Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition
Food and Nutrition

Ultimate Guide to Rigatoni vs Ziti vs Penne Pasta Types

Jump to RecipeThree noodles, one rigatoni, one penne, and one ziti.

Rigatoni, ziti, and penne are all tube shaped pasta that you have probably had or seen in the store. You may be wondering what the difference is between these pasta shapes or what one you should be using. This post will go over the differences and similarities of these pasta shapes. It will also give you some recipe ideas to use for your next pasta night!

Different Shapes of Pasta

These three different types of pasta may look very similar but that each have their own unique qualities. They are all used widely in Italian cuisine and there are different ways to enjoy each. The unique flavor and unique shape of each pasta shape pairs well with all different dishes.

Rigatoni

Rigatoni is characterized by its large, tube-shaped noodles with ridges on the outer surface. The name "rigatoni" is derived from the Italian word "rigato," which means "ridged" or "lined.”

The exact origins and the specific timeline of rigatoni's development are not well-documented, as pasta shapes have been evolving for centuries. However, it is believed that rigatoni emerged as a distinct pasta shape during the 19th century, gaining popularity alongside other tube-shaped pasta varieties like penne and ziti.

Rigatoni pasta is typically made from durum wheat flour and water, although some variations may include eggs. It is a versatile pasta shape that can be used in various dishes and sauces. The ridges on rigatoni help to hold onto sauce, making it suitable for hearty, thick, and chunky sauces that can cling to the pasta. The hollow center of rigatoni also lets it hold the sauce and flavor the pasta from the inside.

Out of the three, rigatoni has the largest surface area.

Rigatoni can be served with a wide range of sauces, such as tomato-based sauces, creamy sauces, meat sauces, or vegetable-based sauces. It can be baked in casseroles or used in pasta salads. Due to its large size, rigatoni is often favored for dishes where the pasta needs to stand up to bold flavors and richer ingredients.

Ziti

Ziti is a similar shape as it also a long, hollow, and cylindrical shape. The main difference between ziti and rigatoni is the absence of ridges on the outer surface of ziti. Instead, ziti has a smooth surface. Ziti is also a little smaller than rigatoni.

Ziti is also made from durum wheat flour and water, although egg variations can also be found. The hollow center of ziti allows for even cooking and provides a space for sauces to cling to the pasta.

Ziti is commonly used in baked pasta dishes such as baked ziti, where it is cooked until al dente, mixed with sauce (usually tomato-based), and then baked with cheese and other ingredients until golden and bubbly. The hollow shape of ziti helps to trap the sauce, resulting in a flavorful and hearty dish.

Apart from baked dishes, ziti can also be used in other pasta recipes, such as pasta salads, casseroles, or served with various sauces like marinara, Alfredo, or pesto. Its versatility and ability to hold sauces make it a popular choice for a wide range of pasta dishes.

Penne

Penne is another popular type of pasta that originated in Italy. It is also a tube-like shape, but penne has diagonal cuts at the ends, resulting in a distinctive angled edge. Penne pasta can be found in various sizes, including regular penne and smaller versions like penne rigate or pennette. Similarly to rigatoni, penne has a ridged surface that helps hold on to the pasta sauce.

The diagonal cuts on the ends of penne allow it to have a larger surface area, which helps it hold onto sauces and ingredients.

Penne is incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes. It is commonly used with thick and chunky sauces, as well as cream-based sauces, making it suitable for both meat and vegetarian pasta recipes. The hollow center of penne also allows it to cook evenly and capture and distribute flavors throughout the pasta.

Penne pasta is commonly used in baked pasta dishes like penne alla vodka or penne al forno, where it is cooked al dente, mixed with sauce and other ingredients, and then baked in the oven with cheese or breadcrumbs on top. It is also a popular choice for pasta salads, stir-fries, and skillet dishes.

Rigatoni, penne, and ziti noodle.

How these pasta shapes are made

For the most part, these pasta shapes are made with some type of pasta extruder. This pushes pasta dough through a shaped disk to form the individual noodles.

These pasta shapes can also be made by hand by rolling pasta sheets over a round dowel. This is very time consuming and not a common way to make them.

Best Sauce for Rigatoni

Since rigatoni is the largest of the 3, it works the best for thicker, chunky sauces. The thick sauce can get into the noodle. Here are a few ways to use rigatoni.

  • Chunky, heartier sauces: Rigatoni's ridges and large size are good choice for holding robust tomato sauces with chunks of vegetables or meat. If you have thicker sauces, rigatoni is an excellent choice.
  • Creamy sauces: Rigatoni's hollow center can capture creamy sauces, such as Alfredo or vodka sauce, creating a rich and indulgent dish.
  • Baked dishes: Rigatoni's shape is ideal for baked pasta dishes like rigatoni alla Norma or rigatoni al forno, where it is combined with sauce, cheese, and other ingredients, and baked to perfection.

Best Sauce for Ziti

The smooth texture of ziti makes it great for baked pasta and pasta salads.

  • Baked Pasta: The most common use for ziti is in a baked ziti dish. Since it doesn’t have the ridges on the outside, baking the pasta helps meld the flavor of the sauce with the noodles.
  • Pasta Salad: Ziti is a little smaller than the other 2 and that size works great in a pasta salad when you have other items finely chopped.

Best Sauce for Penne

Penne is an all around great choice for most pasta dishes. It has the ridges like rigatoni with the smaller size like ziti. This makes it the perfect pasta for most types of dishes.

  • Chunky vegetable or meat sauces: Penne's angled edges and hollow center make it suitable for hearty sauces with chunks of vegetables, ground meat, or sausage.
  • Tomato-based sauces: Penne pairs well with classic marinara or Bolognese sauces, allowing the sauce to cling to the pasta and provide a burst of flavor in every bite.
  • Creamy, buttery sauces: Penne works well with creamy sauces like carbonara or mushroom sauce, creating a satisfying and comforting dish.
  • Lighter sauces: If you are looking for something you can use light sauces or olive oil with, penne is a great option! The thin sauces stick to noodles and they have a small enough shape that the sauce to noodle ratio is perfect.

Similarities

You may notice that a lot of the sauces overlap. These kinds of pasta are very similar shapes so most of the time you can use the same sauce for different shapes.

All 3 are medium sized pasta shapes with a tube like structure with hollow centers. Typically, they are all made with durum wheat flour and water but can be made as fresh pasta with eggs as well.

Substitutions

You may find that certain pasta types are hard to find. I know that personally I have a hard time finding ziti. If you can't find one of these in the pasta aisle, you can swap out all of these pasta shapes for each other. They are a little different but most of the time another one will work.

I have found that penne is the easiest to find and it works great in place of ziti or rigatoni.

If you can’t find rigatoni swap it for penne before ziti. Penne is a little bigger and it has ridges in the noodles unlike ziti.

Rigatoni Recipes

If you are looking for more ways to use rigatoni, here are a few recipes that you should try:

Plate of spicy vodka rigatoni.
The Best Spicy Vodka Rigatoni

Ziti Recipes

If you are looking for a good ziti pasta, you will often find a baked pasta dish. Here are  2 versions a baked ziti pasta:

Penne Recipes

Spinach and artichoke pasta bake in a glass baking dish.s
Spinach and Artichoke Pasta Bake

No matter which pasta shape you use, these tubular pasta work great at emphasizing the delicious sauces that are paired with.

What is your favorite pasta type? Let us know in the comments.

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