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We eagerly anticipate when the weather finally turns cool here in South Texas, which makes eating rich, hearty dishes more appealing. Along with Pasta Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe, Rigatoni al Forno is one of our favorites. Much less labor intensive than preparing lasagna, this dish is easy to put together and provides the same savory cheesy delicious bite.
What Does al Forno Style Mean
The term “al Forno” translates from Italian as “baked” which includes dishes like pizza, pasta dishes, lasagna, and bread like focaccia. Rigatoni al Forno is explicitly refers to baked rigatoni (or baked ziti) which includes rigatoni, a delicious meat sauce, and topped with melted cheese.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
This recipe is very adaptable, and you can clean out the pantry and fridge to throw this together on a weeknight.
The complete ingredient list and measurements are listed in the printable recipe below.
- Rigatoni: This medium-sized extruded pasta is the perfect vehicle for gooey cheese and rich sauce. Lots of other ‘short’ pasta would work, including macaroni, penne, Farfalle, Orecchiette, etc. – all designed to capture hearty ragù and chunky vegetable sauces in their sturdy hollows and ridges.
- Ground Pork or Beef and Italian Sausage: These are classic proteins to use, but can be replaced with meatballs, pulled pork, diced-up chicken, or even cured sausages. All of the new vegan meat products would also work, or thick chunks of portabella mushroom to get the same flavor and texture as beef and pork.
- Canned Whole Tomatoes: We prefer to use simple ingredients to elicit authentic flavor, but instead of canned tomatoes and the herbs and spices we used in this recipe, you could use your favorite jarred sauce with an extra hit of Italian spice mix from the pantry.
- Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese: Artisanal versions of these cheeses will include flavors you just won’t get from pre-shredded Italian blends that are popular, but if that’s what you have on hand, it will still melt to help bind everything together.
How to Make Rigatoni al Forno
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
Pro-tip: We prefer a lighter meat sauce on pasta so for a more meaty sauce increase the amount of pork/beef and sausage.
1 Cook the Pasta: Cook the rigatoni to al dente about two minutes less than what is recommended in the package directions.
2. Sauté the Ingredients: Preheat the oven to 375°F. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the onions in extra virgin olive oil in a skillet for about 2 minutes or until tender then add the fennel seeds, pepper flakes, garlic, oregano, ground pork (or beef), and ground sausage. Cook until the pork and sausage is lightly brown.
3. Make the Sauce: Add the canned whole tomatoes to the skillet with the other ingredients and crush them into smaller chunks with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and oregano and allow let simmer for 3-4 minutes to help thicken the sauce.
4. Bake the Rigatoni al Forno: In a 9×13 baking dish add one-half of the meat sauce and pasta then gently fold in the pieces of mozzarella cheese. Layer the remaining pasta and meat sauce and top with dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle shredded Parmigiano Reggiano along with the chopped parsley and basil. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Rest the pasta casserole for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with an additional garnish of fresh basil.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: You can prep everything up to step 6 (minus the ricotta, parsley, and basil) in the recipe instructions below then cover and refrigerate. It can be made up to 2 days in advance. When ready to bake, remove the rigatoni al forno from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature while the oven preheats. Top the rigatoni with ricotta, parsley, and basil before baking. This can also be made ahead and frozen. Use a freezer-safe container or disposable aluminum foil pans then cover tightly with foil and place in a freezer-safe bag to prevent freezer burn. To bake from frozen, allow additional time to cook or defrost in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
How to Store: Store leftovers for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. In a freezer-safe container, it can be frozen for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat: Allow frozen rigatoni al forno to thaw in the refrigerator then transfer it to an oven-safe dish. Cover with foil and reheat at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. To reheat in a microwave transfer to a microwave-safe dish, cover, and heat in one-minute increments until thoroughly heated. Top with additional parsley, basil, or cheese if desired.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- Only use freshly grated cheese since pre-shredded cheese contains de-clumping additives that affect how it melts. This includes the fresh mozzarella.
- We make this dish with mild Italian sausage since we are adding red pepper flakes but you can use hot Italian sausage for a spicy kick.
- To avoid overcooked pasta cook it to al dente since it will be baking in the oven with sauce.
- Unlike other cheese, ricotta doesn’t melt since it is made using heat and acid. It is perfect for lasagna or other baked pasta dishes for its flavor and creaminess.
- A can of crushed tomatoes can be substituted for whole tomatoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
The difference between penne pasta, ziti, and rigatoni is how the pasta is cut. Penne is cut at an angle and has a “pointed” shape. Ziti is shorter and thicker and usually has a smooth finish. Rigatoni is cut straight, looks more like a cylinder, and is usually wider than ziti and penne. They are perfect substitutes for each other.
They are similar. Both are made with a tomato meat sauce, short pasta, and a variety of cheese such as mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta before being baked.
Let’s Connect! If you make this recipe or any other recipe on Casual Epicure, please don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It helps others who are considering making our recipes and we love hearing about your cooking experiences. And if you snapped some shots, share them on Instagram, and be sure to tag @casual.epicure so we can feature them in our stories.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this recipe, we recommend checking out some of these other pasta recipes:
Rigatoni al Forno
- 1 Medium Saucepan (2.5 Quarts)
- 1 Large Skillet
- 1 Baking or Casserole Dish
- 10-12 ounces rigatoni
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ pound ground pork or beef
- ½ pound ground Italian sausage
- 28 ounces whole canned tomatoes, drained
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cook the rigatoni to al dente about two minutes less than what is recommended on the package directions.
- While pasta is cooking, sauté onions in a skillet for 2 minutes then add the fennel seeds, pepper flakes, garlic, oregano, ground beef/pork, and ground sausage. Stir and cook until lightly brown.
- Add whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste to the skillet. Crush the whole tomatoes into smaller chunks. Let the tomato meat sauce simmer for 3-4 minutes uncovered. Stir occasionally to avoid it burning on the bottom.
- In a 9×13 baking dish add about one-quarter of the meat sauce and top with about half the pasta and additional one-quarter of sauce. Top with dollops of ricotta cheese along with half the shredded mozzarella.
- Layer the remaining pasta and meat sauce and top with dollops of ricotta and the remaining shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with shredded Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. Let sit for 5 minutes then sprinkle with fresh basil and parsley and serve.