We’ll help you choose the right noodle.

 

Pasta is the key to some of the fastest, easiest meals, which is why it’s one of our go-to ingredients on busy weeknights. Boil some water, throw the pasta in, add a sauce, and you’re done. Right? Almost. The only thing that can be tricky about cooking pasta is knowing how to pair the right noodle with the right sauce.

I’m not talking about noodle shapes (although that matters too), I’m talking about fresh versus dried pasta. There is a world of difference between these two products. Sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, fresh pasta has a smoother, more tender texture than dried pasta, which should have an al dente bite when cooked. And unlike dried pasta, fresh pasta cooks in minutes, so set a timer and don’t wander too far away from the stovetop—unless you like mushy noodles. You can often find small-batch handmade fresh pasta at farmers’ markets, where the noodles may be available in different flavors or are made with a variety of whole grains. These noodles tend to be more flavorful on their own, so you don’t want to overpower them with heavy sauces anyway.

Because of its soft texture, fresh pasta is best paired with delicate sauces, such as cream-based sauces like Alfredo, cheese sauce, vodka sauce, or regular old melted butter and Parmesan. Dried pasta has a heartier texture that can stand up to rich, oil-based sauces like marinara sauce, meat sauce, or chunky vegetable sauces. Bolognese is the once sauce that can go either way—because it is made with milk, it’s unlike other meat sauces and tastes great with fresh or dried pasta.

Dried pasta holds up better in soups and casseroles, especially ones that you make ahead or freeze. (Fresh pasta doesn’t always freeze well.) When making macaroni and cheese, minestrone, tuna noodle casserole, or baked ziti, reach for the dried stuff for best results.

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