There are approximately 350 different dried pastas produced in Italy made from durum wheat and semolina flour. "Penne" and "ziti" are two popular dried pastas that are sometimes used interchangeably in stores, recipes and restaurants, due labeling discrepancies when the pastas were initially exported, according to Sanjeev Kapoor ‘s “Noodles & Pasta.” And though they hail from the same region in Southwestern Italy, there are differences in the two styles of pasta and their preparation.
In Italian, the word penne is the plural form of “penna,” which means pen. The pasta was given this name because its diagonal edge resembles the quill tip pen. A short tubular pasta from the Campania region of Italy, penne is particularly popular in Naples.
Though ziti is another hollow pasta from the Campania region, its name has a completely different meaning. It is derived from the Italian word “zita,” which means a young woman who is about to get married. The pasta has this matrimonial association, because it was traditional eaten at wedding ceremonies.
Measuring around 1 1/2 inches, penne is available in three versions: “penne lisce” which has a smooth surface, the more ridged version known as “penne rigate” and the larger size noodle known as “pennioni.”
Traditional ziti measures around 18 inches and is normally broken into two before cooking. The surface of the noodle is usually smooth. There is a larger version of ziti known as zitoni, which is prepared in a similar fashion as its thinner counterpart.
In the Campania region of Italy, ziti is often prepared as pasta “al forno” or an oven-baked casserole. The broken dried noodles is boiled in salted water for approximately eight minutes, so that the pasta is still a bit uncooked. Afterwards, it is added to a shallow casserole dish with the sauce, topped with cheese and baked until the pasta is tender, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted.
Penne is not normally baked in Italian preparations, but instead boiled and eaten with sauce. The pasta is first cooked for 12 to 15 minutes (until "al dente"), in boiling water. After it is drained it is normally tossed in a shallow frying pan with sauce and plated.
In Italy short pastas are normally accompanied by thick sauces, such as a rich tomato or cream-based sauce, because they are designed to scoop up all the flavoring. Penne pasta does just that, making it the pasta of choice for the Neapolitan dish “Penne all'Arrabiata,” which is penne tossed in a peppery tomato sauce. Another popular dishes is “penne alla vodka”- or penne in a heavy cream and vodka sauce.
Traditional ziti dishes, mirror lasagna dishes, using rich sauce and various cheeses. “Pasticcio di ziti” is the traditional dish from Naples, which is a casserole that includes tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella. Baked ziti dishes can also contain meat and vegetables, as such as the Italian “ziti al gratin con cime di rapa,” which is a baked ziti with broccoli rabe, Italian béchamel sauce, topped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.