My wife and I joined a group of friends at their beach house for the weekend. As usual, I volunteered to cook the food, which, just as usual, everyone else was secretly hoping for (all you have to do is ask, guys).
I wanted to make my signature penne tomato pasta. So I went to the grocery store and stocked up on penne rigate, a couple of cans of whole peeled tomatoes, a piece of parmesan cheese, a bulb or two of garlic, and some sea salt.
Cooking for a crowd is always a challenge—especially if you’re used to measuring ingredients for a couple of persons. To add to it, there wasn’t a kitchen scale at the summer house and penne pasta tends to get bigger when cooked.
How much of it was I supposed to cook?
Happily, I have a stupidly-simple technique for measuring penne pasta. And, if you found yourself in a similar situation as I did this weekend, I’m about to share it with you in the rest of this post.
As a rule of thumb, penne pasta will roughly double in size when cooked. To measure how much penne to cook, use the same plate or bowl you’ll serve it in. Simply cook ½ a plate or bowl of raw pasta per person.
This technique should hopefully make it easier for you to measure penne pasta since you don’t need a kitchen scale. All you need to remember is that ½ a plate of raw pasta equals approx. 1 serving of cooked pasta (as the noodles will soak up the water and swell up).
To spoil you even more, I did the math for you for up to 6 servings:
|Raw Pasta||No. of Servings|
|½ a plate or bowl||1 person|
|1 plate or bowl||2 persons|
|1 ½ plate or bowl||3 persons|
|2 plates or bowls||4 persons|
|2 ½ plates or bowls||5 persons|
|3 plates or bowls||6 persons|
What I like about this measure is that it’s very rough, yet it works perfectly. You really have to put in a lot of effort to get it wrong.
Then again, maybe it depends on the person.
Before sharing it with all of you out there, I asked five friends to cook penne and test it out. Three said this technique was brilliant, two said they didn’t really find it useful. Clearly, I don’t have statistically significant data for this, so I need your help: share your thoughts about it in the comments below.
So I thought to myself… Can I come up with a technique that’s even more intuitive?
You tell me if I managed to, but here’s my attempt at it.
A quick and easy way to measure how much penne pasta to cook is by hand. Since pasta will soak up water and swell up when cooked, 2 fistfuls of penne equal roughly 1 serving.
Of course, the exact amount will depend on the size of the person’s hand and the diameter of the plate.
But that’s the thing about home cooking! Unless you’re making dough or sweets, in most cases you’re just as good approximating your ingredients as you’d be if you measured them precisely using a scale.
Before putting this technique to the test, I thought 1 fistful of penne would be enough. Then I tried it and penne started falling out of my hand. However I tried to hold them, I couldn’t grab enough to fill ½ a plate. A couple of fistfuls, on the other hand, filled half of the plate almost perfectly.
How Many Servings Is a Box of Penne Pasta?
Before you can measure out penne pasta in the confines of your kitchen, you need to know how many boxes (and what size boxes) to buy at the grocery store. Typically, penne pasta is sold in 12 oz (340 grams), 16 oz (450 g), and 32 oz (900 g) packages.
The smallest size is usually for premium pasta brands as it helps to keep them generally affordable. Most staple pasta shapes from the supermarket pasta brands that you and I cook with at home tend to come in the medium-sized package. The biggest size is intended for large families and is often sold at a discount (if you are a bargain hunter, watch out for this one).
How many servings is each size for? Here’s my no-frills guide:
|Box Size||No. of Servings|
|12 oz (340 g) boxed penne||5-6 servings|
|16 oz (450 g) boxed penne||7-9 servings|
|32 oz (900 g) boxed penne||13-16 servings|
I’ve added serving ranges and not exact numbers because my serving will be different than yours (and vise-versa).
What to Read Next
If you select your boxed penne well and know the science behind cooking pasta, you can make some of the most delicious pasta dishes you’ve ever tasted.
Still, fresh pasta made at home will take your cooking to a whole new level. To get started, check out my list of the 10 must-have tools for making pasta.