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The Best Pasta Shapes for the Rich, Comforting Sauces of Winter

 
When the temparature drops, we all want our food to comfort us: Big cuts of meats, braised in all sorts of comforting ingredients until tender; rich stews fortified with loads of root vegetables; heck, even cheese-drenched casseroles like eggplant parm will do the trick on a cold January night. Then there's the matter of the winter pasta. Oodles of al dente noodles whipped together with the sort of thick, creamy sauce that envelopes you like the edible equivalent of that one raggedy blanket you used as a kid and just can't bear to get rid of -- at once exciting and familiar.

As the temperature dropped into the 20s over the weekend here in New York City, I broke out my ultimate go-to comforting pasta: cacio e pepe. Heaps of pecorino cheese and butter cooked together with a good amount of pasta water and more black pepper than you think one can handle (rule of thumb: crank that pepper mill until your arm actually gets tired).

I reached into my pantry for pasta and came across a funny shape called Zucca made by New York-based pasta producer Sfoglini, which I'd received a few weeks earlier courtesy of Quinciple. Zucca means "pumpkin" in Italian, so it's no surprise that these short, curved shapes look like tiny, adorable jack o'lanterns. And, as it turns out, they're perfect sauce catchers, forming tiny, ribbed cups to scoop up anything you throw at them.

So, I wondered, is there really a class of shapes seemingly made for sauce catching? You bet there is.

There are a few routes available to you, but the pasta shape you decide on should be dictated by the sauce you're making.

MEAT-BASED
 
Tomato-based sauces with rich, tender bits of pork sausage, pancetta, and guanciale practically beg to coat long, ribbony strands of pasta like tagliatelle, pappardelle, and fettuccine.

Get the Recipe: Classic Ragu Bolognese



BUTTER OR HEAVY CREAM
 
If you're building a sauce with lots of butter or silky cup-fulls of heavy cream, look no further than cup or shell-like pastas along the lines of orecchiette, lumache, or zucca (as mentioned above). Anything that your carbonara or cream sauce can cling to will do the trick here. And if that sauce includes bite-size pieces of meat or vegetables, they'll get trapped in those pasta pockets, too.

Get the Recipe: Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts



SOUPS AND STEWS
 
There's nothing like a warm bowl of something brothy in the colder months. To make soup a meal, bulk it up with smaller, rice-like shapes like orzo, fregola, or canestrini.

Get the Recipe: Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup



CHEESE

Finally, if you're ready to drench your pasta in cheese and bake it until browned and bubbly, opt for tube shapes like penne, rigatoni, or pacheri.
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