The best pasta for your sauce depends partly on its shape. Long strands of spaghetti, linguine, and vermicelli pair well with light marinara sauce, oil-based sauces, or light seafood sauces. Ribbons of pasta such as pappardelle and fettuccine are often served with rich meaty sauces. Shells such as conchiglie also work well with heavy cream or meat sauces.
Most supermarkets routinely stock 20 to 30 pasta shapes, which may seem like more than enough. But the Italians have created over 600 pasta shapes, and 150 of them are available in the United States, mostly in specialty and gourmet food shops.
It is difficult to tell when a particular batch of dried pasta was made, though some packages are stamped with a “sell by” date. Luckily, dried pasta keeps almost indefinitely, so “freshness” isn’t a particular concern. Just be sure that the package is intact, that it hasn’t been exposed to water, and that the pasta inside is not broken.
Fresh pasta is perishable, however, and should be displayed in a refrigerated case or in a freezer. Buy it from a store with a high turnover so it’s likely to be freshly made. If it is packaged, check the “sell by” date. Keep in mind that a pound of fresh pasta won’t serve as many people as a pound of dried since the fresh absorbs much less water during cooking.