Decoding the Distinctions: Rigatoni vs. Penne

Rigatoni vs. Penne: Understanding the differences

Pasta is a popular and versatile food that comes in many shapes and forms. Two popular types of pasta that have gained worldwide recognition are rigatoni and penne. While these shapes may appear similar at first glance, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the differences between rigatoni and penne, including their shapes, origins, cooking methods, and popular dishes.

Rigatoni: A cylindrical delight

Rigatoni is a cylindrical shape of pasta with rounded edges. Its origins can be traced back to Rome, although the exact time and place of its creation remain uncertain. This type of pasta does not require special machinery to produce and has a patterned exterior with a simple cylindrical cut on each side. Rigatoni also comes in a variety of shapes, with some variations being longer or shorter in length and even slightly curved.
One of the reasons rigatoni is so highly regarded is its versatility. It pairs well with any type of sauce, making it suitable for both meat and vegetable-based dishes. Its hollow shape allows meat and sauce to accumulate inside for a delicious bite. Rigatoni can also be baked, further expanding its culinary applications.

Penne: The slender pen shape

Penne is a slender shape of pasta with an angled edge that resembles the tip of a fountain pen. Unlike rigatoni, penne has an exact birth date. It was invented and patented in 1865 by Giovanni Battista Capurro, an expert pasta maker who used a diagonal cutting machine to create this unique shape. The angled cut distinguishes penne from other cylindrical pasta shapes that have a straight cut.
Penne’s popularity stems from its versatility and accessibility. It is widely used in pasta recipes and can be paired with a variety of sauces, including light tomato sauces, creamy options and even meaty concoctions. Penne’s shape allows it to evenly cover and coat any type of sauce, providing a satisfying mouthfeel. In addition, the diagonal cut at each end prevents large pieces of meat or vegetables from getting inside, while allowing the sauce to penetrate the pasta, enhancing its flavor.

Cooking Rigatoni and Penne

When it comes to cooking rigatoni and penne, there are a few considerations to keep in mind due to their different shapes and textures.

Cooking Penne

To cook penne properly, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Add salt to the boiling water to taste.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of neutral oil, such as canola, to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
  4. Add penne pasta to boiling water and cook for about 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Penne, due to its shape and thickness, requires a slightly longer cooking time than other types of pasta.
  5. When cooked, drain the pasta in a large colander, reserving some of the pasta water if desired.
  6. Rinse the pasta under clean tap water to prevent clumping and gently break up the pasta by shaking the colander or using your hands.
  7. Set the cooked penne aside and add to the recipe of your choice.

Cooking Rigatoni

Follow these steps to cook rigatoni to perfection:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding salt to enhance the flavor of the pasta.
  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of neutral oil, such as canola, to prevent the rigatoni from sticking together.
  3. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the rigatoni. Make sure there is enough water to cover the pasta about 3-4 inches.
  4. Cook the rigatoni for about 10-15 minutes or until firm and chewy. Cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of the pasta.
  5. Test a piece of rigatoni for doneness at the 10 minute mark.
  6. When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat and drain all the pasta water to prevent overcooking.
  7. Set the cooked rigatoni aside and add to the recipe of your choice.

Variations and Substitutions

Because of their similar shapes, penne and rigatoni can be used interchangeably in various pasta recipes. The slight variations in their shapes do not significantly affect the overall outcome of the dish. So if a recipe calls for penne but you have rigatoni on hand (or vice versa), feel free to make the substitution.
Both penne and rigatoni can be paired with a wide variety of sauces, creating endless culinary possibilities. From creamy tomato basil penne to hearty rigatoni bolognese, these pasta shapes can enhance any dish with their unique textures and ability to hold and absorb flavors.

Bottom line

In conclusion, rigatoni and penne are two different pasta shapes that offer their own unique characteristics and culinary experiences. Rigatoni, with its cylindrical shape and rounded edges, provides a versatile canvas for a variety of sauces and fillings. Penne, on the other hand, with its slender shape and angled edges, is a popular choice for both meat and vegetable-based dishes.
When cooking rigatoni and penne, it’s important to consider their individual cooking times and techniques to achieve the desired texture. Whether you’re enjoying a classic penne arrabbiata or indulging in a comforting baked rigatoni dish, these pasta shapes are sure to satisfy your pasta cravings.
Next time you’re in the mood for pasta, embrace the nuances of rigatoni and penne and experiment with different sauces and preparations to discover your favorite combinations. Happy cooking!


What is the main difference between rigatoni and penne?

The main difference is in the shape. Rigatoni has a cylindrical, tube-like shape with rounded edges, while penne has a slender shape with an angled edge that resembles the tip of a fountain pen.

Can I substitute rigatoni for penne in a recipe and vice versa?

Yes, you can easily substitute rigatoni for penne and vice versa in most pasta recipes. The slight differences in shape will not significantly affect the overall outcome of the dish.

Which pasta shape is better for meat sauces?

Both rigatoni and penne work well with meat-based sauces. However, rigatoni’s hollow shape allows the meat and sauce to accumulate inside, providing a nice bite and enhancing the meaty flavors.

Which pasta shape works better with creamy sauces?

Both rigatoni and penne can be used with creamy sauces. However, penne’s shape allows it to evenly cover and coat any type of sauce and provide a satisfying mouthfeel, making it a popular choice for creamy pasta dishes.

Are there specific cooking instructions for rigatoni and penne?

While cooking instructions may vary slightly depending on the brand and thickness of the pasta, both rigatoni and penne should be cooked in boiling salted water until al dente. Rigatoni may take a little longer to cook due to its thickness, so it’s important to test for doneness before draining.

Can I use rigatoni or penne in baked pasta dishes?

Yes, both rigatoni and penne are excellent choices for baked pasta dishes. Their shape allows them to hold up well during the baking process, and they can easily absorb flavors from the sauce and other ingredients, resulting in a delicious and satisfying dish.