Ziti vs Penne Pasta – What’s Different? What’s the Same?

The world has a love affair with pasta, plain and simple. The Italian staple food has conquered more of the world than even the British Empire as some variant of it can be found pretty much everywhere in the world.

Since it’s such a cheap, accessible, convenient, and versatile food, it’s popularity shouldn’t be much of a surprise. In fact, in a survey by Oxfam, it was actually rated as the world’s most popular food.

However, not all pasta is identical, in fact far from it. While all of the members of the pasta family are “familiar” they’re anything but completely similar.

The different varieties of pasta (of which there are over 54 types) range from classics like spaghetti and macaroni to others like ravioli or even the more far-flung Chinese version, rice vermicelli. Some of them can be quite difficult to tell apart if you’re not a pasta aficionado or even a frequent pasta eater.

Two types of pasta that are very easily confused are ziti and penne pasta. 

Today I’ll show you the ins and outs of ziti vs penne. Deepen your pasta knowledge by learning the texture of each type of pasta and which is the best choice for your next dish. 

Ziti vs Penne Similarities

Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be small or big, long or short, or even bow-tie shaped or shaped like little pillows stuffed with meat and cheese goodness. But some of the most common shapes are hollow cylinders, which is what makes ziti and penne so similar.

They’re also both made via the extrusion process. This is where the pasta dough is forced through a die that gives it the shape.

Ziti and penne are also similar in how versatile they are. I think consciously or subconsciously we all know this since it’s pretty likely that there is a box of either penne or ziti in your pantry right now, ready to be used for whatever sauce you decide to whip up. 

Ziti vs Penne Differences

Knowing the difference between ziti and penne is what separates pasta connoisseurs from casual fans. The differences are quite subtle but evident once you know what to look for.

The biggest giveaway for penne is that it’s cut at an angle. It’s because of this angular cut that it’s called penne, as penne means “quill” in Italian.

Freshly Boiled Penne Pasta
Freshly Boiled Penne Pasta

Penne also has two forms. It can be smooth or have ridges. The smooth version is called penne lisce and the ridged one is called penne rigate.

Another difference between the two is the dimensions. Penne is 2.12 inches long and 0.4 inches wide with 1mm thick walls. Ziti, on the other hand, is 2 inches long and 0.4 inches wide with 1.25mm walls.  

Ziti vs Penne Difference
Cooked Ziti – take note of the more rounded shape!

Ziti vs Penne Preparation

One additional difference between ziti and penne is how it’s most commonly prepared. Let’s take a closer look at the best way to prepare each one.

How to Prepare Ziti

While penne is cooked and then put in a sauce or used in pasta salad, ziti is usually prepared by stuffing it and then baking it.

A common Italian-American dish is baked ziti. To make this, ziti pasta is boiled separately until it’s nearly, but not completely, done.

It’s then combined with a tomato sauce and other ingredients. This can include various meats and cheeses as well as vegetables like onions, mushrooms, and/or peppers. It’s then baked and the result is cheesy, meaty, baked pasta goodness. 

How to Prepare Penne

As I mentioned before, penne is generally used more often than ziti when making classic pasta and sauce dishes or with pasta salad. But no matter if you are making a classic (real) Italian dish like penne arrabbiata or a fusion dish like a cajun pasta bake, you will first boil the pasta and then use it according to what the recipe calls for.

Traditionally, however, it’s cooked al dente. Its shape makes it particularly adapted for sauces like pesto, marinara, or the aforementioned arrabbiata. 

Serving Ziti vs Penne

Though the taste of cooked penne and ziti is the same if you eat them without sauce, it’s what you serve them with that makes all the difference. Let’s take a look at what each pasta goes best with.

What does Ziti Go Best With?

Ziti, which means “bride” or ”groom” in the Sicilian dialect, is a common component of a wedding buffet.

Another dish called Tianu d’Aragona also features ziti and is traditionally cooked during Easter in Italy.

What is common in both of these instances, and amongst others in which ziti is prepared, is that it’s not the main course so it’s not paired with anything.

However, if it’s served as a main course like with baked ziti, a side salad with a light vinaigrette, an Italian-style cooked vegetable like zucchini, or a classic like garlic bread with olive oil.

For the wine drinkers out there I recommend a montipulciano d’bruzzo as a nice drink pairing. 

What Does Penne Go Best With?

Penne can go well with almost anything. As I mentioned before it can be used in a variety of sauces or even a pasta salad.

However I think it’s best with chunky meat or vegetable sauces, since its ridges and hollow shape can hold the sauce very well.

Like the ziti dishes and many other pasta dishes, a side salad or garlic bread is a classic accompaniment. You can’t go wrong with either (or both!) of them.

Recommended Ziti and Penne Recipes

Italian food can be quite controversial at times, particularly in the United States, due to the high number of Italian immigrants into the country that brought along with them their own family recipes. But of course, the ingredients found in rural Italy can’t always be found elsewhere so for many Italians, this sparked some creative substitutions and entirely new Italian-inspired foods.

The “controversy” is then in defining what is exactly Italian food or Italian-American food.

For many of us growing up, things like veal/chicken parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread (with butter), or shrimp scampi are considered “Italian”.  But in truth, it’s an Italian-American adaptation.

Here are some recipes that I think are super tasty and are a mix of traditional, Italian-American, and Italian fusion dishes.

Baked Ziti 

Baked Ziti

This is a classic Italian-American dish and one of my favorite pasta bake dishes. It’s a hearty pasta bake that’s loaded with flavor (and cheese of course!) You can find a delicious baked ziti and sausage recipe here.

Neapolitan Ziti

This is a tasty traditional Campanian dish that’s simple, yet delicious, however, it does take some time to make the sauce and bake. So if you aren’t rushed for time, this recipe is a great classic Italian dish. 

Ziti alla Genovese 

This is a great pasta dish from Naples, despite its name that suggests that it’s from Genoa. This mysteriously-named pasta dish is truly delicious and unlike the other two ziti recipes previously mentioned, as it’s not a baked dish. So if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of baking or you just prefer the stove, this ziti recipe is for you

Chicken Alfredo Bake

This is an amazing baked dish that uses penne. It’s even creamier and richer than baked ziti. So if you are not counting calories or taking a cheat day, this mozzarella and parmesan loaded recipe is for you. 

Jambalaya Pasta

This Italian-Cajun fusion dish is just as it sounds. Jambalaya and Penne came together and had a beautiful cajun pasta baby. If you are in the mood to spice up your pasta night, then this recipe is for you.