35 Penne Pasta Recipes Perfect For Weeknight Dinners

There are approximately a zillion different types, shapes, and sizes of pasta out there, and there also seem to be all manner of chefs and wannabe-chefs opining about how you need to use very specific (and usually very obscure and expensive) types of pasta for each dish. While it would be lovely to live in a mansion complete with huge walk-in food storage areas capable of containing every staple under the sun, back here in the real world, pantry space is often at a premium. For most of us, it's enough to have two basic kinds of pasta on hand: long and skinny (spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, etc.) and short and chunky (rotini, rigatoni, shells).

Of the latter category, penne is a reliable, classic choice. These neat, trim noodles are perfect with chunky sauces and they also go well in casseroles and salads. In fact, you can even swap them out for elbow macaroni if you want a more elegant take on mac and cheese. The following penne recipes are some of our favorites. Each dish can be made without too much fuss, resulting in a flavorful, filling pasta meal that you'll be able to easily whip up after a long day, even when you have to entertain last-minute guests.

1. Mushroom And Onion Penne Pasta

This meat-free pasta dish takes just a few minutes to cook, apart from the time it takes to boil the pasta itself. It's something that makes a great side dish for steak, chicken, or pork, but it could also serve as a very light entrée. If you wanted some extra protein in this pasta, you could always go extra heavy on either the mushrooms or cheese (or both) or you could stir in some chopped ham or shredded cooked chicken.

Recipe: Plain Mushroom And Onion Penne Pasta

2. 5-Ingredient Penne Alla Vodka

One dish that's been having a moment lately is penne alla vodka. While this dish may have been around for a few decades, vodka sauce is currently trendy due to social media. (Why else?) Unlike many complicated Instagram creations, however, this comforting pasta dish is pretty simple to make, In this recipe, all you'll need to make the sauce is olive oil, tomato paste, vodka, and cream. Stir them together, cook it for maybe 5 minutes, then toss the sauce with penne and voila, the dish is done.

Recipe: 5-Ingredient Penne Alla Vodka

3. Creamy Chicken Carbonara

While the photos in the recipe show spaghetti, carbonara sauce actually lends itself equally well to shorter, chunkier penne. While the white-on-white dish may look pretty monochromatic, it's full of flavor thanks to the bacon, cheese, and cream. Not a light meal by any means, but it's quick and simple to make and hearty enough to fill you up and keep you satisfied for a good long while.

One caveat regarding this chicken carbonara: If you're planning on serving it to dinner guests, you may not want to pair it with a rich dessert. Skip the gateaux au chocolat and stick to something light like a lemon sorbet instead.

Recipe: Creamy Chicken Carbonara

4. Easy Ground Turkey Casserole

Ground turkey is a great staple to have on hand for throwing together quick casseroles. Not only is it lighter in fat and calories than ground beef, but it also has a more delicate flavor that won't overwhelm the other ingredients. This turkey casserole is a pasta-based one made with penne pasta baked in a sauce that combines tomatoes, cream, and cheese.

If you want to save some time and effort, you can even make this dish with uncooked penne. Follow the recipe as usual, skipping the part where you boil the pasta, but cover the casserole dish with a double layer of tinfoil so it can retain the moisture that will allow the pasta to soften up as it bakes.

Recipe: Easy Ground Turkey Casserole

5. Instant Pot Creamy Penne Pasta

Some like their pasta with a creamy sauce, while others prefer theirs with a classic red sauce. The sauce in this recipe, however, is a hybrid version made with crushed tomatoes, cream cheese, and whipping cream. While this recipe specifies cooking the dish in an Instant Pot as per the title, you can actually just make the sauce in a pan, then toss it with cooked penne. In fact, when you consider how long it takes a pressure cooker to heat up, the stovetop method may actually be quicker!

Recipe: Instant Pot Creamy Penne Pasta

6. Creamy Garlic Butter Pasta

While you could eat it for a quick lunch, this creamy garlic butter pasta isn't really main dish material as it's a bit low on protein -– two tablespoons of parmesan per serving doesn't exactly make for a well-balanced meal. What this dish is good for, however, is to make a tasty, filling side dish if you're trying to stretch out a dinner where the protein is something small and pricey like petite steaks or lamb chops. Penne pasta in a garlicky cream sauce makes for a simple, elegant accompaniment to your meal, but like all of the best carb-heavy sides, it's also fairly inexpensive to make.

Recipe: Creamy Garlic Butter Pasta

7. Penne Alla Vodka

Yes, it's another penne alla vodka recipe -– we told you this dish was popular! While the sauce might seem like something that would appeal to big drinkers, the fact is, it's actually a great way to use up unwanted vodka if you're not much of a boozer. There's very little danger of catching a buzz from vodka sauce, either — this recipe calls for 4 ounces of vodka, but is meant to feed 6 people. When you add in the fact that about 40% of the alcohol is likely to cook off, this means you're really only consuming about ¼ ounce (equivalent to 1 ½ teaspoons) of vodka per serving.

Recipe: Penne Alla Vodka

8. Antipasto Salad

Antipasto made with pasta is actually a bit of a contradiction — antipasto, after all, is meant to be a course eaten before the pasta course is served. This pasta salad, on the other hand, is more of a hearty side dish fit for a non-pasta meal, although it could serve as a light meal all on its own if you added some chunks of salami or pepperoni along with the provolone, olives, vegetables, and pepperoncini. Although the photos here show the dish made with rotini, this pasta salad will work equally well with penne.

Recipe: Antipasto Salad

9. Baked Ziti

While baked ziti technically must be made with ziti, the tubular pasta really isn't all that different from penne and it's likely that no one will notice if you make the swap. The important elements, after all, are still there: The marinara sauce, the mozzarella, the ricotta, and the parmesan. As with any pasta casserole, you could save yourself a step with this dish and pass on pre-cooking the penne. If you want to make absolutely sure the pasta softens up in the sauce as it bakes, you can always just soak the noodles before adding them to the casserole. 

Recipe: Baked Ziti

10. Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chicken

Want a lazy-day one-pot dish that can cook itself while you're at work? This slow cooker cream cheese chicken could be just what you're looking for. It's very rich as it includes cream of chicken soup as well as cream cheese, and pasta + cream sauce + chicken is something that's sure to stick to your ribs. Although the recipe says to cook the penne separately, this is really not necessary. Just add it straight from the box to the crock pot about ½ hour to 45 minutes before the cook time is up, then stir in the cream cheese right at the end and your dinner is ready to go.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chicken

11. Pastitsio

Pastitsio is a Greek dish that is often compared to lasagna, and the two have a few things in common: Both are made with tomato sauce, may contain ground meat, and have a base of noodles, although lasagna is made with wide, flat noodles while pastitsio is made with tubular pasta such as penne. But instead of ricotta cheese, pastitsio is made with a cream sauce flavored with Greek seasonings such as cinnamon and cloves, and in place of mozzarella, it features a feta cheese topping. These different flavors make for a nice change from the more familiar lasagna, and best of all, this pastitsio is also pretty easy to put together.

Recipe: Authentic Pastitsio

12. Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta Salad

If warm weather has you grilling 24/7, you might like to toss your favorite vegetables on the fire as a change of pace from chicken, sausages, steaks, chops, and burgers. Throw some onions on the grill grates along with asparagus, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, or any other vegetables you prefer as long as they're grill-friendly. Once the vegetables are done, chop them up and toss them in a vinaigrette dressing with penne pasta for a summery side salad that makes a great accompaniment for the aforementioned chicken, sausages, steaks, chops, and burgers.

Recipe: Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta Salad

13. Easy Chicken Fajita Pasta

While fajita fillings are typically served wrapped in a tortilla, these seasoned strips of pan-seared meat and vegetables can actually be re-purposed in a number of different ways. They could be used to top a salad, fill a meat pie, make a casserole, or, as we're doing here, they could be mixed with cooked penne pasta and a cheesy cream sauce (or perhaps it's a creamy cheese sauce) to make for a southwestern-style spin on macaroni and cheese.

Recipe: Easy Chicken Fajita Pasta

14. Creamy Pasta With Pancetta And Peas

Peas with pasta? While it may not seem like a natural pairing, there is a traditional Italian dish called pasta e piselli, which means, yes, pasta with peas. While the Italian dish is traditionally made with a type of pasta called tubetti, penne works well, too, and that's what we're using in this American version. The penne is topped with a parmesan cream sauce, but gets plenty of extra flavor and a little protein from pancetta. If you don't have pancetta on hand, though, bacon will give you a very similar flavor and will probably cost a bit less, as well.

Recipe: Creamy Pasta With Pancetta And Peas

15. One-Pot Chicken Parm Pasta

Chicken parmesan is kind of like the Italian version of chop suey in that it's actually not native to Italy, but is more of an Italian-ish American dish. Still, it's a pretty popular one –- we're all about those breaded, fried chicken cutlets here in the U.S., so why not top them with tomato sauce and cheese and serve them up with a side of pasta? Or you could toss the pasta in the pot to make for an all-in-one meal as we're doing here. Instead of spaghetti, which is typically served alongside restaurant chicken parmesan, we're opting for penne pasta as it makes for a less messy presentation.

Recipe: One-Pot Chicken Parm Pasta

16. Spicy Shrimp Parmesan Pasta

One of the things we love about shrimp is how quickly it cooks. Just a few minutes in the pan, plus maybe a few more minutes under cool running water if you forgot to thaw them in advance. Pasta, too, cooks fairly rapidly, and is something that can generally go from box to plate in around 10 minutes or so. While shrimp on their own have a rather delicate taste -– and plain pasta, to be frank, is downright bland –- this recipe spices things up with a lot of red pepper and also adds lemon juice and parmesan for an extra flavor boost.

Recipe: Spicy Parmesan Pasta

17. Crock Pot Baked Ziti

While most every kitchen hack you'll see on social media promises to be life-changing, few (okay, almost none) are truly worthy of the hype. Still, one trick that will save you a few minutes is realizing that you don't have to boil your pasta before you use it in a soup, casserole, or any other dish where it will be exposed to enough liquid and heat to cook it. Such is the case with this crock pot baked ziti.

Yes, cooking the ziti in a crock pot means that technically it isn't baked, so what the heck, you might as well go for broke and switch up the pasta for penne. As Shakespeare would say if you'd invited him for dinner, "Crock potted penne by any other name would still taste most wondrous."

Recipe: Crock Pot Baked Ziti

18. Chicken Casserole

Chicken casserole is one of those classic thrifty mom dishes as it makes the most of some not-so-expensive ingredients by stretching them as far as possible to feed a bunch of hungry mouths. Pasta is always a good base as it's both cheap and filling, while chicken can add healthy lean protein without breaking the bank. While this recipe calls for chicken breasts, you can always use thighs instead if those are cheaper. Bulk the casserole up with mushrooms and cheese, and then tie it all together with –- of course! –- a can of mushroom soup, without which no true casserole would be complete.

Recipe: Chicken Casserole

19. 30-Minute Pasta Bolognese

While spaghetti bolognese is a dish typically served with spaghetti or other long noodles, this meaty sauce also works pretty well with short and chunky pastas such as penne. This bolognese recipe calls for several different types of vegetables (carrots and onions) and meats (pancetta as well as ground beef), but once you've done all the prep work like peeling and chopping the produce and browning the meats, the sauce itself won't take too long to cook. Rather than simmering all day, the actual tomato sauce itself is in the pan for maybe about 10 minutes, which, coincidentally, is also about as much time as it'll take to cook the penne.

Recipe: 30-Minute Pasta Bolognese

20. Puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca is a dish with an interesting back story, or at least a name that hints at one. For all we know, it was actually created in the Italian version of the Betty Crocker test kitchen, but the name is meant to imply that the dish was created by, ahem, working girls in need of a quick meal between customers. Well, whoever came up with the dish in the first place knew how to cook, that's for sure, as fresh tomatoes, anchovies, olives, capers, and crushed red chile make for quite the tasty pasta topper.

Recipe: Puttanesca

21. Creamy Pasta With Smoked Bacon And Peas

This recipe is yet another version of pasta e piselli, the Italian dish that combines pasta with peas and then flavors it with a fair amount of bacon (or pancetta, as in the earlier version listed here). While this isn't the healthiest of meals due to the large amount of cream in the sauce, it does make for a creative way to get people to eat their peas. Serve this pasta as a hearty side or add some chopped cooked chicken to make it a main course.

Recipe: Creamy Pasta With Smoked Bacon And Peas

22. Creamy Jerk Rasta Pasta

Rasta pasta! Now that's a name seemingly made for a fast casual menu. You'd think that nothing with such a silly name could possibly be a traditional dish (with the exception of British foods like toad in the hole and bubble and squeak), and you'd be partially right. While the first dish to bear this name was actually created by a Jamaican restaurateur, it only dates back to the 1980s.

Our version of rasta pasta gives the nod to its island origins by incorporating jerk seasoning and produce in the Rastafarian colors of red, yellow, green. Unlike the original rasta pasta, however, ours is made with penne instead of fettucine.

Recipe: Creamy Jerk Rasta Pasta

23. Copycat Domino's Chicken Carbonara

While Domino's does produce pretty good pizza for a chain, its pasta dishes aren't bad, either. One popular menu item is chicken carbonara, a hearty cream-sauced pasta with chicken chunks, mushrooms, and bacon, If this is your go-to Domino's order but you don't want to drop the big bucks on delivery fees or tips, our version makes for a reasonable copycat.

We're using store-bought alfredo sauce here, plus pre-cooked chicken, bacon, and penne, so the hardest part of putting this chicken carbonara together will be slicing the onion and mushrooms. Actually, you can buy pre-cut versions of these vegetables, as well, so it's entirely possible you could throw this whole dish together, cook, it, and eat it in less time than it takes Domino's to deliver.

Recipe: Copycat Domino's Chicken Carbonara

24. Mediterranean Tuna Pasta

The Mediterranean diet has long been popular not only because it's very effective in promoting overall health and well-being, but it also permits you to eat tasty foods like pasta. Real pasta, too, not just "healthy pasta" made with chickpeas or spelt or zucchini. What you should not do on the diet, though, is to load down your pasta with fatty sauces and excessive amounts of cheese. This particular dish, however, is made with tuna, fresh vegetables, olive oil, and only a moderate amount of cheese so it makes a healthy alternative to heavier, cream-sauced pastas.

Recipe: Mediterranean Tuna Pasta

25. Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

Cajun chicken pasta is a dish that could be classified as "fast casual fusion" as it's a menu staple at restaurants like Chili's. The basic concept is simple: take a cream-sauced pasta and kick up this often bland dish with some Cajun spice. Throw in a few chunks of chicken to make it a complete meal, then serve it up with a side of half-priced drinks. If you'd like to enjoy such a dish without having to put up with a roomful of happy hour celebrants, you can always stay home and make it yourself. With this recipe, you'll not only be cooking a from-scratch sauce, but will stir up your own Cajun seasoning blend, as well.

Recipe: Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta

26. Mediterranean Pasta Salad

The origins of pasta salad are actually far more American than Italian, and back in its non-trendy days it was known by the far more pedestrian-sounding moniker of "macaroni salad." Funny how just changing that one word takes this salad from the picnic table to the dining room. If you go even further by swapping out the mayo-based dressing for a tangy vinaigrette, adding in some fresh vegetables, Mediterranean-inspired seasonings, and feta crumbles, and maybe even switching out the fusilli (which is kind of a pasta salad cliché by now) for penne, you'll have a truly sophisticated summertime side.

Recipe: Mediterranean Pasta Salad

27. Cajun Smoked Sausage Pasta

This sausage pasta dish is your basic two-pot meal: One pot for cooking the pasta, the other for frying the sausage and vegetables. While the recipe calls for a Cajun-flavored smoked sausage, there's no need to worry if you can't find such a thing where you shop. Really, any kind of smoked sausage will do just fine, and you can always add a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning if you want to bring the "Bam!" In addition to the sausage and pasta, the dish also includes sauteed peppers and onions, then ties it all together with a cream cheese-based sauce.

Recipe: Cajun Smoked Sausage Pasta

28. One-Pot Pizza Rigatoni

Now here's a dish for the indecisive. If you're not sure whether to have pasta or pizza for dinner, why not make the former, but dress it up as the latter? To cook this dish, you boil up a pot of pasta (penne works just as well as rigatoni here), then top it off with marinara sauce from a jar plus shredded mozzarella, sauteed onions and peppers, and sliced pepperoni. Got some other favorite pizza toppings? Sure, go ahead and throw those in, too! 

Recipe: One-Pot Pizza Rigatoni

29. Easy Pasta Skewers

Sure, you've got your basic food groups, like meat, dairy, produce, and grains, but then you've got a few special categories, as well, such as the perennially popular State Fair Foods, aka Things on a Stick. One item you might well find at a fair is pasta on a stick, but the pasta you'd get there would probably be meatball-stuffed and deep-fried.

Our homemade version of pasta skewers is much healthier and less messy than anything you might find on a midway as we eschew the deep frying and stuffing and instead just thread chunky pasta onto thin wooden skewers and cook it in the air fryer with a light topping of marinara and melted mozzarella. Still, it's food on a stick, which is fun no matter what it is and where you're eating it.

Recipe: Easy Pasta Skewers

30. Lentil Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is pretty much defined by its inclusion of meat, so you'd think it might be impossible to make a vegetarian version. Well, technically you might be correct, but if we can have plant-based "milk" and "cheese," we can also replace the animal protein in this dish with a non-meat alternative. Here we're not opting for pricey Impossible or Beyond-branded meat substitutes, but are instead using inexpensive lentils for a budget-friendly, meat-free pasta sauce that works just as well with a chunky pasta like penne as it does with spaghetti. This dish is entirely vegan, too, as long as you pass on the parmesan.

Recipe: Healthy Lentil Bolognese

31. Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

Pasta salad and pesto are both recipes that came of age in the '80s, but, you know, everything old is new again, particularly when you combine the two in a summery salad that spans the centuries (or millennia, as the case may be). To give this retro salad a more contemporary spin, why not ditch the dated fusilli in favor of streamlined, modern, penne pasta instead? It is okay, however, to replace the trendy bocconcini called for here with plain diced mozzarella instead as opting for a cheaper ingredient is totally in vogue in these inflationary days.

Recipe: Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

32. Instant Pot Pumpkin Pasta

In autumn, all thoughts turn to pumpkiny delights. Still, should you get a hankering for something pumpkin-flavored during another time of year, canned pumpkin is available year-round to fulfill any out-of-season hankerings. White after Labor Day may be verboten in certain circles, but no one's going to judge you for making pumpkin pasta in spring or summer, at least not after they have a bite of this tasty concoction. Even if you have no Instant Pot, you can still make this sauce on the stovetop, then toss it with pre-cooked penne and parmesan for a meat-free meal par excellence.

Recipe: Instant Pot Pumpkin Pasta

33. Pasta Alla Norma

Who on earth was Norma and what was the deal with her eggplant fixation, anyway? While we cannot answer the second part of this question, it seems that this pasta dish may be named for the druid priestess who is the subject of Vincenzo Bellini's entirely eggplant-free opera that shares the same moniker. No matter its origins or etymology, though, this eggplant-based pasta sauce makes for a filling, flavorful, and economical alternative to meat-based sauces like bolognese.

Recipe: Pasta Alla Norma

34. Mac And Cheese In A Mug

For a comfort food, macaroni and cheese is really not all that easy and effort-free to make. Even when you use a supposedly convenient box mix, you still have to cook the pasta separately and then go through multiple steps to make the sauce. What's more, you'll probably wind up with way more of the stuff than you care to eat. This from-scratch mug mac and cheese recipe still takes a few steps, but includes real cheese instead of a neon-colored mystery powder. You can use any kind of cheese you like, such as cheddar, Swiss, or pepper jack, and you can also swap out the elbow macaroni for penne to give this dish a chunkier texture. Best of all, you're cooking it just a cup at a time so it's perfect for dining solo.

Recipe: Easy Mac And Cheese In A Mug

35. Easy Pasta Alla Vodka

Yes, it's yet another pasta alla vodka recipe, but as you can see, it's the last one on our list. If you were looking to start a collection of vodka pasta recipes, consider us your one-stop shop. This recipe calls for -– you guessed it –- cream, tomato paste, and vodka, all of these ingredients being combined in a sauce (this one's got onions and garlic, too), then tossed with penne and sprinkled with grated parmesan. Sound familiar by now? What can we say, it's a classic combo.

Recipe: Easy Pasta Alla Vodka