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What is Penne Pasta?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By latte31 — On Jun 06, 2011

@Truman12 -You guys are making me so hungry. I absolutely love just about every penne pasta recipe out there, but I try to eat pasta in moderation. I really love baked ziti and my sister used tofu in substitution of the ground beef and it tasted really good.

She didn’t tell her husband because he probably would not have eaten the ziti had he known it was made with tofu. I think that if you can find healthier alternatives that taste great then it is worth it.

The trick is to find an alternative that tastes great because sometimes certain healthier alternatives don't taste so hot.

I have to admit that if my sister had told me ahead of time that her ziti had tofu, I don’t know if I would have eaten it because I have never really eaten tofu before, but since I have tried it I will try to incorporate it into other dishes.

That is the great thing about any penne recipe. You can mix together a variety of meat and vegetables to change the flavor of the dish so that you don’t get bored.

By truman12 — On Jun 06, 2011

I love a good baked penne because it is a great starting point to experiment with all the flavors of Italy. You can add almost any meats or veggies to create tons of unique dishes. It also tastes great with a variety of suaces. I've had penne with red sauce, clam sauce, Alfredo sauce and wine sauce all to great effect.

I think my favorite though is penne arrabiata. This is a mixture of penne, a spicy red sauce with peppers and any meat you might want to add. It is simple but so delicious! Maybe I will make some tonight.

By backdraft — On Jun 06, 2011

My mother used to make an amazing baked mostacolli dish almost every Sunday when I was growing up. It had penne pasta, sun dried tomatoes, her secret red sauce recipe and an incredible blend of mozzarella and provelle cheeses. I would look forward to Sunday's just because of what was going to be on the dinner table. I've tried to make this dish several times myself but something is missing. I just don't have my mom's magic.

By tigers88 — On Jun 06, 2011

Penne is probably my favorite kind of pasta because it is so versatile. It works great served fresh or in baked pastas. It comes in a variety of sizes to pair well with any meats or veggies you might add. And the shape of the pasta holds the sauce so you get big flavorful bites every time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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