Instant Pot Penny Penne (Budget Pasta)

Happy New Year, my friends! Since we are in a period where uncertain financial times gives us (and our wallets) stress, I’ve decided to beef up creating shorter recipes with value-brand ingredients. Looking at the glass as more full than empty, this also means less spending money and less time to make a meal. Penny Penne is a new recipe of mine where the name tells it like it is.

Penny Penne

You can easily make this recipe to feed a hungry family of six for $5-$10 (the cost of one fast food meal).

Of course I give you additional ways to make it a bit fancy, but this recipe can be done using a maximum of just TWO ingredients, any pasta sauce you choose, and in just THREE steps. 2023 may be a challenging year, but we will get through it and delicious budget meals like this will help see the silver lining even quicker!

Pre-Pressure Cooking Penny Penne

Box of penne rigate pasta
Now since this dish is called Penny Penne, I think it only fitting to use some form of penne pasta. I like penne rigate because it has ridges but truly any short-form pasta (and any brand – use whatever’s cheapest) will do. Add a box to the pot.
Pouring broth in Instant Pot along with pasta
Now, we’ll add a broth of your choice to the pot (you can also totally use water to save on this ingredient, but broth does infuse the pasta with a bit more flavor).
Smoothing pasta out under broth in pot
Smooth the pasta out so it’s mostly submerged in the liquid.
Topping pasta with butter
Top with a some pats of butter. Like the broth in place of water, this is also optional but it does add slickness to the pasta as well as additional flavor.

And that’s all we have to do before pressure cooking! So far, that’s only 1-3 ingredients.

Post-Pressure Cooking Penny Penne

Pressure cooked pasta
After pressure cooking, the pasta will have cooked perfectly.
Adding lukewarm red sauce to pasta
Now it’s time to add our sauce. You can use any jarred or pre-made sauce of your choice for this recipe! Just make sure it’s either at room temperature or zapped in the microwave for a minute or so – the reason being that if we add cold, refrigerated sauce to the pasta, it’s going to make it very tepid. Of course, you can always just hit the Sauté button as well, but it will definitely speed things along if the sauce is already lukewarm.
Mixing sauce into pasta
Start with 2 cups of sauce and then if you decide you want more…
Adding more sauce to pasta
…add up to 2 cups more. The pasta is absolutely 100% ready to serve now with just TWO ingredients! But if you want to make it a wee bit fancier…

Optional Finishing Touches for Penny Penne

Adding shredded mozzarella cheese to pasta
…here’s where we put on the optional finishing touches. If you want this pasta to be super cheesy, almost like a pizza, add in 2 cups (an 8 ounce bag) of shredded mozzarella. For a more melty cheese, use either a Cheddar, a Mexican blend or Taco blend. If you don’t have any shredded cheese in the fridge already, just get the cheapest store brand available! You can also totally use grated Parmesan if you have that lying around.
Adding herb cheese to pasta
If you want the sauce to be very creamy, add in some of my garlic herb cheese.
Adding bacon bits to pasta
And for a simple touch of smoky, meat flavor, save time and money with some bacon bits (Costco sells them in large bags at a great value to last a while!)
Stirring pasta
Stir everything together…
All ingredients are combined with pasta and pasta is being lifted with a serving spoon - looking cheesy and rich.
…until well combined! If you used the shredded mozzarella, it’s going to be ooey and gooey delish (you’ll see in a second).
Pasta in a glass bowl
Serve it up…
Pasta in glass bowl topped with additional bacon bits and cheese
…and top with additional bacon bits and cheese, if desired.

The Taste Test!

Man holding glass bowl of pasta
Now comes the moment of truth.
Man lifting forkful of pasta from bowl with a generous cheese pull forming.
If you added the mozzarella, prepare to be wowed at that cheese pull. If you just kept it to the pasta and sauce, you’ll still be wowed…
Man eating pasta and enjoying it.
…because anyway you slice it, this penne is done with pennies! A truly quick, budget-friendly and spectacular dish.
Instant Pot Penny Penne (Budget Pasta)
Yield: 6

Instant Pot Penny Penne (Budget Pasta)

Instant Pot Penny Penne (Budget Pasta)

Happy New Year, my friends! Since we are in a period where uncertain financial times gives us (and our wallets) stress, I've decided to beef up creating shorter recipes with value-brand ingredients. Looking at the glass as more full than empty, this also means less spending money and less time to make a meal. Penny Penne is a new recipe of mine where the name tells it like it is.

Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Total Time 8 minutes


  • 1 pound penne, penne rigate, or mezze penne (but any short-form pasta such as bowties, medium shells, gemelli, rotini or ziti will do)
  • 4 cups chicken or garlic broth (e.g., Garlic Better than Bouillon) NOTE: you can also simply use water
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) salted butter, cut into 2 pats (optional, but suggested to keep the pasta slick)
  • 2-4 cups jarred or pre-made pasta sauce of your choice (any variety of marinara, Alfredo, vodka or pesto will do), preferably at room temperature (or warmed in the microwave if cold from the fridge - see Jeff's Tips)

Optional Touches


  1.  Add the broth and penne to the Instant Pot but do not stir. Just smooth it out so it’s mostly submerged. Top with the 2 pats of the butter (if using).
  2. Secure the lid and move the valve to the sealing position. Hit Cancel followed by Manual or Pressure Cook on High Pressure for 6 minutes. Quick release when done and give the pot a good stir.
  3. Add the sauce (start with 2 cups) and stir. If you feel you want more sauce, add up to 2 cups more. If using the optional bacon bits, cheese, herb cheese, and/or additional spices and stir in now as well until melded. Feel free to top with additional bacon bits and cheese, if desired.

Jeffrey's Tips

The reason why we want the sauce at room temperature or a bit warmer is because we're adding it to the pressure cooked pasta. If adding the sauce directly from the fridge, it's going to immediately cool down the pasta to the point where it will be tepid. In this case, simply hit the Sauté button and stir until it's heated. But you're better off having it be room temperature or even warmed up a bit in the microwave before adding it to the pot.

This recipe is very customizable in the spice department - be it cayenne, oregano, hot sauce, garlic powder, or crushed red pepper flakes. Feel free to add any you wish in Step 3: Start with 1 teaspoon of any or all and add more to taste!

Remember, use store-brand ingredients or check for coupons on items to get the biggest bang for your buck!

Reader Interactions


  1. Karen

    This looks delicious…and thrifty! You know what would be a big help?? Also include the dry measurement of the pasta. It helps when halving a recipe AND for those times where I buy larger quantities of pasta 🙂

    • Michelle

      One pound of pasta is 16 oz, the whole box. If you want to cut it in half, eyeball it using half the box or to get a more accurate 8 oz, weigh it. You should weigh dry pasta, not measure it. 🙂

  2. Peggy

    Great recipe. Not much into bacon, but will brown 1/2 to 1 lb lean ground beef with some onion and garlic and add when I put the sauce over the pasta.

  3. Lauren

    Thanks so much for the budget meal recipe Jeff! I’m a big fan of many of your recipes and its heartbreaking ingredients are so expensive now.

  4. Gary Kaetzel

    I was debating between this one and your amazing Pasta Bolognese. I decided on this one because I never made this one yet and I’ve made plenty of batches of Pasta Bolognese! I’m using Bacon Up in place of the butter and adding some breakfast sausage on top of the bacon bits. I’ll of course post pics tomorrow when I make it on my page and on the IPC and if I use the 3-qt. on the 3-qt. Lovers page too! Looking forward to this!!!

  5. Annie

    Can this recipe be halved? How much broth should I use & should I just halve the remaining ingredients? I do love that your new cookbook has instructions to serve 1-2 – so helpful & appreciated! Is there kind of a rule of thumb for the amount of broth to use when cutting your other cookbooks’ recipes in half?

  6. Donald Jarvey

    Do you have the calories for any or your recipes anywhere. my wife is counting calories and gets frustrated when I don’t have them.

    • Jeffrey

      My blue book. But your best best is an online nutrition calculator fo the most accurate results based on the exact ingredients you use.

  7. Elizabeth Lonsberry

    Jeffrey, I really need to know about cooking gluten free pasta in the instanpot How long so that it is not mush or hard?

  8. Beffy

    How about blending in some baby peas??? They don’t mush up like other peas…and give another “color” to the meal…what say you Jeffrey??

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