Riganoti al forno is a perfect blend of hearty meat sauce, gooey cheese, and large pasta tubes baked to golden perfection - all in under 60 minutes.
The recipe requires only 20 minutes of hands-on preparation and 40 minutes in the oven for this beautiful Italian meal.
When you need a big, filling dinner for your family on a super busy day, rigatoni al forno has been always my number one choice.
I'll be honest, we eat Italian pasta dishes at least twice a week. Everyone is always in a mood for pasta at our home.
What does pasta al forno mean and why is it worth making?
"Pasta al forno" is an Italian phrase that translates as "baked pasta" in English. It is a way of preparing pasta by first boiling it partially and then baking it with other ingredients like sauces, cheeses, vegetables, and meats.
Lasagnas, baked ziti, and baked tortellini are all great examples of al forno pasta.
By baking, the pasta absorbs the flavors of sauce and cheeses and creates a great contrast in texture. The top layer crisps up adding a nice crunch, while the inside remains creamy and tender.
And baked pasta will always have a beautiful presentation without much effort. With its golden-brown top layer, bubbly cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh basil leaves, it's the ideal choice for any special occasion.
Ingredients and substitutions
You can find a full ingredient list with quantities in the recipe card below.
Rigatoni pasta - large, ridged tubes of pasta are perfect for baking, as the ridges and roomy interior create pockets to hold the sauce. Rigatoni also maintains its shape after boiling and baking. If you do not have rigatoni, you can use farfalle, rotini or ziti.
Ground beef - I used ground beef, but you can also use ground pork, Italian sausage, or a combination of both beef and pork meats.
Passata - traditional Italian strained tomatoes that are often used to make the bolognese sauce. You can also use a jar of store-bought marinara sauce instead.
Olive oil - for sauteing the onions and garlic.
Onion and fresh garlic - for flavor to add to the meat sauce.
Salt, herbs, and spices - passata usually has no salt, so feel free to add salt, some black pepper, dry parsley, etc. You can also add some Italian seasoning to the sauce.
Fresh basil - I add some chopped fresh basil to the sauce and also garnish with fresh leaves for serving.
Mozzarella - you will need grated mozzarella cheese. You can also use any other Italian shredded cheese blend you have on hand.
Grated Parmesan cheese- for serving.
How to make rigatoni al forno
1) Prepare the meat sauce. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add finely diced onions. Saute the onions over medium heat, stirring them often for about 2-3 minutes or until they become translucent. Now, add minced garlic cloves and cook them briefly for another minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic, as it will become bitter. Add ground beef and cook it until browned breaking it into smaller pieces.
Now, pour the passata. Add salt, pepper, and any other dry herbs to taste. Add chopped fresh basil or a dry one. Turn the heat to low, cover the skillet, and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes.
2) Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Add a package of rigatoni pasta and cook it for about 8-9 minutes, just until it becomes al dente. Use a colander to drain the pasta.
3) Assemble. In a large high-sided baking dish, add cooked pasta and meat sauce. Stir gently to combine. Stir in half of the shredded mozzarella. Spread the other half of the cheese as a top layer over the pasta.
4) Bake. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cover the baking dish with a foil and place it in a baking pan to prevent the splatters and it will be easier to take out the hot dish out of the oven when it is placed in a baking dish. Bake pasta for about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the top layer is golden brown. If you decide to use the broil to make it even crispier, ensure you are using a broil-safe baking dish.
5) Garnish and serve. Carefully, remove baked pasta from the oven and let it cool down for about 5-10 minutes. Garnish it with some fresh basil leaves on top. Serve with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Recipe short cut
You can use a store-bought quality marinara sauce to make the dish.
Recipe and serving tips
- Cook the pasta for only 8-9 minutes, as it will finish cooking in the oven.
- If the meat sauce is too dry, add a little bit of pasta water to thin it out.
- Rigatoni al forno is a complete meal and goes well with bread, salad, or a side of veggies.
How to store
Let the leftovers cool down at room temperature. If you have a lot of leftovers, consider dividing them between two or three containers to cool them down faster. You can keep it in the fridge for about 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
If you decide to freeze it ahead of time, skip the baking step. You can bake it from frozen for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Rigatoni Al Forno (Baked Rigatoni)
- 1 skillet
- 1 high-sided baking dish, 8 x 6 inch
- 1 large pot
- 1 spatula
- 1 pound (one package) rigatoni pasta
- 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 26 ounces passata (strained tomatoes) or marinara sauce
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan, for serving
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt skip if using marinara, it is already seasoned
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190C). Prepare high sided baking dish.
- In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and saute until translucent. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute. Add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking the meat into small pieces with a spatula.
- Pour passata and stir it to combine with the ground beef. Add roughly chopped fresh basil leaves. Season the sauce with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add a whole package of rigatoni pasta and boil it for about 8-9 minutes until it just becomes al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the baking dish right away.
- Combine the meat sauce with the pasta in a baking dish. Stir in one cup of shredded cheese. Sprinkle the second cup of cheese on top.
- Cover the dish tightly with foil and place it on a baking sheet for catching any splatters. Bake covered for about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minuted until the top is golden brown.
- Remove the dish from the oven and let it cool slightly. Garnish with fresh basil leaves before serving.