There are approximately 350 different dried pastas produced in Italy that are made from durum wheat and semolina flour. Penne is a tube-shaped pasta that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy, and comes in two main varieties: penne lisce and penne rigate, with the rigate having ridges on each noodle. The name “penne” comes from the Italian word for “pen” (penna), a reference to the angled ends of the tube, which resemble the tip of a quill pen.
This pasta can be used in a wide assortment of dishes, from casseroles to soups. The tubes are 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.
And, there is also ziti, which are hollow long wands, with a smooth texture and square-cut edges. When they are cut into shorter tubes, they are called cut ziti. Telling the difference between penne variants can be difficult, especially in countries outside of Italy, because there is a tendency to name ridged and smooth penne subtypes the same. Basically, the difference is penne is cut on the diagonal and is longer and thinner than ziti.
Penne is probably one of the more well-known pasta shapes, available in most markets and grocery stores that stock pasta. 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.
Whole wheat and multigrain versions are available, along with gluten-free pastas made from rice, corn or other ingredients. Many producers also make flavored varieties by adding ingredients, such as spinach or sun dried tomatoes. The best tasting penne is made with durum wheat because it will remain chewy and resilient throughout the cooking process.
Ridged penne pasta pairs very well with many pasta sauces, because the ridges can be used to hold thin sauces or to support thick, chunky sauces. Its hollow nature also helps distribute the sauce, ensuring that pasta dishes are evenly and appealingly sauced.
Penne is traditionally cooked al dente and served with pasta sauces such as pesto, marinara or arrabbiata. In addition to being plated with sauce, penne holds up well when baked in a casserole. You will also find penne used cold in salads, added to soups or used as a side dish.
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 pasta is not exposed to moisture, it will be perfectly usable.
Healthy Penne Dinners
Whole-grain Penne with Onions and Walnuts
Ricotta salata (also called “hard ricotta”) is a firm white Italian cheese made by salting, pressing and drying sheep’s-milk ricotta. In flavor, it’s like a very mild, less tangy feta, which makes it a good addition to pastas and salads (it can be grated). Look for ricotta salata in specialty stores, Italian markets or any supermarket with a good cheese department.
- 7 medium onions (about 4 lbs.), peeled and thinly sliced
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 cups walnuts
- 10 ounces whole-grain penne pasta
- 1 pound ricotta salata, crumbled
- 2/3 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
In a large skillet over high heat, cook onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil with the sugar and 2 teaspoons salt, stirring and turning often, until onions begin to release their juices and turn golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn a caramel color and become quite sweet, 35 to 40 minutes more. If onions begin to stick to the pan or char during cooking, reduce heat.
Meanwhile, in a dry small frying pan over medium-low heat, toast walnuts, stirring frequently, until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour walnuts into a zip-lock plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Set aside.
When onions are nearly done, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender to the bite, 9 to 12 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.
Mix caramelized onions with pasta, walnuts, ricotta salata, parsley, reserved cooking water, lemon juice, pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.
Sirloin Steak Over Penne and Vegetables
- 2 cups uncooked penne
- 1/4 pound green beans, trimmed
- 3/4-pound boneless sirloin steak, trimmed
- 1 tablespoon salt-free garlic-pepper blend
- 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
- 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese, optional
While the broiler preheats, bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add pasta; cook 5 1/2 minutes. Add beans and cook 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain well.
Sprinkle steak with the garlic-pepper blend. Place on a broiler pan; broil 3 inches from heat for 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices.
Combine onion and next 8 ingredients (onion through black pepper) in a large bowl. Add pasta mixture; toss well to coat. Place steak slices on top. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.
Penne with Spinach and Shrimp
- 12 ounces uncooked penne pasta
- 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 1/2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onions
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté 2 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.
While you make the pasta sauce, cook penne according to package directions. Drain well; return to pan. Stir in spinach; toss well until spinach wilts.
Melt the remaining butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Stir in broth, vermouth and lemon zest. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 8 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to medium. Add cream cheese; stir until well blended. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and pepper; remove from heat. Stir in shrimp to rewarm. Add mixture to pasta and spinach; toss to combine.
Penne with Sausage and Eggplant
- 4 1/2 cups cubed, peeled eggplant (about 1 pound)
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 6 cups hot cooked penne (about 10 ounces uncooked)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely diced mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Cook eggplant, sausage and garlic in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender. Be sure to stir often to keep eggplant from sticking to the pan.
Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Place cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add tomato mixture, cheese and parsley; toss well.
Penne with Greens, Almonds and Raisins
- 8 ounces uncooked penne
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups coarsely chopped, trimmed greens of choice (kale, swiss chard, escarole, etc.)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- Cracked black pepper
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Retain 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain.
While pasta cooks, place raisins in a small bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.
While pasta cooks and raisins soak, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until greens are tender.
Stir in pasta, raisins, almonds, salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; toss to combine. Moisten with pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper according to taste.
- Baked Ziti (cozycuisineblog.com)
- Braised Short Ribs with Penne Pasta (prep2eat.wordpress.com)
- Crockpot Pesto Ranch Chicken with Whole Wheat Penne (ginamartin93.wordpress.com)
- Pasta alla Norma (saltnchili.com)
- Hearty Italian Baked Ziti: The Ultimate Comfort Food (hardlyperfectmom.wordpress.com)
- Pasta with Walnut Sauce Gluten Free – Forget What You Know About Wheat(c) 2014 (kitchenwisdomglutenfree.com)
February 20, 2014 at 11:00 am
Penne is my staple comfort food! Yum. I have a great recipe from Nigella Lawson centered around penne from Northern Italy. So good!
February 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm
You will have to post the recipe and give us the link.
February 20, 2014 at 11:57 am
I love penne! Especially when bits of the sauce get down into the tubes. I just have to make penne with onions and walnuts. You know, I’ve tried whole grain pasta’s a few times and I’m not a fan. What about you? Do you have a brand you particularly like or perhaps you make it yourself?
February 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm
It does take some adjustment. Italy has been making whole wheat and whole grain for many years; it is not a new idea. So I like the brands that are made in Italy, like Delallo, Racconto, Bionaturae or DeCecco with all types of sauces except tomato based. For tomato based sauces, the best is still traditional pasta. Some of the multigrain blends are pretty good. They usually have half the amount of whole wheat, such as Ronzoni.
February 20, 2014 at 2:59 pm
I usually buy DeCecco’s, and I think it is because maybe I did have the whole wheat with a tomato sauce! So that’s it! I’ll probably still stick to traditional pasta. 🙂
February 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm
The wheat pasta is good with the two vegetarian pastas above. I also think is is better tasting in the short pastas like penne, rather than in spaghetti type pasta.
February 20, 2014 at 6:49 pm
Jovian! Penne is my fav pasta, thanks for share great ideas can’t wait to try 🙂
February 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm
Thank you Mari. Let me know which recipe you try, Thanks for visiting.
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