Penne al Baffo is a creamy and comforting pasta that combines ham and al dente penne tossed in a tomato-based pink cream sauce. This one is simple to make and can be ready in less than 30 minutes!
Penne al Baffo is one of those pastas you may have made or eaten before but never knew it had a name!
Or you may have just thought you were eating pasta alla vodka with ham because they are so similar.
The word baffo in Italian translates to mustache and it's said that the name of the dish is derived from an Italian phrase that translates to "it's so good you'll lick your whiskers".
Whether you have whiskers or not, we think you'll love penne al baffo for its simplicity, texture, and flavor!
Made with sliced (or cubed) deli ham and a pink sauce consisting of passata, or pureed tomatoes, penne al baffo is truly one of those dishes that proves that comfort food does not need to be complicated.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Bring a large pot of salted water (2 tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon of water) to boil. Cube 8 ounces of sliced deli ham and dice one medium-sized onion. Mince 3 tablespoons of parsley and set aside. Note: Feel free to use leftover cooked ham cut into small cubes.
- Heat a large pan to medium heat and saute the onions in 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes).
- Add the ham and cook for about 2 minutes longer. By this point, your pasta water should be boiling and you can begin to cook 1 pound of penne pasta to 1 minute less than al dente.
- Add 1 cup of passata, or blended plum tomatoes, to the pan and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- After 5 minutes, add 1 cup of heavy cream and mix to combine.
- Continue to allow the sauce to simmer while stirring occasionally.
- When the pasta is 1 minute less than al dente, add it to the sauce and mix well or toss to ensure all the pasta is coated. Be sure to reserve some pasta water. Cook just until the pasta reaches just al dente. If it is at all dry, add some reserved pasta water to loosen it up.
- Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the parsley. Give it a taste test and make any adjustments to salt or pepper as needed. If desired you can add some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or serve the pasta al baffo as is with cheese on the side at the table. Enjoy!
Top tips for perfect penne al baffo
- The ham. We used sliced deli ham for this recipe. You can do the same or use leftover cooked ham, or even prosciutto or pancetta. Use what you like and what you can access. For prosciutto and pancetta, we recommend using about half as much deli ham.
- Reserve your pasta water! We say this all the time with our cream sauce pastas because it's an important step that shouldn't be overlooked. Pasta water can be used to revive pasta that may have dried out a bit while you're waiting for your family or friends to come to the table.
- Tomatoes. Traditionally this recipe uses passata which is tomato puree. It adds to penne al baffo's silky texture. If you can't find passata, you can use canned plum tomatoes and give them a few short pulses in the blender. Or if you're old school break out grandma's food mill and make your own puree.
- The cream. The recipe calls for heavy cream and we do not recommend substituting it with milk or half and half as they may lead to the sauce breaking. If you want to use less cream, just add more pasta water to compensate before serving.
More creamy and comforting pasta recipes
If you love creamy sauces we have you covered. Here are just a few of our favorites but feel free to look around as there are plenty more on the site!
- Pasta alla Norcina - creamy pasta with crumbled sausage, white wine, and Pecorino Romano.
- Spaghetti Carbonara - Roman pasta with guanciale, egg, and Pecorino Romano.
- Chicken Riggies - rigatoni tossed with chicken and cherry peppers in a creamy pink sauce.
If you’ve enjoyed this penne al baffo recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and leave a review.
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 8 ounces deli ham cubed, can use leftover cooked ham
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup passata (puree) or blended plum tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons parsley minced
- 1 cup reserved pasta water use if the sauce gets too dry
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Heat a large pan to medium heat and saute the onions in the butter and olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes). Add the ham and cook for a couple of minutes.
- At this time begin cooking the pasta to 1 minute less than al dente.
- Add the passata to the pan and bring the sauce to a simmer. After about 5 minutes of cooking the sauce, add the cream and continue to gently simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Add the not quite fully cooked pasta to the sauce. Mix well or toss to coat. Cook until the pasta reaches just al dente. If too dry add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up.
- Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the parsley. Taste test and adjust salt and pepper to taste. At this time you could mix in some Parmigiano or just serve as is with grated cheese on the table. Enjoy!
- Some recipes use shallot but onion works great.
- Parmigiano Reggiano can be mixed into the sauce right before serving or just serve on the side.
- Any type of cooked ham will work. Can also use prosciutto, pancetta, guanciale, etc.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days in the fridge and can be reheated in the microwave.