When it comes to Italian comfort food, there is nothing as delicious as rigatoni al forno! This baked pasta dish is hearty, cheesy and so satisfying. It has a rich sausage and tomato sauce and is covered in three cheeses.
Fall and winter to me means it's time to eat all the pasta! While I love my spicy vodka pasta, this rigatoni al forno is a baked cheesy pasta that I can't get enough of.
This is based on a typical Italian dish of pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and meat. After the sauce is made on the stove, it is baked to perfection!
What does 'pasta al forno' actually mean? It literally means baked pasta! I've made it with rigatoni but you can use other pasta shapes if you prefer. Think of this like a deconstructed lasagna!
Why you'll love this rigatoni al forno!
- This pasta dish is perfect for cheese lovers! With mozzarella, parmesan and ricotta, every bite is a cheesy delight.
- Using Italian sausage is going to infuse the sauce with a robust and savory flavor. This pasta recipe is so rich and delicious!
- You can customize this by using a different sausage, or pasta shape and adding more or less red chili flakes depending on how spicy you want it!
- This is perfect for feeding a crowd. Whether it's a family dinner, dinner party, or a gathering with friends, this is a real crowd-pleaser.
- Onion and Garlic: this is going to be the base for the sauce. You can use a white onion, brown onion or even shallots.
- Italian Sausage: I used Italian sausages that were seasoned with fennel, but feel free to use a different sausage flavor! I like using ones that have been seasoned with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of the sauce. You can also just use ground pork. If you're vegetarian you can use plant-based ground "meat".
- Rigatoni: it wouldn't be called rigatoni al forno without rigatoni! Feel free to swap it out for a different pasta shape, you'll want one that works well with a sauce like penne or a tube-shaped pasta.
- Bay Leaves: this is going to give a subtle flavor to the sauce as it simmers. Don't forget to take them out before you bake the pasta!
- Canned Crushed Tomatoes: I prefer to use crushed tomatoes but you can also use diced or whole tomatoes.
- Cheese: I'm using a trio of cheeses - mozzarella, parmesan and ricotta! The mozzarella melts beautifully on top of the baked pasta, while the parmesan adds a salty, sharp bite. The ricotta is going to make the topping super creamy. You can swap out parmesan for pecorino romano.
- Tomato Paste: this is a very thick paste, don't use tomato sauce or passata!
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1: In a dutch oven or a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once it simmers add the garlic and onion and cook for a few minutes, until fragrant. Add the sausage meat and let it brown.
Step 2: Add the chili flakes and ground pepper, stirring to break up the sausage meat. Add the tomato paste and cook until toasted.
Step 3: Add the canned chopped tomatoes, bay leaves and some salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat down to medium-low or low and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
Step 4: While the sauce is simmering cook the pasta according to package directions, but do 2 minutes less. Save a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
Step 5: Take the bay leaves out of the sauce. Taste and adjust the meat sauce, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Add 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the pasta to the meat sauce and stir to incorporate. You may want to add some pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
Step 6: Pour this pasta and sauce into a 7x11 or 9x13-inch baking dish (or keep in the dutch oven if that is what you used to make the sauce!). Top with grated parmesan cheese, ricotta and the remaining mozzarella. Bake in an oven preheated to 350ºFahrenheit/175ºCelsius for 20-22 minutes, or until the cheese on top has melted and is golden brown.
Expert Tips & Tricks
- Don't overcook the pasta! I recommend cooking it two minutes less than the package directions because it is going to continue cooking in the oven. This way you don't have soggy pasta.
- Save some pasta water! This is going to help you adjust the sauce consistency if needed.
- You can use a 7x11-inch baking dish, a 9x13-inch baking dish or a large dutch oven!
- If the top isn't as golden as you would like after baking, use the broiler for the last couple of minutes to get it super golden.
- Feel free to swap out pork sausages for ground chicken or turkey.
- Swap out the shredded mozzarella for cubed mozzarella!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, feel free to use penne, shells or another tubular pasta shape with ridges. This is going to hold on to the sauce better and won't get all floppy.
Yes! Either use plant-based ground "meat" or forget about the meat completely. You'll also want to skip out on the parmesan since parmesan is not vegetarian.
Store any cooled leftovers in the fridge, completely covered.
Try these recipes next!
Rigatoni Al Forno
- 1 7x11 baking dish or 9x13 baking dish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 lb Italian sausage
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 42 oz canned crushed tomatoes about 3 cans
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 lb dried rigatoni
- 8 oz shredded mozzarella
- ¾ cup grated parmesan
- ⅓ cup ricotta
- In a large dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Fry the garlic and onion until it begins to turn a light golden color.2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves
- Use a knife to slice your sausages down the middle and take the sausage meat out.1 lb Italian sausage
- Add the sausage meat and use a spoon to break it up, cooking and stirring until it turns brown. Also add the ground black pepper and chilli flakes. Then add tomato purée and cook for a minute until toasted.½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon red chili flakes, 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Once browned, pour in the chopped tomatoes, bay leaves, and salt. Let it simmer, then turn the heat down low and simmer for 25-30 minutes. It should become thick.2 bay leaves, 42 oz canned crushed tomatoes, 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- While that is simmering, bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water and add the pasta. Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than the packaging recommends, and be sure to save 1 cup of pasta water.1 lb dried rigatoni
- Preheat the oven to 350℉/175℃ and take out a large baking dish (7x11 or 9x13). If you're using a dutch oven you can bake the dish straight in the dutch oven instead of using a dish!
- Take out the bay leaves. Taste the meat sauce and adjust if needed with more pepper or salt.
- Add 1 cup of mozzarella and all of the pasta to the meat sauce and stir to incorporate. If it seems too thick you can add some of the pasta water.8 oz shredded mozzarella
- Pour into your baking dish or you can keep it in the dutch oven if you wish, and top with the remaining mozzarella as well as the parmesan and ricotta. Bake for 20-22 minutes.¾ cup grated parmesan, ⅓ cup ricotta