Classic Pasta al Forno Recipe (Italian Baked Pasta)

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Pasta al Forno Recipe (Italian Baked Pasta)– the ultimate comfort food! The combination of savory meat sauce, melted cheeses, and perfectly cooked pasta creates a baked pasta dish with rich and comforting flavors the whole family loves.

Enjoy with a side of crusty bread and a green salad.

baked cheesy classic pasta al forno recipe out of the oven in a white baking pan.
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Best Pasta Al Forno

The aroma of this pasta dish baking in the oven will fill your kitchen with a nostalgic and homely feeling, making it perfect for cozy family meals. Great for large crowds, special occasions, or any time you are craving a classic Italian recipe.

Baking the dish in the oven allows the flavors to meld and creates a golden-brown, slightly crispy top layer of cheese for added texture.

You will also love White Baked Ziti and Lasagna alla Bolognese.

a big bowl of pasta al forno with a fork in it!

Simple Ingredients

This recipe follows traditional Italian cooking techniques and uses authentic ingredients, giving you a taste of Italy in every bite.

ingredients for recipe.
  • Rigatoni: Large, ridged pasta tubes that hold sauces well. Adds a hearty texture to the dish.
  • Olive Oil: Used for cooking and adds a rich, fruity flavor to the dish.
  • Onion: Finely chopped for a savory base, providing depth of flavor to the meat sauce.
  • Ground Pork: Adds a juicy and flavorful element to the meat sauce.
  • Italian Sausage: Infuses the dish with a mix of spices, herbs, and a slightly spicy kick.
  • Tomato Puree (Passata): Smooth, concentrated tomato sauce that forms the base of the meat sauce.
  • Fresh Basil Leaves: Torn basil leaves add a fresh and aromatic note to the sauce.
  • Salt: Enhances the overall flavor of the dish. Used in both the pasta water and meat sauce.
  • Black Pepper: Freshly ground black pepper adds warmth and a subtle kick.
  • Mozzarella Cheese: Freshly grated for a gooey and melty layer, providing that classic cheesy goodness.
  • Parmigiano Cheese: Grated over the top for a nutty and savory finish, enhancing the overall richness.

See the recipe card for quantities.

How to Make Pasta Al Forno (step-by-step instructions)

This easy pasta al forno comes together with a few simple steps.

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: brown the onions and meat in a pan.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. 
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add finely chopped onion and cook until softened.

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: browning the meat in the pan.

Add ground pork and Italian sausage (casing removed), breaking it up with a spoon. Cook until browned.

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: adding the tomato passata to the pan.

Pour in tomato puree (passata). Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: adding basil to the pan with meat and sauce.

Add the basil during last 5 minutes of cooking.

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: add al dente pasta to the meat sauce and mix.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni according to the package instructions until 3 minutes before al dente (it will keep cooking in the oven). Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. 

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: add half of the cheese

Assemble Pasta al Forno: Combine the cooked rigatoni and reserved pasta water in the pan with the meat sauce (if the pan isn’t large enough, mix in a large bowl). Stir well to combine. It will be saucy with the extra pasta water. 

How to make classic pasta al forno step-by-step: add final cheese on top.


Add 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of the parmigiano cheese and stir to combine.

baked cheesy classic pasta al forno recipe out of the oven in a white baking pan.

Add the pasta mixture into the prepared pan and finish with the remaining mozzarella and parmigiano cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the top is golden brown.
Serve: Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.

baked cheesy classic pasta al forno recipe out of the oven in a white baking pan.

You will love this hearty meat sauce baked in the oven with cheese and pasta until perfectly golden brown. Yum!

Substitutions

  • Rigatoni: Substitute with other types of pasta: short pasta shapes like penne or ziti if rigatoni pasta is not available.
  • Tomato Puree (Passata): Crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce can be used instead of passata.
  • Ground Pork: Ground beef, ground turkey, or ground chicken are a great substitute.
  • Italian Sausage: Replace with any sausage variety you prefer, such as spicy sausage, chicken sausage, or even plant-based sausage for a vegetarian option.
  • Mozzarella Cheese: Any meltable cheese like provolone or a blend can be used as a substitute.
  • Parmigiano Cheese: Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano can be used instead of Parmigiano (parmesan cheese) for a similar nutty and salty flavor.
baked cheesy classic pasta al forno recipe out of the oven in a white baking pan. Serving spoon lifting up the pasta al forno with a cheese pull.

Variations

Here are some variations and creative twists you can try with the classic Italian Pasta al Forno recipe:

  • Vegetarian Versions: Skip the meat and double up on veggies. Add layers of sautéed mushrooms, spinach, zucchini, and bell peppers for a flavorful vegetarian version.
  • Spicy Pasta al Forno: Add crushed red pepper flakes or diced jalapeños to the meat sauce for a spicy kick. You can also use spicy Italian sausage for extra heat.
  • Four Cheese Pasta al Forno: Mix different types of cheeses such as fontina, gouda, or provolone along with mozzarella and parmigiano for a rich and gooey four-cheese version. Even a little creamy bechamel sauce (cheesy sauce) to add a creamy texture.
  • Eggplant Parmesan Pasta al Forno: Roast or grill slices of eggplant and layer them between the pasta for a delicious eggplant Parmesan-inspired variation.
a big bowl of pasta al forno with a fork in it!

Equipment

My favorite 9×13 inch baking pan! It’s amazing quality and lasts forever.

How to Store and Reheat

Store:

  • Allow the Pasta al Forno to cool to room temperature before storing.
  • Place any leftovers in an airtight container or cover the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Reheat:

  • Oven Method:
    • Preheat your oven to around 350°F (175°C).
    • Place the Pasta al Forno in an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil to prevent drying, and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until heated through.
  • Stovetop Method:
    • Heat a skillet or pan on medium heat.
    • Add a bit of olive oil or water to prevent sticking.
    • Reheat the Pasta al Forno, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly heated.

Pasta al Forno reheats well, and the flavors often deepen the next day, making it a fantastic option for leftovers.

Top tips for best results

  • Al Dente Pasta: Cook the pasta al dente (firm to the bite) before baking to ensure it maintains a good texture during the final baking.
  • Flavorful Meat Sauce: Take time to develop the flavors in the meat sauce. Simmering with herbs and spices enhances the overall taste.
  • Freshly Grated Cheese: Grate the mozzarella and parmigiano cheese fresh from the block for optimal melt and flavor. Pre-shredded cheese may contain anti-caking agents that affect texture.

FAQs

Can I make this dish ahead of time?

Yes, you can assemble the Pasta al Forno ahead of time and refrigerate it. Bake it when you’re ready to serve. It’s a great time-saver for busy days or when entertaining.

What does pasta al forno mean?

“Pasta al Forno” is an Italian term that translates to “Baked Pasta” in English.

What is the difference between lasagna and pasta al forno?

Lasagna features wide, flat pasta sheets layered with ingredients like ricotta, béchamel sauce, and various meats. In contrast, Pasta al Forno utilizes different pasta shapes, such as rigatoni or penne, mixed with a meat sauce, cheeses, and sometimes vegetables. Lasagna is known for its distinct layering, resulting in square or rectangular slices with a creamy texture from the béchamel sauce. Pasta al Forno is more about a cohesive mix of pasta, sauce, and ingredients, often served in a scooped or sliced manner, providing a different texture and presentation.

cover photo pasta al forno

Looking for other recipes? Try these:

Serving Suggestions

A long list of ideas in this: what to serve with baked pasta post. Here are a few:

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cover photo pasta al forno

Classic Pasta Al Forno Recipe

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5 from 2 reviews

This classic dish is a delightful blend of pasta, savory meat sauce, and gooey melted cheese—a perfect comfort food.

  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 68 servings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 1 pound rigatoni or ziti pasta (plus reserved pasta water)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs ground pork sausage
  • 6 oz , or 2 Italian sausage links, casings removed
  • 3 cups (1 24oz jar or can) tomato puree or passata
  • 3 basil leaves, torn
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste), plus extra for salting pasta cooking water
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, freshly grated from a block of cheese
  • 1 cup parmigiano cheese, freshly grated

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. 
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add finely chopped onion and cook until softened. Add ground pork and Italian sausage (casing removed), breaking it up with a spoon. Cook until browned.
  3. Pour in tomato puree (passata). Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the basil during last 5 minutes of cooking.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni according to the package instructions until 3 minutes before al dente (it will keep cooking in the oven). Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. 
  6. Assemble Pasta al Forno: Combine the cooked rigatoni and reserved pasta water in the pan with the meat sauce (if the pan isn’t large enough, mix in a large bowl). Stir well to combine. It will be saucy with the extra pasta water. 
  7. Add 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of the parmigiano cheese and stir to combine.
  8. Add the pasta mixture into the prepared pan and finish with the remaining mozzarella and parmigiano cheese.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the top is golden brown.
  10. Serve: Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.

Serve and enjoy your authentic Italian Pasta al Forno!

  • Author: Elena
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
  • Category: Savory
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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