WHAT IS ZITI?
Popular at weddings, the name “ziti” is rumored to come from the word “zita” or “bride”. These short, narrow tubes are often used in baked macaroni dishes (ziti al forno) in Italian American recipes. While this cut looks similar to penne (both are short, hollow tubes), there are two differences. Penne is cut on an angle vs. ziti’s straight cut. And penne tends to have about twice the diameter of ziti (though they are similar in length). So when it comes to smuggling sauce into your mouth, penne works better which accounts for ziti’s popularity in baked dishes.
WHERE IS ZITI MADE?
The southern Italian island of Sicily though the baked version has come to be largely associated with Italian American cuisine. Like many recipes, Sicilian ones evolved as Italian Americans handed them down to future generations and substituted whatever ingredients were locally available (so less eggplant and more hamburger meat).
IS THE ZITI DISH IN THE MOVIE “BIG NIGHT” PART OF A METAPHOR?
There is a cult classic among film fans called “Big Night“. It stars two brothers from Abruzzo who serve a final meal before closing their American restaurant in New Jersey. Throughout the movie Italian immigrants are shown trying to hold onto their roots vs. moving forward when two different cultures are involved. The final dish in question is timpano (aka timballo), a pasta al forno (baked) pasta dish that among many other things uses ziti. The film used one of the actor’s actual family recipes which you can see here.
WHAT SAUCES GO WELL WITH THIS PASTA?
Though most people don’t realize that the secret to an amazing baked ziti is to give the dish some time to let the flavors blend and settle (overnight), and to re-heat it on a stovetop. Huffpost had a good description “Here’s what you do: Make your baked ziti — one that’s purely marinara and cheese, no meat (i.e. no grease)…. Let it cool in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Then, to reheat it, use a big kitchen knife and slice the ziti into brick-sized slabs. Heat oil in a pan on medium high and carefully place the brick of ziti into the hot pan. Sear it on the four sides with the most surface area. Watch as the cheese starts to melt and form a beautiful crunchy crust. ” For a good marinara sauce recipe to use with this dish, click here!