03/06/2015 01:18 pm ET Updated May 06, 2015

The Simple Rule of Thumb for When to Use Fresh or Dry Pasta

Marcus Nilsson

By Matt Duckor, Epicurious

Here's a scene that should be familiar if you've visited a high-end grocery store lately: Long ribbons of fresh pappardelle and thin stands of fresh spaghetti, displayed like prime cuts of meat in an idyllically-lit refrigerated case. Often labeled "hand-cut" or "house-made," these fresh pastas stand apart from their dried counterparts for their smooth texture, their tenderness...and their higher prices, which are staggering compared to the always-available dried pasta.

So is fresh pasta better than dried? There's a disturbing misconception that, because it's just-made and doesn't come in a bag, it is. But that's completely untrue. Like a mother and her children, it's not a matter of loving one more than the other--it's just a different kind of love.

When to love fresh and when to love dried? The rule of thumb comes down to which sauce you're pairing with it.

Making a delicate sauce that starts with melted butter or whole milk? Get ready to have your at-home pasta game completely upgraded by pairing your next alfredo or carbonara with fresh pasta, either by making it yourself or buying in a store. Want to bring the glory of fresh pasta home? Try a recipe for Creamy Pappardelle with Leeks and Bacon with any fresh ribbon pasta you can get your hands on.

Dry pasta's calling card is its toothsome bite (that's what you're going for when a recipe calls for al dente pasta). That firm structure will help it stand up to any meaty sauce you throw at it. Any high-quality dried tube pasta makes a great pairing with a spicy sauce.

One exception to that general rule? Ragu bolognese. This classic is a staple dish of Northern Italy traditionally uses fresh egg pasta, despite the fact that, at first glance, bolognese seems like a textbook example of a meaty sauce that would pair well with dried pasta. What makes it different is the addition of simmered whole milk, which gives the sauce its rich, thick consistency. If you're making bolognese, always opt for fresh pasta.

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