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Penne is a tube-shaped pasta that originates in Campania, a region in Southern Italy. It is probably one of the more well-known pasta shapes, available in most markets and grocery stores that stock pasta. Cooks with access to a pasta extruder can also make their own penne, should they so desire. Dishes made with it are frequently on the menu at Italian restaurants, especially in the United States, where consumers have a fondness for this shape.
The name “penne” comes from the Italian word for “pen,” a reference to the angled ends of the tube, which resemble the tip of a quill pen. It comes in smooth and ridged varieties, and can be used in a wide assortment of dishes, from casseroles to soups. The tubes are usually relatively short, around the length and width of a pinkie finger. Cooks may also hear penne pasta referred to as mostaccioli, in a reference to an Italian dish that traditionally features this pasta.
Like other pastas, penne can come in a range of guises beyond the basic variety. Whole and white wheat versions are available, along with gluten-free pastas made from rice, corn, and other ingredients. Many producers also make flavored varieties, with added ingredients such as spinach or sundried tomatoes. The best penne is usually made with durum wheat, a cultivar known for its hardness and resilience. This type will remain chewy and resilient through the cooking process, even if slightly overcooked, whereas pasta made with softer wheats will tend to fall apart.
Ridged penne pasta pairs very well with many pasta sauces, because the ridges can be used to hold thin sauces together, or to support thick, chunky sauces. Its hollow nature also helps distribute sauces, ensuring that penne pasta dishes are evenly and appealingly sauced. In addition to being plated with sauce, it can be mixed with sauces and baked in casseroles, used cold in noodle salads, added to soups, or used as a side dish for stews.
Dried pasta is essentially indestructible as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place. This makes it a useful staple to keep around the house, because as long as the penne is not exposed to moisture, it will be perfectly usable. The hollow shape can be appealing to picky eaters who want a little fun on their plates, which is another added advantage of this popular pasta shape.