Okay so I have never officially had “ziti” until this evening. I always hear people talk about it. Never really knew much about it though. What I’ve discovered is I think us folks in boonie land call it penne. When you go to baby showers and weddings here a lot of the catering places offer a dish called penne. Penne is simply the poor man’s (or woman’s) ziti if I am guessing correctly. Penne is made with little or no meat and little or no cheese. The ziti recipes I found had cheese and most had meat, although some did not. So in my mind I think of ziti as amped up penne. Or if I can make another assessment I think ziti is the easy way of doing lasagna. If I can break it all down for you, penne-good, ziti-good, lasagna- good! No such thing as bad pasta.

So I looked over a few recipes and adapted about 5 into my own idea of what I thought it should be. I mean considering I’ve never officially had it I could run with it right? Not like I had anything to compare it to. If I screwed it up it’s not like we’d know. So here it is in all it’s glory and hopefully I did it justice. I really enjoyed it so I think I did okay.


1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 large bag of penne noodles
2 cans of spaghetti sauce ( I used Hunt’s,one regular,one roasted garlic and herb)
3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup of saved pasta water
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese


Brown ground beef in a large skillet.

Add sauce, tomato paste, sugar, bay leaves, basil, oregano, garlic powder, chili powder and salt and cook on medium high until it bubbles. Then reduce heat and simmer while you start the water for noodles. Make sure you stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add some salt to the water. Add penne noodles and cook until they are firm but not mushy. Takes about 8-10 minutes. Do not overcook.

Drain but do not rinse. Make sure you save some of the pasta water in case you want to adjust your sauce a bit. Put the cooked noodles back in the pot.

Add your sauce into the pot and stir well. At this time you can decide if you need to add some pasta water to it. I like to add it to help the flavor and also it helps the sauce stick to the noodles as well as thickens it up, makes it creamier.

In a large casserole put a layer of pasta mix, then add half your parmesan, then half your mozzarella. Then repeat these steps for a second layer.

Place in a preheated 350- 375 degree oven for about 15- 20 minutes. I would suggest covering it with foil for half that time. That way your cheese stays creamy and the top does not crisp up too much.

Serve and enjoy.

Not the best picture but was hungry so didn’t do the dress it up part. If I was going for pretty I would add some fresh herbs on top for a little splash of oh-la-la. Now this was delish and I will definitely make it again. Very yummy!

A bit about cooking pasta. I’m not a pro chef but I have learned a couple things recently concerning pasta. We all are afraid of salt. I sure am with high blood pressure. Yet it is important to add it to the water. You don’t have to go cuckoo and add the whole shaker. A little is better than none. Also we all tend to think rinsing the pasta is important. I know for me I was told it removed the starch and made it “healthier”. Don’t rinse it folks. It tastes and mixes better if you don’t. Save a bit of water before you dump it out. This can work wonders for sauces that need some oomph. It helps the taste, it helps the consistency, and dog gone it, all great Italian cooks do this. So follow their lead, they know their stuff. You will be amazed at the difference in taste.

Hope you enjoy this recipe. More to come for sure. I am having a blast experimenting and bringing you along on my cooking journey. I’ve got a few die-hard favorites coming up soon. As always I will try new recipes and show you how they turn out. So keep popping in to the lunatics kitchen. Thanks to everyone who has been following me. Toodles. xx

Photos are missing due to a G+ incident. They will be restored soon!

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  1. Amy says

    Hello! Your friendly Italian has stepped in…penne and ziti are two separate type of pasta noodle. Typically, ziti is a short, smooth wide-ish tube shape where penne is typically short, narrow grooved (not always) tube with tapered ends. So it can be the same dish, but just depends on the noodle used :) Usually it's baked ziti, and penne is used in dishes such as penne a la vodka. Or if you're like me and have multiple pasta boxes open and don't have enough of one kind….just throw it together :) Tastes the same and a lot of time the different noodles will be used interchangeably.

    Usually when I make baked ziti I am pretty basic. I will use either a regular sauce or a meat sauce (if I have chopped meat on hand) and then just ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella. It's much quicker than making lasagna but different in texture.

  2. Kim Bee says

    Thanks to my fave friendly Italian. Here's the problem in boonie land. I cannot buy ziti noodles here in town. We have 2 crappy stores. Penne is the viable option. I am also trying to find campanelle which means I will have to make a trip to the city to one of the fancy grocery stores. How sad is that? I did find pancetta and proscuitto here though so it's progress I suppose.

    I am afraid to try different cheeses. I have to admit that. I have not tried marscapone, or ricotta. It terrifies me. I am looking to try making manicotti though so I know I must get over my cheese fear.

    I had the best vodka penne at a restaurant and am dying to try making it at home. It was so yummy. Best pasta I have ever had.

  3. Amy says

    I loooooooooove penne a la vodka. I'm a huge pink sauce fan. Hmm…I love ricotta. I can eat it right out of the tub. It has a pretty mild flavor and it has a gritty, creamy texture. Sometimes I like to put a dollop on a plate if I have regular pasta and mix it in. I've never had marscapone by it's self, but I adore tiramisu and it's in it.

    That sucks on your grocery stores…our stop and shop has a whole pasta aisle with tons of different pastas by different brands. We also have a place close by that does fresh pasta.

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