Rigatoni Vs Penne – What’s The Difference?

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Pasta is available in many shapes and forms and each type is unique in its own right! But some stand out more because of their popularity and versatility. 

A great example of beloved and popular pasta types is Penne and Rigatoni. 

These pasta shapes are somewhat similar and have gained worldwide recognition. Both of them can be enjoyed with a range of pasta sauces – but what makes them so special and different? 

Rigatoni Vs. Penne, what is the difference? Rigatoni has a cylindrical, tube-like shape with a straight-cut end on each side. On the other hand, penne has a slender shape with an angled edge that resembles the tip of a fountain pen. 

Read below to learn more about both types of pasta, their differences, how they are used, and some great tips on how to cook them properly!


Penne pasta is world-famous and has been featured in numerous pasta recipes. It is a highly versatile pasta shape that provides just the right mouthfeel and weight to any pasta recipe. 

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of other types of pasta, penne is one of the few foods that have a precise birth date.

Invented and patented in 1865 by an expert pasta maker named “Giovanni Battista Capurro”, this pasta shape was created using a specialized diagonally cutting machine.

This machine was able to produce a slightly angled cut instead of a straight cut, like in the case of many cylindrical pasta shapes.

Penne goes great with heavier and even meatier sauces and is also hugely popular in North America. The main reason why so many people prefer penne is that it is an extremely accessible shape and can be consumed in many ways. 

Popular Penne Dishes 

Penne can be used in pasta recipes and in general cooking too. It can also be paired with almost any type of pasta sauce. 

It is usually mixed with either a light or heavy tomato sauce but can also be used in creamier or meatier sauces too.

The great thing about penne is that its shape allows it to equally cover and coat any type of sauce with ease. Unlike spaghetti or other types of smaller pasta shapes, penne provides a more satisfactory bite due to its shape too.

For people who dislike meat inside the pasta, this shape offers a simple solution: since both ends of the pasta are cut at a diagonal angle, large pieces of meat or vegetables can’t get inside. 

However, the sauce can easily enter into the pasta which further increases its flavor and overall appeal! 

Here are a few great recipes that include penne:

  • Tomato Basil Penne Pasta
  • Creamy Garlic Penne Pasta
  • Creamy Chicken Penne Pasta
  • Penne bolognaise, and much, much more!

As you can see from this list, penne can mix well with both meat and vegetable recipes. This makes it one of the best choices for everyday pasta dishes!

But it does, however, require some consideration when boiling.

How To Cook Penne 

Penne, like any other pasta and requires thorough boiling until it is al dente. But due to its unique texture and shape, it requires a bit more cooking time than other pasta types. 

Keep in mind, unlike linguini, spaghetti, or tagliatelle, penne is shorter and a bit thicker. This affects its cooking time by approximately 2-3 more minutes.

Here is a great way to cook penne properly every time!

  1. Pour water into a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring it up to boil. Make sure that you add pasta to a rolling boil or it might not cook properly! You may also add salt to the water as per your preference. 
  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of any neutral oil (like canola oil). This will prevent the pasta from sticking to each other. Mix the water and oil mixture and then add the pasta. 
  3. Cook the pasta for about 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is firm and chewy.
  4. You can either keep some of the pasta water or drain all of it using a large sieve.
  5. Set the pasta aside and cook as per the recipe! 

The pasta may clump together as it drains and dries. The best way to remedy this issue is to run clean tap water over the pasta and gently loosen them by either shaking the sieve or by using your hand.


Rigatoni and penne are more or less the same types of pasta. 

They bear resemblance due to their cylindrical shape but differ at each end! Rigatoni has a more cylindrical shape with rounded edges, unlike the diagonally-cut edges seen in penne.

No one truly knows where rigatoni originated from, or when! Some say that the shape slowly came about several centuries ago in Rome. 

Rigatoni is relatively easier to make and does not require special machinery. It has a patterned exterior with a simple cylindrical cut on each side.

This pasta is available in many other forms too. Some rigatoni variations are longer, some shorter and some may even have a slight bend on them. 

The reason why this pasta is so well-known and beloved is because of its similar versatility and shape.

Rigatoni can blend well with any type of sauce and if you are the type that enjoys chunky pasta that accumulates meaty pieces and sauce inside, then rigatoni will provide a highly delicious bite!

This pasta can be used in several dishes and can also borrow sauces from other pasta recipes too. It can be used with both meat-based and vegetable-based sauces and can even be baked as well!

Popular Rigatoni Dishes

Here are a few popular rigatoni recipes. Note the similarities in the sauces and meat between both pasta types!

  • Baked Rigatoni Pasta
  • Creamy Tomato Rigatoni
  • Rigatoni Pasta & Tomato Sauce
  • Rigatoni with Mushroom Sauce

As you can notice, both penne and rigatoni have overlapping recipes. This makes sense since both types are almost identical (if it weren’t for their slightly different shapes). 

This means that you can substitute both pasta shapes in a range of delicious recipes without adding much of a difference! 

While some people may be divided between the hollow shape of rigatoni, there is no denying that this pasta makes for one heck of a bite, especially with a meatier and heavier sauce

It also provides an excellent scoop and can be consumed with either a fork or a spoon.

Perhaps the best thing about rigatoni is that it can easily and equally disperse any pasta sauce, owing to its cylindrical shape, and is much better at coating the inside of the pasta than penne because of its larger opening.

How To Cook Rigatoni

Rigatoni is a bit more varied than penne when it comes to cooking times. 

Also, you might want to check and account for the different shapes and thickness levels this pasta is available in before you cook it. 

For example, a thinner rigatoni pasta may only take about 8-10 minutes to cook while a thicker cut can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes! This is where a bit of intervention is required. 

To properly cook rigatoni, we recommend that you follow these steps:

  1. Pour water into a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring it up to a boil. You can add salt as per your liking. 
  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of any neutral oil like canola oil. This will prevent the pasta from sticking to each other. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the rigatoni! Make sure you use enough water; there should be at least 3-4 inches of water above the rigatoni as it cooks. 
  3. Cook the pasta for about 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is firm and chewy. We recommend that you test a rigatoni pasta piece after the 10-minute mark to check for doneness. As soon as the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat!
  4. Drain all the pasta water to prevent overcooking.
  5. Set the pasta aside and cook as per the recipe! 

Penne And Rigatoni – Differences And Substitutions

As mentioned, since penne and rigatoni share almost the same shape, but with a few differences, they can both be used interchangeably in many different types of sauces

Here is a simple yet delicious pasta recipe that can use both penne and rigatoni.

Tomato Cream Penne/Rigatoni


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil. 
  • 1 tablespoon butter.
  • 1 onion finely chopped. 
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed. 
  • 1 x 400g 14oz can chopped tomatoes. 
  • ½ cup water pinch of sugar optional.
  • ½ cup whipping/heavy cream. 
  • salt & pepper to taste. 
  • 500 g 1lb rigatoni, cooked. (reserve 1 cup of the pasta water) 
  • Parmesan and basil to serve.


  1. In a saucepan, melt butter and olive oil and lightly sauté the chopped onions until they are translucent. Do not overcook or brown the onions as it may greatly affect the flavor of the sauce.
  2. Now, add garlic and cook for about 20-30 seconds or until fragrant. Then, add the chopped tomatoes. 
  3. Add half a cup of water into the tomato can, swirl the water around, and add it to the pot.
  4. Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and sugar, and then simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Now, add the cream and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until you have a preferred consistency. You can also choose to blend the mixture to create a smoother sauce, but this is optional.
  6. Add the cooked rigatoni or penne (cooked as per the instructions above). Stir well and add a bit of the pasta water as well. Now cook until the sauce has the right consistency. Don’t thin it out too much!
  7. Add a generous serving of parmesan over the pasta along with fresh basil leaves and serve!

This pasta recipe works great with both penne and rigatoni as it provides an excellent base for both pasta types. 

You can even add meat and introduce different ingredients like vegetables, herbs, spices, and more to truly customize the sauce the way you like it. 

Here is a summarized difference between the two:

Type Of PastaPenneRigatoni
ShapeSlender, pen-like shape with an angled cut on each sideCylindrical shape with rounded edges
Size1-2 inches0.5-1.5 inches
CharacteristicsGreat for heavy sauces
Can accumulate sauce inside the cavity
Great for all types of sauces
Can accumulate small meat pieces and sauce inside the cavity
Cooking Method and Time (uncovered pot)Boiling water, 10-12 minutesBoiling water, 10-15 minutes
UsesAll types of tomato or meat-based saucesAll types of tomato or meat-based sauces

As mentioned, the cooking time for rigatoni (and penne) will depend on how thick the selected pasta variant is.

Different regions have slightly different variations of pasta. Some might be thicker while others might be noticeably smaller and thinner.

Remember, the thinner and smaller the pasta is, the more time it will generally take to cook.

But you may be able to speed up the process by cooking the pasta with the lid on! This method will bring down the cook-time by up to 2-3 minutes. 

Always make sure that you test the pasta a few minutes before the full cook time, as overcooked pasta is usually useless in traditional recipes. 

Finally, pick a pasta brand that is trusted by many. A great way to do this would be to check for online reviews. We have an article on which Italian pasta brands are our favorites, so make sure to check that out as well!

Pasta is different for everyone but you should try to go with the trusted mainstream or even niche brands if you want authentic penne or rigatoni. 

Tips And Tricks

  • Penne and Rigatoni cook well in big pots. This allows them to hydrate properly without bumping into each other. The better the space between the pasta, the better it will cook and soak in water! Also, always use a large heavy-bottomed pot that can easily handle high heat.
  • To cook pasta without burning or without staining the pot, always add the pasta when the water is at a rolling boil. You can also use a thermometer to check if the water is at a sufficient boil. Anything above 200-212°F will be ideal for cooking pasta. 
  • Some people believe that it is okay to not season the water when boiling pasta. This is an incorrect approach. Always season the water before cooking any type of pasta. If you don’t, then the entire dish may end up tasting under seasoned, no matter how delicious the sauce is!
  • Storing pre-cooked penne and rigatoni is simple and is a great way to prepare a quick meal whenever you need it. All you need to do is cook the pasta to al dente and then let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then shift the pasta to an airtight bag and store it in the fridge or the freezer. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the pasta before freezing it so that the pieces don’t break apart when thawed. Both pasta types will remain edible for up to 2 days in the fridge or up to 2 months in the freezer. 
  • A great tip for hydrating sauces is to use pasta water. The water contains a lot of pasta flavor and also some salt. It can be used to season a range of pasta dishes.
  • A good way to cook pasta until it is al dente is to follow the cooking time mentioned on the back of the packaging. Test a piece of the pasta 2 minutes before the total cooking time. The pasta should be chewy but firm with a slight bite. This is the best way to prevent overcooking when working with any type of pasta.

Related Questions 

Penne and rigatoni may be similar in shape and utility, but each pasta type provides a unique mouthfeel and texture.

Now that you know the difference between the two, here are some related questions to help you understand each type better!

Can you cook penne and rigatoni in an instant pot?

Yes, both pasta types can be cooked in an instant pot. To cook the pasta, add 1lb of penne or rigatoni in 4 cups of water with around 2 teaspoons of salt. Set the instant pot to 5 minutes and cook with the pressure on

This ratio will provide maximum flavor and will also preserve the pasta’s structure throughout the cooking process.

Also, since there is bound to be some variation in the pasta shape and thickness, we highly recommend that you test the pasta after 4 minutes to see if it is fully cooked or al dente.

Is rigatoni and macaroni the same? 

No. Some types of rigatoni do have a slightly elongated shape with a bend but they are far from what elbow macaroni look like. Macaroni is a similar cylindrically cut pasta shape that has a “C” shaped bend. 

Also, rigatoni is different in size and shape when compared to elbow macaroni. This is why rigatoni is more closely associated with penne than any other pasta shape. 

Does penne pasta resemble ziti? 

Penne can be mistaken for ziti, especially at a glance; however, if you look closely, you will find ziti to be longer and more cylindrical, like a pipe

Ziti is an extruded pasta that is sold in elongated pipe shapes. The pasta has to be usually broken by hand before it is cooked. Compared to penne, ziti is a bit longer and may even have a somewhat larger diameter. 

The best way to tell them apart is to check the tip and the bottom of the pasta. Penne has an angled cut on each side that resembles the tip of a pen while ziti has a straight cut and is usually longer and more cylindrical. 

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