As pasta consumption increases around the world, so too does the variety of pasta types. With an estimated 350 pasta types made in Italy, it’s not surprising that some of them look similar.
Two commonly confused pasta shapes are ziti and penne. They’re both cylindrical-shaped, hollow pasta that often get used interchangeably. But, they have subtle differences and each has specific uses in Italian cooking. This guide explains the difference between ziti and penne pasta. By the end of this page, you’ll never mix them up again.
What’s the difference between ziti and penne pasta?
Ziti and penne are both varieties of pasta that are shaped like tubes. Penne has diagonal ends like a quill pen, while ziti has straight ends like a pipe. Each pasta has a similar taste and texture, so it’s fine to substitute one for the other in recipes.
- Ziti was first made in Campania, Italy. Its name originated from the word zito, which can be translated as “bridegroom”. Pasta is traditionally eaten at weddings which explains the association.
- Penne also originated in Campania and has a diagonal edge that looks a lot like a quill tip pen. It’s this shape that resulted in the name penne, which translates to pens.
Comparing penne and ziti
The differences lie in the shape; these subtle contrasts mean that each works better in certain dishes. Let’s look at these differences:
The ends: each end of penne pasta is cut diagonally which differs from the straight cut ends of ziti. The ends of ziti look like a tube.
The length: penne measures about 1½ inches whereas ziti ranges from 1½ – 3 inches. It can also be sold in 10″ pieces or even longer which are broken into pieces when cooked.
The Diameter: Ziti is ¼ inch whilst penne is larger at ½ inch.
Their variations: Penne can be smooth or ridged whereas ziti is usually smooth.
The key differences summarized
|How the ends look||Cut diagonally like a quill pen||Straight ends like a pipe|
|Length||1 ½ inches||1 ½ - 10 inches, sometimes longer|
|Diameter||½ inch||¼ inch|
|Surface||Smooth or ridged||Usually smooth|
How to use each pasta like a true Italian
In Italy, penne is traditionally boiled for 12 minutes until al dente then combined with sauce in a shallow pan.
Ziti is often cooked for only 5-8 minutes until it starts to soften but it still undercooked. It then gets added to a casserole dish with cheese and baked until deliciously browned on top. This dish is a lot like Mac n Cheese.
Penne pairs with
Although penne pairs well with almost any sauce, it works brilliantly with chunky sauce, big hunks of meat, and vegetables. Oil-based or cream sauces both complement penne well.
Ziti Pairs with
Similar to penne, ziti pairs well in baked dishes with chunky sauces and meat. Ziti also makes a smart addition to stir-fries and salads.
- Pasta with ridges allows the sauce to stick to it better than smooth pasta.
- You’ll find it’s easier to overcook ziti. Penne is thicker and can tolerate longer cooking times.
Ziti Pasta salad
Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes
- 3 cups ziti pasta
- 5 rashers of bacon, diced into small pieces
- 1 tsp dry mustard powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup spring onions, chopped finely
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup cooked peas
- Heat a large pot of salted water on high heat until boiling then reduce the heat to medium and add the ziti pasta. Cook until al dente then drain and rinse the pasta in cool water then set aside in a bowl.
- Cook bacon on medium heat until cooked then remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Mix mustard, paprika, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.
- Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream and seasoning together in a large bowl. Add the pasta, spring onions, tomatoes, and peas until the pasta is well coated with sauce.
Note: If you love creamy pasta recipes be sure to check out our seafood pasta recipe that is loaded with shrimps and oysters.
Penne pasta with tuna and tomato sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 cups passata
- 2x 5.6oz (160g) tins of tuna, drained
- 1 ½ Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups penne pasta
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- Continental parsley, to garnish
- Grated parmesan, to garnish
- Pour the oil into a frying pan on medium heat. Once heated, add onion and cook until tender (about 5 minutes).
- Toss in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
- Pour in the passata, then add tuna and tomato paste. Mix ingredients together until the tuna is well distributed then allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Cook the penne pasta as per the packet instructions then drain and then stir in the tuna sauce.
- Garnish with continental parsley and parmesan.
If you’ve only got penne in the pantry and your recipe calls for ziti don’t stress. You can use the two interchangeably as most wouldn’t notice the difference. But if Nonna is coming to visit from Italy and you want to impress, you’d better not drop the ball on this one. She’ll notice if food is her thing – and let’s face it, food is always their thing.