The Golden Pasta-To-Sauce Ratio Italians Swear By

Lovers of Italian food know that even the best, freshest pasta or the most delicious sauce can become an underwhelming culinary experience if the proportion to one another is off. On the flip side, a pasta dish with the proper ratio of noodles to sauce can be transcendent, with both elements accentuating one another. While people around the world may struggle to find the appropriate balance, cooks from pasta's ancestral home know precisely how to find it by remembering a simple trick.

According to Italian pasta-maker Barilla (the world's largest producer of the noodles), the answer depends partially on the type of sauce. For tomato-based sauces, they recommend a quarter-cup to a half-cup of sauce (2 to 4 ounces) per serving of pasta, which should be roughly one cup cooked (or 2 ounces). This would correspond to about 24 ounces of sauce per pound of dry pasta. 

The rules differ slightly for pesto sauces. They suggest using three-quarters of an ounce of sauce for each cup of cooked pasta, meaning you'd need just under 6 ounces of pesto per one-pound package of dry noodles. However, others disagree on the golden ratio for pasta sauce. 

The art and science of pasta saucing

Well-known British-Italian chef Anna Del Conte told the Guardian you should use even less, just two tablespoons of sauce per serving. She points out Italians truly think of sauce as a dressing for the pasta, not a partner or the star, like in some international versions of the country's dishes. She said, "The Italians like to eat pasta dressed with sauce – not sauce dressed with pasta."

There's also an art to saucing pasta that goes much further than just dumping it from a jar into a pan of cooked noodles. First, you should reserve a cup of the water the pasta was cooked in when draining. Then, add the hot, cooked, unrinsed pasta to the already heated sauce, followed by a bit of pasta water, and toss together. The starch in the pasta water helps thicken the sauce and lets it cling better to the noodles. 

So while there's definitely something to this tried-and-true ratio of sauce to the pasta, it's vital to always remember you should make food in a way you enjoy, not simply because you're worried about committing a pasta faux-pas. Give this technique a shot, but go ahead and add a bit more or less sauce if you prefer — especially when there are so many different types of pasta sauce to try!