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WHY no ziti in the Western US?

I've been aware of this geographical disparity but realized I have no idea why it is so. It doesn't seem to be like the difference between a hero, a grinder, and a hoagie. If I'm understanding it correctly, ziti is essentially smooth penne with flat cut ends. Are there other differences............ I mean beside the fact that your grandmother made baked ZITI, not baked smooth penne?

Mostly, I'd like to know HOW something so much a part of family dining in the East could have totally disappeared West of the whatever divide. I've never seen Ziti in the pasta aisle at any major market in SoCal............... though I'm sure I'd probably find it a someplace like Claro's Italian market.

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  1. "I've never seen Ziti in the pasta aisle at any major market in SoCal............... "


    Really? I know for a fact that Barilla (in that ubiquitous blue box) makes ziti pasta. And Barilla is in just about every major supermarket chain in SoCal (Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions, etc.).

    Are you talking about something else? Fresh ziti, maybe? Even that's pretty easy to find.

    1. I'm prolly missing some other distinction, but having grown up on the east coast for a while, and living mostly in Chicago, with a few years here and there in the southwest, I think ziti is called either penne or mostaccioli once you cross the Mississippi. Baked Mostacioli is on a lot of menus.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        i don't know about the geographic dividing line, but indeed mostaccioli = mezze penne, but ziti is something else -- according to this handy dandy chart: http://www.food-info.net/uk/products/...

        you gotta love the italians!

        1. Ziti in Chicago (and maybe elsewhere west) are mostaccioli. In southern Italy, mostaccioli can also refer to a honey-sweetened Christmas cookie, whose shape and flavor vary locally. Penne are neither ziti nor mostaccioli. Back in the day, the now-common, short ziti used to be called mezzani or mezza (half) ziti, since the base form was a 12' long narrow tube, which my grandmother would break in two by hand. Some large and traditional Italian markets still sell these longer ziti. Ziti are not rigatoni, either, since they are not grooved (rigati) but smooth (lisci), although they can share the same dimensions. The chart linked to below is from a UK source and only complicates matter for US buyers. Hope this can help clear up a delightful mess.

          4 Replies
          1. re: bob96

            but doesn't the UK chart deal with the italian names? how does that complicate matters -- it should resolve them (unless it is incorrect)?

            1. re: alkapal

              Only meant that the plethora of synonyms it offers can confuse an even more confusing domestic lexicon, which changes over time: for me, and for many of my generation I suppose, fusilli were always the long fusilli col buco (hole) rather than the short form shown here and so common today. Spaghetti is often called vermicelli in Naples, but anyone assuming they're the same in the US would be misled. Dat's all.

            2. re: bob96

              Hey bob96. I think I wish I had met your grandmother. Did she make fusilli with a ferretto?

              Mostaccioli, the cookies, are found in Rome too and are wonderful. The name derives from "mosto," grape must, which was used as a sweetener even in antiquity and is still the basis of traditional sweet-and-sour dishes.

              In "Encyclopedia of Pasta" mostaccioli are synonymous with penne (i.e., bias cut), and that is what I recall from the US (East coast). Ziti (also known as zite in southern Italy) are tubular and cut straight across. I believe the industrially made ones are narrower than penne. They are of Sicilian origin (though found throughout the south) and, as you say, were originally long. The name means "grooms" or, for zite, "brides", and they used to be served at weddings. (How "zita," bride relates to "zitella," old maid, would be a tangent onto which I'm not going to venture.)

              Pasta names are wildly variable from place to place (way below the regional level), so it's not surprising that different manufacturers and different areas of the US display a certain inconsistency or fluidity of terminology.

              1. re: mbfant

                Nonna only made simple tagliatelle--even though she was born in Calabria the only fusilli we had were Ronzoni's, in the era before mass imports like DeCecco. The pasta rolled around a slim iron rod, or ferretto, is still common in Calabria (called, variously, fileja, fusilli, or maccaruni 'a casa, in my encounters, and always served with a ragu) and the south in general. I'm now totally confused about the penne/ziti/mostaccioli connection, but in most of the US today, ziti are always straight cut, narrow tubes about 3" long. Some imported, "artisanal" pasta brands may use different names, though, for this cut. Whatever it's called, I love it.

            3. I do think penne and ziti are pretty much the same thing. If there is a difference it may be that ziti is cut flat on the ends and penne is cut on the diagonal. I may need to recheck the shelves if ipse's right, but I just don't recall seeing the word ziti on pasta packages here.

              On the other hand, if you look at the link below (from the National Pasta Association) what they show as 'ziti' is much longer and thinner than penne, and I'm pretty positive I don't see what's in that picture on market shelves here. And.............. it doesn't look like what my converted-Italian Aunt used to make.


              15 Replies
              1. re: Midlife

                Penne translates as quills or feathers, and refers to the angle- cut ends that do resemble the ends of old quill pens. The ziti image you show might refer to the long form ziti, scarce on supermarket shelves.

                1. re: Midlife

                  DeCecco makes ziti too, they have it at Gelsons.

                  1. re: BubblyOne

                    I've honestly never seen anything with the name 'ziti' on it in a regular market that I can recall, but there's a Gelson's near me I'll check next time I'm there. Funny, but DeCecco's website lists ziti but NOT mostaccioli. http://www.dececcousa.com/Pasta/

                    Now................... the next question would be whether there's any real difference between baked ziti, baked mostaccioli, and baked penne.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      Pasta that is ribbed definitely has a different texture than smooth, and holds up differently.

                      1. re: coll

                        I agree with you, coll, on pasta with lines definitely having a different texture than pasta with no lines - plus, it seems to hold the sauce better. Prince Pasta makes "ziti with lines", but I've just started using penne, as I prefer the smaller noodle. I still call it baked ziti, however. :-)

                        And then there's the dreaded Noodleous Doubleous: http://www.fred.net/tds/noodles/noodl... (Although cooking the pasta for 18 minutes is absolute sacrilege!)

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Thanks for that one, Linda! It puts some of CH's scientific pissing contests into perspective.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            LOL! I like to think that Sam would have enjoyed that experiment for the fun of it. :-)

                            1. re: LindaWhit

                              I like to use pipette for pasta carbonara, because I put frozen peas in at the end and most of them wind up cupped in the pasta like a jai-alai cesta and pelota. Maybe a study of the percentage is in order.....

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Campanelle pasta does the same thing with peas :-).

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  Chula!! Have not been to a game in many years.!

                            2. re: LindaWhit

                              Hey Linda- I think you are on to something with the dish called "baked ziti". I'm wondering if it isn't just now used as a generic name by some for that type of casserole. I've made/had many a baked ziti, with pasta other than ziti here in CA.

                              1. re: BubblyOne

                                Aha!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think you're probably right, but then the question is.....................

                                Is it REALLY baked ziti if it's not made with ziti?????

                                I'm not sure I want to start that one.

                                  1. re: BubblyOne

                                    Is NOTHING sacred any more??? :o)))))

                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      LOL..I see you are in OC, it's at the Gelsons Newport and Dana Point.

                    2. there is no ziti in the UK I had never heard of it before 5 years ago.

                      1. Olive Garden and Maggiano’s have Ziti on their menu.

                        1. I think there's something to this poster's perception. I won't be surprised if people might find Eastern USA style ziti pasta here and there in a CA supermarket. But pasta shapes are one thing; food cultures are another. I think the issue is the relatively low profile of Italian-American families in CA and the West. Analogous cases might emerge with Jewish-American foods. Plus, isn't baked ziti one of those dishes especially likely to feature at informal multifamily gatherings, potlucks, etc.? That might reinforce its profile in the Northeast. The West is not famous for how close together extended families live, resulting in fewer gatherings defined by family traditions.

                          I spent many years living at various places on the West Coast (CA, mainly). During that time I was a devoted food explorer, as I still am. But I literally had never even heard of ziti until I began to spend time in the Northeast (upstate NY). Maybe baked ziti was on a menu here or there in CA, but the dish just didn't really have much visibility. It was never what's for dinner.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Bada Bing

                            Another factor is that the Italian-Americans on the West Coast (or at least, San Francisco) are primarily from a different geographical region than the ones on the East Coast. Most Italian immigrants to San Francisco were from Genoa and Lucca and not southern Italy like most Italian immigrants to the East Coast. This difference is reflected in what emerged as the dominant cooking styles on each coast.

                            I grew up in the Bay Area and I never heard of baked ziti until I started reading chowhound.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              The more widespread Italian name for this is pasta al forno, using any short, tubular cut, baked with any combo of cheeses (usually mozzarella and a grated cheese), sometimes small meatballs, sometimes with sliced, fried eggplant, always tomato sauce. It's a common family dish throughout the south, originally, now widespread. The more elaborate stuffed shells (or, in Naples, stuffed paccheri) is a more elaborate festive spinoff, the filling either ricotta or meat.

                              1. re: bob96

                                In the Boston area, a chain called Comella's calls this "The Mess". They have a wide variety of add-in choices so I think they make a mega-batch with pasta, sauce, and cheese, then mix in the customer's extras and finish under a salamander. The one I visited had only a few crowded tables but a booming takeout business in hot custom orders and ready-to-bake chilled/frozen pans of it. http://www.allmenus.com/ma/newton/150...

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  If they stuck it under a salamander, wouldn't it come out all crunchy? I hate crunchy baked ziti.

                          2. I was raised in the Southwest and had never heard of it until my work took us to Long Island back in the mid '70's. We were there 4 years and everything was baked ziti. Every wedding, funeral, party, everything. Have some baked ziti !, Mmmm baked ziti ! Oh boy, baked ziti ! ...........

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                              Funny, mrbig! And too true. Luckily, I love a good baked ziti, so the routine of them was never one of life's tougher hurdles.

                            2. i wonder what is the southern equivalent to italian-american "baked ziti" as a cultural marker. i'll try and come up with what is the southerner's go-to baked dish. <not kraft mac n' cheese, perhaps homemade mac n' cheese... but i don't think so>.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: alkapal

                                What about that 'chicken spaghetti' stuff they make in Texas?

                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  no, i don't think that is common throughout the "deep south" (or even "the south") -- at least not in my experience. maybe this merits a thread? i know there was a thread a while back regarding regional dishes.

                                    1. re: bbqboy

                                      that's just it -- it is memphis. what i'm trying to figure out is the southern equivalent of "baked ziti," namely "so widespread a baked dish or casserole" that you'll find it at virtually every family, church or social gathering in the south.

                                      i'm going to start a thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/723545 -- and i won't limit it to being baked.

                              2. Oh, edited to add that my Pollock PNW mom made baked ziti for us growing up, too.

                                1. I get the feeling from my limited travels that back east "red sauce" Italian is more of a big thing, and baked Ziti really falls on that side of the dividing line Out west, Italian food seems to be more "white sauce" and not red and white table cloths.

                                  1. From the Boston area: In the supermarket today, I noticed the Barilla section had ziti, mini ziti, AND mostaccioli and penne. Mostaccioli, which according to this thread is the ziti equivalent west of the Mississippi, is a somewhat larger version of penne, slant-ended and non-ridged.

                                    I just wish the pasta manufacturers would make more than just a few common shapes of whole grain/whole wheat pasta. It seems to be a trend, but is moving slowly.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      Don't pass by the Barilla Campanelle (already mentioned above). It is the most perfect tubular pasta. And mini penne is always in my pantry in the winter for soup.

                                      When i make baked ziti for my husband (not crazy for it myself) I always use two types of pasta to make it more interesting: for example half ziti and half penne. It's such a boring dish to me, albeit beloved by so many.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Interesting--Barilla's mostaccioli is more like the cut found by this name in Italy. Any Chicagoan would bet the bungalow on mostaccioli = flat cut = ziti.

                                      2. I was at my local Ralphs in So. CA last night and saw ziti from both DaVinci brand and Barilla brands.