If you’ve ever been served a meal of baked ziti and then soon thereafter eaten a bowl or plate of penne pasta, you could be forgiven for wondering what the difference really is. After all, both kinds of pasta are often prepared with similar ingredients, and, regardless of how they are cooked, that can lead to similar kinds of meals. 

Plus, plenty of people use a lot of the same ingredients when they are making a simple bowl of pasta as they would when making baked ziti. 

Even the presentation of these two meals, which are often scooped into a pile onto your dish or choice rather than being artfully plated, adds to the confusion. 

But, like so many dishes in Italian cuisine, the pasta itself is the heart and soul of the difference. 

OriginsNaples, ItalyGenoa, Italy
Shape and SizeSmooth, variable-length, hollow cylindrical pastaShort, thick, hollow, often textured cynlinders with angled edges that come to a point
How the pasta works in a dishZiti carries pasta sauce like a filling, and can also be coated with clingy sauces.Penne also carries sauce and ingredients on the inside of the pasta tube, but texture penne can be coated more easily, and can be suitable for thinner sauces.

What is Ziti?

Ziti, like a lot of pastas, is sometimes mistaken for the meals made with it, rather than the pasta itself. But, ziti is a specific size and shape of pasta, extruded from a pasta maker, and cut cleanly so that it has even edges. 

Ziti is suitable for a wide range of dishes. Bigger than macaroni noodles, and straight, ziti can be used with pasta sauces, but it’s also a particularly good noodle for baked pasta meals. 

That’s because baked pasta often involves the sauce getting thicker, plus larger pieces of vegetables, meat, and other ingredients. Ziti’s tube shape makes it a perfect pasta for this kind of dish. Its larger size helps it hold up during baking, without getting too soft or mushy, while the hollow shape helps carry more of the sauce and other ingredients for well-balanced bites. 

At the same time, ziti pasta is smaller and more delicate than rigatoni and manicotti, which work well when you want to stuff pasta. 

Different Types of Ziti?

When you make a dish with Ziti there are a ton of different ways to prepare the meal. One of the best-known classics is Baked Ziti, which is typically made by layering marinara or a tomato-meat sauce with ziti pasta and ricotta cheese, along with herby spices. 

But Ziti can be paired with almost any thicker sauce, and baked ziti can be made with alfredo sauce instead of marinara. 

Typically, Ziti isn’t made with olive oil sauces or other very thin sauces, mostly because those sauces don’t stick as well to this shape of pasta. Less sauce means less flavor, so save oil-based sauces for spaghetti, fettuccini, and other more suitable pastas. 

How Do You Make Ziti? 

We’re mostly going to focus on making Ziti dishes here, rather than making the pasta itself. However, if you are interested in making your own ziti pasta, here are a couple of tips. Get a pasta maker or a kitchen aid with good pasta-making attachments. This is an extruded pasta, so you always need a mold, it can’t be hand shaped. Secondly, the quality of both your flour and your eggs matters. Try to get the highest quality you can. 

As for making ziti dishes, we’d recommend making baked pasta with ziti for the most part. Penne and other pastas as more suitable for serving mixed together with a sauce, and ziti holds up better than those pastas in baking. 

Beyond that, feel free to experiment with different ingredients and sauces, and be sure to include plenty of herby spice flavors to make the most of this pasta’s texture. 

Delicious Ziti Ingredients To Try

Ziti ingredients are many and varied. You can make delicious ziti dishes with Italian sausage, meatballs, or completely vegetarian or vegan. Ricotta, mozzarella, and other white cheeses pair beautifully with ziti. While tomato sauces are most common, feel free to experiment with a good alfredo for a white ziti. 

Pair your pasta and sauce with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, leaf basil, bell peppers, onions, eggplant, or even cauliflower. 

Great Ziti Recipes You Should Try

Want to try a classic Baked Ziti recipe? The New York Times Cooking has a fantastic version that relies on classic combinations of ricotta, basil, and marinara for a delicious and comforting finish. 

Or, for a savory, cheesy, white Ziti, check out this White Ziti recipe from the Food Network. If you want to add some added veggies to this one, we’d recommend starting with onions, mushrooms, spinach, or eggplant. 

What Is Penne?

Penne is another very similar kind of pasta, but one that’s a bit better suited to mixing with finished sauce as opposed to baking with it. It’s a little larger, often more textured than Ziti, and has pointed triangular ends instead of evenly sliced pasta. 

Those differences mostly come from the differences in pasta-making practices in two different parts of Italy, like many of the differences between types of Italian pasta, but today those small changes help make for pasta perfectly suited to specific dishes. 

Rather than being perfect for layered pastas, like ziti, penne tends to shine with a pasta sauce with whole but finely chopped vegetables that can comfortably slide into and around the noodles in the sauce. 

Different Styles Of Penne

With Ziti we primarily focused on the different kinds of dishes made with ziti. But the possible range of dishes is even wider when it comes to penne. Almost anything you want to pair with pasta will pair well with penne. From a simple sauce of olive oil, pesto, and parmesan, to a vegetable-heavy marinara-like spaghetti sauce. 

However, there are two distinct styles of penne pasta, penne rigata, which is the textured and ridged form of penne most people think of, and penne lisce, which is perfectly smooth. 

Penne rigata is a lot more common in the United States, and in fact, may be the only kind of penne you can get from many grocery stores. However, penne lisce is a little more similar to ziti and is often the better option if you’re pairing it with a thick or baked sauce and cannot get ziti, or prefer slightly larger noodles. 

How Do You Make Penne? 

Penne is typically prepared from dry noodles, and only rarely with fresh. It’s almost always cooked separately from the sauce or salad it goes in, and is mixed in when the rest of the dish is almost completely finished. 

There are a lot of different ways to make penne, and, in the United States at least, penne is almost as popular as rotini as an ingredient in cold pasta dishes or pasta salads. 

But, the most common ways to make penne still involve cooking the penne and then adding to a pasta sauce for a delicious, warm, comforting meal! 

Penne Ingredients and Toppings To Experiment With

Penne pasta works with just about everything, though you’ll want to get the rigged penne rigata for any sauces that are on the thin side. 

Penne can even be used in salads, especially seafood salads, to provide some complex carbs and help make the meal more filling. Consider experimenting with different combinations of vegetables and sauces, protein sources, and levels of complexity. 

We’ve even seen great pasta made with blended tofu-based sauces. Since the penne helps the sauce fully coat the pasta, this is a great option for pasta sauces that are creamy and just a little clingy and helps make for a flavorful meal. 

Top Penne Recipes You’re Sure To Love

If you’re looking for different ways to prepare penne pasta we have a few different options to choose from. AllRecipes has a fantastic tomato basil penne recipe that gives you the best of the most classic pasta flavors. Or you could try Food’s take on a creamy garlic penne for a different, but just as tasty, classic. 

Want a lighter recipe? Why not try the penne pasta salad from Taste of Home?

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Ziti and Penne? 

While penne and ziti are very similar kinds of pasta, there are a few key differences you should remember when you’re cooking with them. 

  • Ziti works better in baked pasta than penne
  • Penne is a little larger than ziti, and can also come in textured versions. 
  • Textured penne, or penne rigata, is better for thinner sauces than Ziti
  • Ziti has straight edges and is a little smaller than penne, which has pointed edges. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Is Penne Or Ziti Healthier? 

Penne and ziti noodles are both made with the same ingredients, which means that they are just as healthy as one another on their own. What you make with them, though, can make a big difference in the meal. Penne might have a slight advantage here since it works better for lighter sauces and even pasta salads than ziti. 

Q2: Can You Make Baked Ziti with Penne? 

Yes, though it would probably be baked penne at that point rather than baked ziti. The main difference is that you’ll need to keep a closer eye on the penne to make sure it’s fully cooked, but not too soggy or mushy when you serve. 

Q3: Are penne and ziti the same? 

These two types of pasta are definitely very similar, but they aren’t entirely the same. Think of it as similar to the difference between spaghetti pasta and angel hair pasta. There is a difference, and some people prefer one over the other, but the differences are relatively small. 

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