Not any pasta shape pairs with any possible dressing. For example, serving thick pasta like Penne with garlic and olive oil makes little sense, it is like wearing a woollen sweater on a hot summer day, while a heavy meat sauce like Bolognese is usually considered to be a good pairing. Like everything in life, the choice of the right sauce for your pasta requires taste, balance, and intuition.
As a rule of thumb, thick pasta (Rigatoni, Penne) and egg pasta (Lasagne, Fettuccine) pair well with heavy sauces and in general any kind of tomato sauce. The reason is that thick pasta absorbs a lot of water. On the contrary, thin pasta – like the classical Spaghetti or the less known Spaghettini – pairs perfectly with a dressing without too much water inside, like, for example, small pieces of boiled fish and seafood, or even better a simple but tasty dressing made of olive oil, sliced garlic and some hot chili.
The second important point, please keep in mind the distinction between fresh pasta, egg pasta and ordinary pasta. Thick and flavoured, egg pasta is a perfect pairing with fish or meat sauces. This is not the case for fresh pasta like Ravioli or Tortelli (they are dumplings filled with meat, fish, cheese or vegetables) that is tasty of its own because of its filling: thus, a simple and light dressing like some butter and grated parmesan is usually enough.
Here come some classic Italian pairing: Spaghetti pairs with mussels, or garlic and olive oil; Tagliatelle pairs with Bolognese or boar and tomato sauce; Rigatoni pairs with Bolognese and Tomato sauce; Penne pairs with butter and grated Parmesan; Tagliatelle with cream and salmon.
However, the cuisine is not science, it is art. The best approach is thus trying by oneself and discover one’s own preferred pairings. Tradition leads, it’s true, but in the end, you and your guests have the last word.