Penne Vs Ziti – What’s The Difference?

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Pasta is the king of comfort food, there is no doubt there. What’s even better is that pasta comes in all shapes, styles, and sizes, which means there are so many options to choose from.

However, it also means that there are some types of pasta that look very similar. When it comes to pasta, you need to know and appreciate the different shapes and types, no matter how similar they look.

All pasta is mostly made with the same ingredients, but the shape and size of the pasta will serve a very particular purpose, and interchanging them is not always a good idea.

Using the right pasta in a dish will help to increase the food experience.

What is the difference between penne and ziti? The main difference between penne and ziti is the angle that the tubular pasta shapes are cut at. Ziti is cut at more of a square angle, while penne is cut diagonally. While the two do look very similar, the meals they are used in and what they add to their dish differs.

To truly understand the differences between penne and ziti, keep reading to find out more!

What Is Penne?

Penne is a type of pasta that originated from Campania, in southwestern Italy.

The word penne is derived from the Italian word for “quill”, which is quite true to the shape of penne.

The ends of penne are cut at an angle, which helps to extend the surface area of the pasta, allowing quite a bit of sauce to be drawn into the pasta tube, making it perfect for super saucy pasta dishes where you want to savor every mouthful.

Penne can either be smooth, which is called lisce, or with ridges, which is called rigate. Most of us are familiar with the penne with ridges, as this is the most popular variety most commonly sold in stores and served at restaurants.

The ridged penne does tend to be sturdier, and with the added surface area from the ridges, can hold more sauce compared to smooth penne.

When cooking with penne, it is mostly used in saucy dishes, whether it is a smooth sauce or a chunky sauce with meat and vegetables. It works well with both oil-based and creamy sauces.

Penne is not commonly baked, and instead is used to soak up and hold sauce, tossed freshly together, and served straight away.

The size of penne is usually around 1 ½-inches long, and around 1/2 an inch in diameter. This is the perfect bite-size size, and with the way that penne is shaped, you are sure to get a good amount of sauce in each bite!

What Is Ziti?

Ziti is a type of pasta that originates from Naples, Italy, which is also in the Campania region.

The name ziti is derived from the Italian word for “bridegroom”.

This is because ziti was traditionally served at a wedding lunch, usually as the first course.

The name has stuck thanks to this tradition!

Unlike the popular ridged penne, ziti is a smooth pasta, with the ends cut in a straight edge rather than at an angle. This makes it quite easy to distinguish just by having a look at the pasta.

Ziti is initially made into a long tube, which is around 10-inches long and ¼ of an inch in diameter. However, it is then cut down into smaller tubes, which are around 0.6 of an inch long, but this can range to be smaller as well.

Ziti is commonly longer than penne, making it more tubular in appearance, which is accentuated more by the straight cut edges.

Most of the time when ziti is cooked, it is baked into a casserole-type pasta dish.

It is often cooked al dente before being added to the casserole dish, which means it is cooked underdone, and then added to the other ingredients and sauce, and baked.

Baking the ziti more helps it to cook through, and infuses all of the ingredients together to create a beautifully comforting dish!

The tubes of ziti pasta absorb and hold onto sauce when baking, and topped with some cheese, make for a delicious dish.

The Differences Between Penne And Ziti

It is easy to see why one might become confused with penne and ziti at first, and to be honest, most of us have been the one confused between the two and using one in place of the other.

However, taking a little bit of time and attention, the differences between the two become quite clear.

The two are both part of the extruded pasta group, which means that when they are made, they are pushed out of a pasta machine into a tubular shape.

Other than the ingredients used to make them, this is where most of the similarities end. 

Just as a note, there are many different ways to make all types of pasta. Spaghetti is rolled out into sheets and then sliced into the very thin spaghetti strips we know.

Ravioli is rolled out into a thin sheet, cut into shape, filled with a filling, and then folded and cut.

Here are some of the differences between penne and ziti:

How The Ends Are Cut

When it comes to the biggest difference between the two, the most noticeable is that ziti is cut at a square angle and penne is cut at a diagonal angle.

This leaves ziti tubes cut bluntly at the ends, but penne with a protruding angle, which extends the surface area of the pasta.

Being cut at a square angle, ziti does have more of a tubular appearance than penne, which is more similar to a quill.

The long diagonal edge of penne makes it great to use in saucy pasta dishes, as this picks up and holds the sauce within the penne.

Ziti on the other hand is best used in a baked pasta dish, as it absorbs the sauces and flavors well within the tubes.


Ziti always has a smooth texture. As it is most commonly cooked slightly before being added to a baked dish, and then baked and cooked more, it is usually quite soft and buttery when eaten.

Penne can be either smooth or finished with ridges. The ridged type of penne is the most common and is the type that most of us are familiar with.

When cooked, penne does hold on to some of its rigidity and gives more of an al dente finish.

The texture of the two, especially with the ridged version of penne, help to easily tell the two apart.


There is no difference in flavor between penne and ziti, but it being food, the flavor is worth noting. Both are made using much the same ingredients and in much the same way.

The flavor difference between ziti and penne would depend on the sauce and other ingredients that they are served with.

Penne is traditionally served tossed fresh with a sauce, and ziti being baked with other ingredients in a casserole type method.

So while the two do not have different tastes as pasta on their own, when added to their respective styles of cooking, the flavor does change.

How They Are Cooked

Both pastas would need to be boiled in water before being served, and penne is cooked fully this way, while ziti is cooked slightly in boiled water and then is cooked fully when baked in the oven.

So penne is boiled in salted water until al dente, allowing it to still be slightly rigid and a bit chewy, but still soft enough to enjoy with a sauce.

Ziti is boiled and then baked, giving it a soft, buttery texture once cooked and baked.

The Dishes They Are Served In

Ziti is traditionally baked in the oven along with other ingredients and sauces to form a casserole-type dish. This can be topped with cheese which then melts too. This can be a creamy sauce or a tomato-based sauce.

Baking the ziti in the sauce helps it all work together and the pasta absorbs the different flavors and moisture.

Penne is served fresh tossed with a sauce. This sauce can be cream or oil-based, and just about anything in between. It could be a simple pesto sauce, or it can be a sauce that is chunky from the addition of meat and vegetables.

Why Pasta Shapes Matter

For many people, pasta is pasta and if you don’t have spaghetti you can use penne, or if you run out of ziti, rigatoni can be used instead.

While this can technically be done, it is important to remember that pasta shapes are purposeful, and are made to suit different dishes, sauces, and ingredients.

There are many types of pasta sauces out there. From thick, heavy, and chunky sauces, to watery, thin sauces. These sauces can be made with oil bases, cream bases, butter bases, or even tomato bases.

The different sauce options are fairly endless, but the important part is to know what pasta to pair with what sauce.

Tomato-based sauces are fairly popular and often contain meat and vegetables. Oil-based sauces often take the form of a pesto-dish, and a butter sauce can include carbonara.

All these sauces will interact with different pasta shapes in various ways, and complimenting the sauce to the pasta can make a dish wonderful.

Thinner pasta types, such as spaghetti, are best for thinner, watery sauces. These watery sauces help to separate the pasta strands, making them easier to eat.

Thicker sauces deserve a thicker, hardier pasta, such as penne. Spaghetti would get lost in a thick meat and vegetable ragu, whereas penne would hold onto the sauce well and be easy to eat along with the meat and vegetable pieces.

However, at the end of the day, if you prefer one pasta with a certain sauce to the next, there is no reason you can’t make it that way.

Both penne and ziti have their benefits with certain meals, but this doesn’t mean you can’t experiment a bit and see which works for you best.

What Is Rigatoni?

When considering the differences between penne and ziti, rigatoni is often included in the debate. 

Rigatoni is shorter and wider than both penne and ziti.

It can be slightly curved or straight, but it is never as curved as what macaroni usually is. It is a popular pasta used in Sicily, where it is a must in many traditional dishes.

The name rigatoni comes from the Italian word for ridged or grooved, “rigate”, as rigatoni, like penne, has ridges down its length. These ridges can either go straight down or they can curve around the pasta.

The ends of rigatoni are square cut, like ziti, whether it is straight or curved. The curves of rigatoni and the ridges make it a great option to use in thick, chunky sauces, as it holds onto them well and still gives heart to the dish.

It can also be used in baked pasta dishes too. So if you can’t decide whether to use ziti or penne, rigatoni is a great mix of both and can be used in quite a few ways, so you can experiment with different dishes to see what works best for you!

Do Both Ziti And Penne Work With Cheese?

Nothing is as tasty as cheese sprinkled over freshly cooked pasta with sauce. Did you know the type of pasta you are using determines how well the cheese sticks to the actual pasta?

Penne, being ridged and with sharp edges, holds onto melted cheese beautifully. The cheese sticks to the surface of the penne, ensuring you get a mouthful of pasta, cheese, and sauce.

Ziti, however, does not hold onto melted cheese very well, as the smooth surface can be quite slippery.

There is a saving grace though – when baking ziti, a good, thick layer of cheese on top is sure to make a difference, and you will still get to enjoy pasta, cheese, and sauce!

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over the differences between penne and ziti, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!

Can you substitute penne for ziti?

While ziti and penne are made to be cooked in different dishes, you can substitute penne for ziti.

Penne will do well in a baked pasta dish, and just like ziti, will absorb and hold onto the sauce and different flavors in the baked pasta dish.

What pasta can I use instead of ziti?

If you do not have ziti at home but want to make a baked pasta dish, your substitute options include penne or rigatoni. Both are similar to ziti and will work well in a pasta dish.

Is rigatoni or ziti larger?

Rigatoni is larger than ziti, but ziti can be cut to different lengths. Typically, rigatoni is around 1.8-inches long, whereas ziti is around 0.6-inches long, so there is quite a big difference in size.

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