Ziti vs. Penne, what is the big difference?
Let’s start with what makes them confusing. Penne and ziti are hollow, cylindrical pastas made using the extrusion process, where the dough is forced through a die into the desired shape. Their large surface areas are wonderful transportation vehicles for meaty sauces as well as simpler ones. And, like all pastas, they are very good to eat.
The largest physical distinction between the two involves the cut and texture.
See the recipe: Chicken Penne Pasta
Penne originates from Campania, a region in southwestern Italy. It's derived from the Italian word for “quill,” and if you take a thoughtful look at it, it’s not hard to see why: the pasta, like its quill pen namesake, has its ends cut at an angle, gifting it with a particularly large surface area for a sauce to be drawn into the tubes. Penne can be smooth (lisce) or ridged (rigate), although the ridged variety is the most popular. The ridged ones being a bit sturdier and more soak-up-the-sauce-able than its smoother siblings. Penne is shorter than ziti, measuring about 1½ inches and larger in diameter at ½ inch.
Penne is rarely baked in Italian dishes. When it is baked, it is usually by people who mistake it for ziti. Although penne pairs well with almost any sauce, it works brilliantly tossed with chunky sauce, big hunks of meat, and vegetables. Oil-based or cream sauces both complement penne well.
See the recipe: Baked Ziti Bolognese
Ziti is a smooth-exterior pasta that hails from Naples, Italy (located in the Campania region). Notably, its ends are cut straight rather than at a diagonal, making it possible to distinguish it from penne without pulling out a ruler. When ziti pasta is made, it is 10 inches long and about a one-quarter of an inch in diameter. It can be bought and cooked liked that, but it is rare. Most often, ziti is cut into smaller tubes, and they are given the unoriginal name of cut ziti. The ziti purchased at the store to cook at home and in restaurants is commonly cut down to about three inches (though can range from 1½ – 3 inches), and it maintains the one-quarter of an inch diameter. Slightly longer than penne, its tubular look is emphasized. The word “ziti” comes from the world for “bridegroom” or “the betrothed,” and it’s traditionally served as the first course of a wedding lunch.
In Campania, ziti was a pasta used in oven-baked casseroles. Typically, the pasta is slightly undone, and the rest of the ingredients in the recipe are added on top. This creates moisture and steam, which finishes off the cooking of the pasta. It is still done the same way today. Ziti is usually used in baked dishes despite many recipes not being as eloquent as the classics.
See the recipe: Baked Rigatoni
ANOTHER TUBULAR PASTA PLAYER...
Shorter and wider than ziti and penne, rigatoni can be straight or slightly curved, though not as curved as elbow macaroni. “Rigatoni” comes from the Italian word "rigate" which means "ridged", "grooved" or "lined". Rigatoni characteristically have ridges down their length, sometimes spiraling around the tube. It has square-cut ends similar to ziti. Rigatoni is a particular favorite pasta shape in the south of Italy, especially in Sicily where it is used in many typical dishes such as ‘alla Norma’. Its namesake ridges and wide center make Rigatoni better for big chunkier sauces and grated cheese than smooth-sided pasta like ziti. It also works well for baked dishes. Rigatoni rules!