A plate of rigatoni pasta in a tomato sauce with cut basil rests by a cutting board with Pecorino Romano cheese and uncut basil leaves.

Ziti Vs Rigatoni – What’s The Difference?

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Ziti and rigatoni pastas may look similar, but they are different in not just how they look, but also how they are used and the texture that they provide, too.

What is the difference between ziti vs. rigatoni? The main difference between ziti and rigatoni is their shape and texture. Ziti has a narrower opening and usually a straight, straw-like shape. Rigatoni is shorter with a wider, straight-cut opening with spiral or straight ridges on the outside.

Read below to learn more about the differences and similarities between both these delicious types of pasta and how they are used. 

Ziti – The Wedding Pasta

Ziti is a pasta that originates from Campania, Italy. Its name lovingly translates to “the betrothed” – which is why it is the pasta of choice at weddings. 

This type of pasta shares a lot of characteristics with another, noticeably thicker extruded pasta called bucatini. 

Traditionally, ziti is made by forming 25 cm long tubes that need to be broken by hand (or by a machine) before they are cooked. But most commercial varieties of this pasta are sold pre-cut and ready to cook. 

The shape of ziti can also be confused with penne or other similar hollow and extruded kinds of pasta. But if you look closely, you will find ziti to have distinct characteristics. 

Here are some of its distinct features:


Ziti has a straight-cut opening on each side, unlike penne, which is cut at an angle. 

This pasta also has a narrower opening with a slightly elongated shape – if you think that ziti looks like little pasta logs, then you are not alone. This shape is quite iconic and is widely used in casseroles and pasta recipes

Even though this pasta may look flimsy, it has a thicker cross-section than other types of pasta. Think about it: a thinner and narrower pasta may have a compromised shape that could easily break when it’s folded into the sauce. To counter this, ziti has a slightly thicker width and a denser cross section. 

There are several regional varieties of ziti and each can have a slightly longer or shorter shape. But in general, ziti is known to have a slightly long, straw-like shape that can either be straight or slightly curved

For example, when making ziti at home, you can set the pasta extruder to produce either long or short shapes depending on how you want your pasta dish to look. 

Surface And Texture

On the surface, ziti has a smooth exterior, which gives it a very neat finish and helps add presentation points to regular pasta dishes. 

The smooth finish allows for pasta sauces to completely cover all sides while providing a very satisfying bite.

Perhaps the best thing about the shape of ziti is its ability to capture small chunks of sauce or meat inside the pasta!

The narrow opening on each side, along with the straw-like shape of the pasta, acts as a conduit for all the ingredients. Just lightly mixing this pasta can push the sauce inside the pasta!  

Ziti is usually sold as described above, but you can also find ridged varieties of this pasta shape. A “rigate” version of this pasta will have ridges that are similar to rigatoni or penne

But unless you specifically look for it, you will almost always find ziti to have a smooth, straw-like shape.

Rigatoni – The Pro-Sauce Pasta

Rigatoni is another iconic pasta shape that originates from Italy.

It is said to have been created during the 19th century with the help of mechanical pasta machines that started to pop up around Rome.

This pasta has been one of the default choices for chunky and thick sauces. The reason for this is partly because of its ridged texture, but mostly due to its other amazing characteristics. 

Here are some noteworthy qualities of rigatoni:


This pasta is slightly shorter, but wider than ziti. It shares the same straight-cut opening on each end which, along with its wider openings, amplifies the ability of this pasta to scoop up ingredients in sauces and retain flavor. 

At a glance, rigatoni can easily be confused with ziti if not for its unique ridge pattern. But if you look closely, you will see that rigatoni also has a slightly thinner wall thickness than ziti – which makes sense as this is a shorter pasta that can retain its shape better even when mixed and folded into sauces. 

Rigatoni can also be slightly curved, but this version is relatively rare and is usually found in homemade rigatoni. 

Surface And Texture

Rigatoni has ridges that run from one end to the other. These ridges can also go around in a spiral, which adds to the presentation and look of this pasta in numerous recipes. 

The ridges also add a bit of function to the pasta as it makes it easier for the sauce to “cling” onto the surface of rigatoni. 

This pasta provides a slightly different texture. When properly cooked, rigatoni will provide far more complexity than other types of pasta.

How Is Ziti Used?

Ziti is commonly used in tomato-based sauces, but can also be found in white pasta sauce recipes. 

Due to its relatively compact and uniform shape, ziti is the best pasta for casseroles as it allows for more layers of different ingredients than other wider kinds of pasta. 

It can also be paired with both thick and thin sauces and is usually served with veggies and different types of protein. 

An excellent characteristic of ziti is its presence on a plate. Since this pasta has an elongated, straw-like shape when unbroken, it can easily fill up the plate with just a few scoops. This means that you can try out gourmet or classy dishes using complex ingredients or garnishes. 

Don’t feel like going the fancy route? Get yourself some dried, pre-broken ziti pasta from the store and cook it just under al dente. Then use the pasta as a base for lasagna.

That’s right, you can use ziti as a replacement for regular sheets of lasagna!

In general, ziti provides a fantastic shape for all sorts of baked pasta recipes and, since it pairs well with all types of sauces, you can truly experiment with different ingredients and flavors using just this one pasta shape! 

How Is Rigatoni Used?

Rigatoni is similarly versatile and can be used in both white and red sauce recipes

The shape of this pasta, along with its wider opening, makes it one of the best pasta shapes for thicker sauces. If you enjoy bits and pieces of tuna, meat, or veggies then we highly recommend that you use rigatoni. 

Rigatoni can cling more of the sauce than ziti and, since it is slightly shorter, you can get an even meatier bite from it with just the right ratio of pasta and sauce. 

Just like ziti, try using rigatoni in baked recipes – or if you like classic pasta recipes, we highly recommend that you pair it with a minced-meat tomato sauce. 

For the best experience, you should pair rigatoni with creamy sauces with a medium or thick consistency. 

The hollow tube shape of the pasta will truly shine through when you use coarsely mixed meat pieces with a sauce that coats the inside and outside of the pasta. 

Several different recipes call for rigatoni, which speaks for its versatility and its ability to pair with just about any typical pasta ingredient. 

Check out below for a classic recipe for this delicious pasta! 

Cooking Times And Instructions 

Ziti and rigatoni share similar cooking instructions but differ in how much time each pasta shape requires to cook. 

Let’s start with ziti first.

You can use either freshly made or dried ziti. The freshly made variety takes significantly less time to cook but takes a lot of time in preparation – unless you have an automated pasta machine. 

How To Cook Ziti

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring water to boil and add salt to taste with just a bit of oil. 
  2. Add the dried ziti and let it cook undisturbed for about 14-15 minutes (45 seconds for fresh ziti). 
    • Ziti will take a bit longer to cook due to its thicker shape. You can also follow the cooking instructions mentioned on the back of the packet for more precise doneness. 
    • Adjust the cooking time as per the recipe. For casseroles, you may want to cook the pasta for a minute shorter than the recommended time to cook it al dente. 
  3. Use a spider utensil (give these a try) to take out the pasta, then drain the rest of the water. 
    • You can also keep some of the pasta water and use it later in pasta recipes. The water contains starch and flavor and can help thicken the sauce and rehydrate the pasta. 

How To Cook Rigatoni

  1. Portion out a serving of rigatoni and add it to a large pot with boiling water. Add salt and a bit of oil to season the mixture.
  2. Boil the rigatoni for about 12-14 minutes. Rigatoni should take less time than ziti due to its thinner shape but since there are several varieties of this pasta, you should always refer to the back of the packaging for more specific cooking instructions
  3. Take out a piece of rigatoni and taste it for doneness. The pasta shouldn’t be too soft nor too firm unless you want to cook it al dente. Once the pasta has been rendered, drain it using a spider utensil and optionally keep some of the pasta water on the side. 

Ziti Vs. Rigatoni – A Visual Comparison

Here is a quick summary of these two famous pasta shapes:

ShapeStraw-like shape with straight-cut endsWider and slightly shorter than ziti with straight-cut ends
TextureUsually smooth (ridged variety also available)Spiral or straight ridges
Length2 inches1.7 inches
Width0.4 inches0.6 inches
Wall Thickness1.25 millimeters1 millimeter
Cooking Time*14-15 minutes12-14 minutes
UsesBaked recipes, red and white pasta sauces, lasagna, etc. Great for pasta meals with light sauces with chunky meat
Notable CharacteristicsCan hold thick sauces inside pasta cavityCan cling sauce and trap meat chunks and vegetables along ridges and inside pasta cavity

*Cooking time may vary depending on the type of pasta dish. 

Are Ziti And Rigatoni Interchangeable? 

The great thing about both these pasta shapes is that they taste the same no matter how they are made – and since both pasta shapes share a lot of similarities, they can easily replace each other in a range of recipes. 

Will you feel a noticeable difference when using both these pasta shapes as a substitute for each other? Yes! But the difference won’t be enough to be a dealbreaker. 

See, apart from their slightly different textures and mouthfeel, these two pasta shapes are nearly identical. Sure, ziti is a bit thicker than rigatoni, but if they are cooked the right way, they will share a lot of the same distinct characteristics. 

In some cases, you can even use ziti “rigate” – or make fresh and customized ziti at home – with the same ridges as rigatoni. 

The only notable difference that you may notice may be in the context of making layered pasta dishes, like casseroles. 

The slightly wider shape of rigatoni might take up more space than ziti, which means that you will need to increase the pasta-to-sauce ratio in the casserole, which may end up affecting the overall texture and flavor of the dish. 

A simple fix for this might be to use a slightly larger dish to hold the rigatoni. This way, you can increase the ratio of the rest of the ingredients while substituting ziti with rigatoni! 

Classic Recipes For Ziti And Rigatoni 

The best way to highlight the difference between both pasta shapes is to share a classic recipe for each that captures the essence of the pasta!

Classic Baked Ziti

Check out this video from Joshua Weissman on YouTube, which shows how you can make a classic baked ziti recipe using two methods. It also dives into how you can make ziti at home using a pasta extruder!

Rigatoni Pastas

This simple recipe captures the essence of a creamy tomato rigatoni, while the video below from Jehan Powell on YouTube shows how rigatoni can be paired with simple sauces and complex meaty textures:

Related Questions

Both these pasta shapes have distinct qualities that make them stand out, and their fundamental similarities make them a great fit for a range of pasta dishes!

Now that you know the difference between these pasta shapes, here are some related questions:

Are penne pasta and rigatoni the same?

No. Penne pasta and rigatoni have the same ridged exterior, but they differ in how they look in small ways.

Rigatoni is known to have a straight-cut end on both sides with a wider opening while penne pasta is cut at an angle and doesn’t have a wider cavity like rigatoni. 

Are ziti and rigatoni stored the same way?

Yes. The general shape of both these pasta varieties has no bearing on how it is stored. Dried pasta should be stored in a cool and dark place. Keep the pasta away from moisture or heat for the best storage experience. 

Always follow the storage instructions on the packaging for the best results. 

Can ziti and rigatoni be made at home?

Ziti is a straightforward pasta shape that can be made at home using a simple pasta extruder. All you need is flour, water, and a capable pasta machine. 

Rigatoni might be a bit more difficult to shape by hand but if you have a customizable pasta maker, then you can easily make your very own batch of ziti and rigatoni at home! 

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