese with spaghetti, but it’s better with wide ribbon pappardelle.


Penne is a great base pasta for holding sauces, which makes it good with bolognese, arrabbiata, ragu or baked cheese dishes.

Filled pasta

Filled pasta such as ravioli or tortellini already hold significant flavour, so they’re best served simply with butter or a flavoured oil.


Gnocchi is very versatile. It can be as simple as sage and butter or a pesto sauce or works really well with a rich tomato sauce.


Rigatoni is great for pasta bakes. It can be prepared beforehand – then just pop in the oven to gently warm through.


Mini shapes such as fregola, orzo or ditalini are made for pasta salads, soups and stews.


Lasagne sheets don’t usually need pre-cooking these days. Of course, they’re best for lasagna. However, for something a little different, use cooked sheets with roasted vegetables to make and open ‘lasagna’.

1 An average pasta portion should be 75-90g per person. It’s easy to cook too much, as dried pasta looks less before cooking.
2 Always use a large pan so the pasta has room to move, and it doesn’t stick together.
3 Make sure the water is bubbling before adding the pasta and never cover with a lid. A lid stops pasta cooking evenly and it almost always boils over.
4 Never add oil to the water. This makes the pasta stick together.
5 It’s OK to give a quick stir to the pasta while it’s cooking to avoid it sticking together – but if you’ve used a large pan and plenty of water, this shouldn’t be a problem.
6 The pasta should always be the hero in the dish, so don’t drown it in sauce.

The secret ingredient for cooking pasta

Always salt the pasta water to give it flavour. I like to use sea salt but be careful not to over salt it. A good rule of thumb is 1L of water and 10g of salt to cook 100g of pasta.

The secret ingredient in pasta sauce

Pasta cooking water is a brilliant ingredient for the rest of your dish; save a cup when you drain the pasta to thin the sauce. It adds flavour and the salty starchiness binds the pasta and sauce together to give a richer dish.

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