It’s getting harder to ignore the impact that COVID-19 is having on the food world (let alone the world at large).  As it rampaged across China, Americans stopped eating out at Chinese restaurants because of scaremongering and xenophobia.  When it finally reached the U.S., sick foodservice workers continued to go to work, because they couldn’t afford not to (and, in a development more recent than when I started writing this, stockpiling toilet paper?).  I didn’t write anything about those topics because there either wasn’t anything new I could add to the discussion or, in a way, I already did. When it hit Italy, the Prime Minister shut down all restaurants and bars, and, as the panic spread, grocery stores sold out of everything as the public began stockpiling everything they could get their hands on before settling down into their quarantine.  Everything, except penne lisce.    

With all the millions of different pasta shapes out there (many of whom, frankly, are the same thing but with different names), it’s important to take a moment to explain just what penne lisce is and how it’s different from her sexier cousin, penne rigate.  Both are narrow tubes of pasta with diagonal cuts at the end, but what sets them apart is that while rigate has ridges running the length of the tube, the lisce is completely smooth.  

These ridges aren’t just for the aesthetic- sauces stick to the insides of the ridges better, so the rigate has become the darling of the penne world, and the lisce stays sitting on the shelf.  

So why do companies even still make penne lisce? My main assumption is that, based on the simpler shape, the extrusion process is easier.  Bronze pasta extruder dyes are fairly fragile, so a ridgeless one would be sturdier, as well as easier to clean. And easier to make means cheaper to make, so companies will keep churning it out to take up space on the shelves.

Is there any way to make use of all this penne lisce?  Well, initial research shows that the most common application of penne lisce is in baked casserole-type dishes.  But, if you’re willing to commit one pasta sin, you might as well commit another. I think that Alton Brown’s cold-water pasta technique, which spits in the face of the tried-and-true “1 gallon of water for 1 pound of pasta” rule would work wonders for penne lisce. (Unrelated side note- I developed a similar technique in college, not out of scientific intrigue, but because I didn’t have a big enough pot for that much water.)  Basically, pasta gives off starch as it cooks, and, since this technique uses half as much water, this starch is twice as concentrated. And, as any Italian cook knows, the secret to make sauces stick to pasta is add some of this starchy water into the sauce. Keeping the pasta extra starchy (And if it isn’t obvious, this includes not rinsing the pasta under running water after cooking it, you heathens.) might just be the secret to getting Italians to eat penne lisce.

But, maybe the fact that Italy hasn’t resorted to eating penne lisce is a good thing.  As of writing this, Italy has been hit the hardest of any European country. And as such, not buying penne lisce could mean that even with how bad they have it, we aren’t as close to a complete societal collapse as some may say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like