Rigatoni al Forno, literally ‘Rigatoni from the oven,’ is Italian comfort food at its best. Pasta baked in a flavorful tomato sauce with oodles of delicious mozzarella cheese. It is virtually impossible to mess up this simple recipe.
This simple Baked Rigatoni dish is a cousin to other baked pasta dishes you’ll find in various regions of Italy, like lasagna in Emilia-Romagna or baked ziti in the South. But it’s got its unique twist with rigatoni, that delightfully ridged pasta perfect for trapping sauce and cheese.
Rigatoni itself hails from Central and Southern Italy. Its name comes from the Italian word “rigati,” which means “ridged.” Those ridges are handy as they grip onto that saucy, meaty goodness like a champ.
Why You Will Love this Rigatoni al Forno
In a nutshell, this recipe produces a baking dish filled with chewy, tubular pasta melded with a rich, herby, and meaty tomato sauce and pockets of ooey-gooey mozzarella. But if you are looking for more reasons:
- Flavor Bomb: Every ingredient plays a role here, from the sautéed garlic and onion to the lush tomato puree and paste. You get layers of flavor in each bite.
- Cheese Heaven: Mozzarella and parmesan team up to give you that “cheese pull” moment.
- Versatile: Feel like tweaking? Swap out the meat, use different cheeses, or even add some extra veggies. Make it your own!
- Crowd-Pleaser: Perfect for family dinners, potlucks, or impressing dinner guests. Let’s just say empty plates will be a common sight.
- Easy Peasy: If you can boil water and operate an oven, you’ve got this. Plus, your kitchen will smell like an Italian bistro!
- Make it Ahead and Store Leftover: Make Rigatoni al Forno and freeze or refrigerate it before you bake it for a quick dinner option.
- Need to Bring Dinner for a New Mom or Sick Friend? Yup, this baked pasta dish is always a winner.
Ingredients in Rigatoni al Forno
- Diced Onion: Go for a yellow or white onion for a classic, savory base. Red could work if you like a bit of sweetness. Work on a nice, small dice for a smoother sauce.
- Minced Garlic: Fresh garlic is always best!
- Olive Oil: Extra virgin if you can swing it, but don’t stress. It’s mainly for sautéing the onion and garlic.
- Italian Seasoning: A premixed Italian seasoning blend is easy, but you could totally substitute it with oregano, basil, and thyme.
- Ground Meat: Traditionally, you’ll see ground beef, pork, veal, or a blend in Rigatoni al Forno. But we use turkey for a lighter version. Or consider Italian sausage for a spicy kick. Feel free to combine or use what you have.
- Tomato Puree: Look for San Marzano for the best taste. If you don’t have tomato puree in the pantry, tip a can of whole tomatoes in the blender or food processor!
- Tomato Paste: This gives a flavor punch.
- Dry Wine: Red will give you depth, and white will keep it light. It’s totally up to you. And hey, a glass for the chef, am I right?
- Mozzarella: Fresh is best, with block mozzarella coming in second. Avoid pre-shredded if at all possible. Pre-shredded cheese is often drier in general and often coated with an anti-caking agent, which might make your dish less ooey-gooey and gritty.
- Shredded Parmesan: Same as above!
- Fresh Basil: Fresh really makes a difference here.
- Salt and Pepper: Just taste as you go.
- Dry Rigatoni: Use regular for a traditional Rigatoni al Forno. While I like to use Banza or other healthier pasta in general, I find that the gluten-free pasta ‘crumbles’ during baking more than regular pasta.
Substitutions and Variations
- Veggie Delight: Ditch the meat and load up on mushrooms, bell peppers, and zucchini for a vegetarian twist.
- Spicy Kick: Toss in some red pepper flakes or a bit of spicy sausage to bring the heat.
- Ricotta Cheese: Dollop some on top before baking for creamy pockets of goodness.
- Vegan Cheese: If you’re going dairy-free, there are some convincing vegan cheeses.
- Penne: If rigatoni’s not your jam, penne is a great stand-in.
- Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free pasta if you’ve got dietary restrictions. Bear in mind that the texture of gluten-free is different from regular pasta.
Wine & Liquid Subs:
- Chicken or Veggie Broth: If wine’s not on the menu, broth adds depth.
Toppings & Extras:
- Olives or Capers: For a Mediterranean vibe, sprinkle these on before baking.
- Crunchy Breadcrumbs: A layer on top before baking will add a nice textural contrast.
Making Rigatoni al Forno
Making this baked pasta dish couldn’t be easier.
Sautee onions and garlic until transparent, then add your ground meat and sautee until it is cooked through. At this point, you’ll add your tomato products, spices, and wine and let that delicious meat sauce simmer a bit while you cook the rigatoni. Make sure to remove the pasta from the stove 2 minutes before the package indicates for al dente; you want it less cooked than al dente as it will continue to cook while it is baking. Save some cooking water in case you need to add more liquid to your pasta sauce.
At this point, you will make two layers in your baking dish. Each layer is half of the rigatoni/sauce mixture, mozzarella, parmesan, and basil, in that order.
If you are baking it now, ensure your oven is preheated to 400° F (190° C). Bake for 25-30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.
You Can Make your Rigatoni al Forno Ahead of Time
Whip up your meaty tomato sauce a day or two in advance and store it in the fridge. The flavors will meld and become even more amazing.
Boil your rigatoni until it’s just under al dente. Drain and cool it down by running it under cool water. Save some pasta water in case you need more liquid in your sauce.
Dice your mozzarella and grate your parmesan ahead of time. Store them in separate containers in the fridge.
Combine the pasta and the sauce on the day you plan to serve it. Then, layer your pasta/sauce mixture, cheeses, and basil in your baking dish and pop it in the oven. Voila!
Make the Rigatoni al Forno according to the recipe and place it in a freezer-safe baking dish. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and then follow up with a layer of aluminum foil. This double-wrap action helps prevent freezer burn. You can safely freeze this dish for 2-3 months.
When you are ready to bake your Rigatoni, you can either thaw it overnight in the fridge or bake it straight from frozen. Just know that if you bake it from frozen, you’ll need to add some extra time to the original bake duration.
Before you bake the pasta, remove the plastic wrap and the foil.
Kitchen Tips for Delicious Rigatoni al Forno
- Cheese: Skip the pre-shredded stuff and grate or dice your own. Fresh mozzarella and quality Parmesan can make all the difference.
- Meat: Opt for fresh, high-quality ground meat.
- Onion & Garlic: Sauté until they’re translucent but not browned to avoid a bitter taste.
- Sauce: Let it simmer for a while to meld the flavors. You can even add a bay leaf or a pinch of sugar to enhance the tomato flavor.
- Pasta: Cook it al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want mushy pasta.
Layer Like a Pro:
- Cheese Every Layer: Don’t just save the cheese for the top. Sprinkle some between the layers of pasta and sauce for gooey goodness throughout.
- Sauce at the Bottom: Start with a sauce layer at the dish’s bottom to prevent sticking.
- Top Layer: End with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan and a few dollops of sauce so the pasta doesn’t dry out.
- Preheat: Ensure your oven is fully preheated before popping the dish in.
- Bake Uncovered: This helps the top get that scrumptious golden crust. But if it starts to brown too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
- Rest: Let the dish sit for a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. It helps the sauce thicken and flavors to settle.
- Fresh Herbs: A sprinkle of fresh basil or parsley before serving can bring a pop of color and flavor.
- Extra Cheese: I mean, can you really have too much? A final sprinkle of Parmesan before serving is never a bad idea.
How to Store Your Leftover Baked Rigatoni
Let your Rigatoni al Forno cool down to room temperature before you start packing it away. Place leftovers in an airtight container and store them in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
If you’ve got more than you can handle, Rigatoni Al Forno freezes beautifully. Portion it into freezer-safe containers, and you have future meals ready to go. Just remember to thaw it overnight in the fridge before reheating. For best results, reheat in the oven at 350°F until warmed through. If you’re in a hurry, microwaving works, too, but you might lose some of that delightful texture.
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 teaspoons italian seasoning
- 1 pound ground meat (turkey, chicken, beef, pork, sausage or a mix)
- 28 ounces of tomato puree (see note 1)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup of dry wine (red or white)
- 14 ounces or approximately 2 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese, cubed (see note 2)
- 4 ounces of shredded or grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 16 ounces of dry rigatoni
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Saute diced onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, until translucent. Add minced garlic and saute for 2 more minutes. Watch carefully so that the onions and garlic don't brown.
- Add ground meat to onions and garlic, breaking the meat into fine mince. Saute until meat is cooked through.
- Add tomato puree, tomato paste, spices, and wine to the meat and onion mixture.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
- While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the rigatoni.
- Cook the rigatoni 2 minutes less than directed for al dente.
- Drain the rigatoni and add it to the sauce.
- Place half of the sauce/pasta mixture to the bottom of your baking dish.
- Spread half of both cheeses and half of the basil over the pasta and sauce.
- Then add the remaining pasta/sauce over top, followed by the remaining cheese and basil.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and bubbly.
- Sprinkle fresh basil over top before serving.
Note 1: If you don't have tomato puree, you can puree 28 ounces of whole tomatoes in a blender or food processor.
Note 2: Fresh is best, with block mozzarella coming in second. Avoid pre-shredded if at all possible. Pre-shredded cheese is often drier in general and often coated with an anti-caking agent, which might make your dish less ooey-gooey and gritty.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 487Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 90mgSodium: 599mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 4gSugar: 7gProtein: 33g
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