This Pasta al Forno is rigatoni pasta tossed in a savory meat sauce, then topped with plenty of cheese and baked to perfection. A hearty main course option that’s perfect for feeding a large group.
Whenever I’m looking to feed a crowd, I turn to hearty pasta dishes such as cheese tortellini in meat sauce, baked spaghetti, shrimp linguine, spinach lasagna, chicken parmesan pasta, or this meaty and cheesy Pasta al Forno. This pasta dish always gets rave reviews from family and friends!
Whenever I go to my local Italian restaurant, I order the Pasta al Forno. You just can’t go wrong with a bubbling hot plate of pasta! My version of this dish is loaded with flavor, and tastes even better than what you’d get at a restaurant.
What is Al Forno style?
Al Forno is an Italian phrase that refers to food that’s been baked in the oven. This term typically applies to dishes such as pizza, pasta and breads such as focaccia. In this particular case, Pasta al Forno refers to baked pasta, often topped with melted cheese.
How do you make Pasta al forno?
Start by making the sauce, which consists of sauteed Italian sausage, marinara sauce, garlic and onions. Next, boil your pasta until it’s al dente, then toss the cooked pasta with the sausage mixture. Place the pasta in a baking dish, then add a generous layer of mozzarella cheese on top. Bake the pasta covered, then uncovered until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Add a sprinkle of fresh parsley, then serve and enjoy.
Tips for the perfect pasta
- I typically make this dish with rigatoni, but any short pasta will work such as penne, ziti, rotini or fusilli.
- Skip the bagged pre-shredded cheese and grate your own mozzarella. I find that pre-shredded cheeses are often coated in preservatives and anti-caking agents, and they don’t melt as smoothly.
- This dish can be assembled up to 8 hours before you plan to bake it. You may need to add another 10-15 minutes to the baking time to compensate for starting with a cold casserole.
- Leftover pasta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can reheat leftover pasta in a covered dish at 325 degrees F until warmed through, or reheat individual portions in the microwave.
- While I typically make this dish with mild Italian sausage, hot sausage will also work just fine.
- You can use homemade marinara sauce or store bought, they’ll both work just fine!
Pasta al forno flavor variations
This Pasta al Forno recipe is delicious as written, but you can easily customize it to your tastes.
- Protein: Instead of Italian sausage, you can use ground beef, ground turkey, diced cooked chicken, or even meatballs that have been cut into quarters.
- Vegetables: Feel free to add some cooked veggies to the sauce such as spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini or bell peppers.
- Flavorings: Looking to amp up the flavor? Add a handful of olives, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or a splash of heavy cream.
- Cheese: Instead of mozzarella, feel free to swap in another type of cheese such as fontina or provolone.
Can you freeze baked pasta?
This pasta dish is a great candidate for the freezer, I typically assemble it, then freeze it unbaked. Pasta al Forno will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can bake your pasta from frozen, simply add another 20-30 minutes to the bake time.
Once you try this baked pasta, you’ll find yourself making it on a regular basis, it’s just that good!
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Pasta al Forno Video
Pasta al Forno
For the sauce
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 pounds mild Italian sausage casings removed
- 1/2 cup onion finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 24 ounce jar marinara sauce
- 8 ounce can tomato sauce
- 16 ounces rigatoni or other short pasta cooked according to package directions in salted water
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- cooking spray
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.
For the sauce
- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the sausage to the pan.
- Cook the sausage for 3-4 minutes, breaking it up into small pieces with a spoon. Add the onion to the pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and cooked through and onion is softened.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the marinara sauce and tomato sauce to the pan and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes or until just thickened
- Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared pan and top with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until pasta is bubbly and cheese is melted and browned.
- Sprinkle with parsley. Let stand for 5 minutes, then serve.