I make pasta at least once a week, so I thought I knew all the tricks: Cook until al dente (toothsome, not tender). Salt the water lavishly (I estimate a heaping tablespoon of salt per quart of water). And use a small amount of water for the best pan sauce (looking at you, aglio e olio).
But, then I binge-read Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Cook Like a Pro, learned a game-changing trick—and it just happened to be easiest of all: Use different pasta shapes in the same dish.
“I love using two different kinds of pasta,” Ina writes, “not only because they add great texture but because you use up the leftover boxes of pasta in your pantry.”
To put it lightly, my pantry has a lot of leftover boxes of pasta. Penne. Rigatoni. Fusilli. Cavatappi. Spaghetti. Why did I never think to combine them? Maybe because no recipe had ever given me permission. But, if Ina’s doing it—I want to be doing it.
She showcases this trick in her Baked Pasta With Tomatoes & Eggplant, which calls for penne rigate and fusilli. So, two short shapes: one tubular, the other twirly.
There are no rules to mixing and matching pasta shapes. Just follow this general idea: Combine short shapes with other short shapes, and long shapes with other long shapes. And who’s to stop you from combining three, or even four, different types? Whatever the original recipe calls for, just add in one or more new shapes.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.