Rigatoni al forno is a typical Italian dish of meat, pasta, tomatoes and cheese baked until bubbling and bronzed on top. It’s rich, cosy and perfect for nights when you want Italian food that’s easy to prepare.

  • Super easy to make
  • Delicious and rich
  • Perfect for cosy weekend dinners
  • Great make ahead and freezer meal.
  • Feeds a crowd and makes them full and happy

What is pasta al forno? It literally translates to baked pasta, so rigatoni al forno = baked rigatoni. This classic Italian dish often contains bechamel sauce, but mine is simplified by using loads of creamy mozzarella. It’s all layered up similarly to, but much more easily than, a lasagna.

We all love cheesy baked pasta and this one won’t disappoint. Every forkful has perfect al dente rigatoni, smothered in a bolognese-like meat sauce so it’s always saucy, never dry and totally gooey cheese from two cheeses.

If you love this, you’ll love this meatball pasta bake or try this comforting creamy pumpkin pasta.

Top down view of an oval casserole dish filled with baked pasta.

Ingredients you’ll need

A short list of basic yet umami-laden ingredients will make this easy dinner a family favourite.

Ingredients for rigatoni al forno on a baking tray.

Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.

  • Onion: You just need a brown onion as the base to the sauce.
  • Mushrooms: I add mushrooms because we love them so much in our house. You don’t need to add them if you don’t like them.
  • Meat: A combination of beef mince and pork mince (that’s ground beef and ground pork, or you can use US pork sausage) gives all the flavour you need.
  • White wine: There’s just a little white wine in the sauce. You can swap this if you don’t like it for chicken stock or vegetable stock.
  • Tomatoes: I use tinned cherry tomatoes (Mutti) – I love their sweeter flavour. Use a good brand as the different tinned tomatoes definitely vary in flavour.
  • Passata: Passata is simply pureed tomatoes. You may see it labelled as passata, sugo or tomato purée. This is not tomato paste which is a very thick tomato concentrate so don’t get them confused.
  • Rigatoni pasta: Rigatoni is tube-shaped pasta, larger than penne. I use dried but you can use fresh, just make sure to cook it to pack instructions but 3 minutes short. You could also use penne pasta or spiral pasta.
  • Mozzarella cheese: I use block form mozzarella for this and cut it into cubes. Don’t buy pre-shredded mozzarella as it has a coating that prevents it sticking together but also stops it from melting smoothly. You can use fresh mozzarella cheese too.
  • Parmesan cheese: So much flavour in parmesan cheese. Make sure to use real parmesan (or grana padano or pecorino romano is great too). Use block form and grate it yourself.
  • Basil leaves: Fresh basil leaves add flavour and freshness and work a treat.

Other than that, just some seasoning (salt and pepper) and some extra virgin olive oil are all you need.

How to make rigatoni al forno (step-by-step)

A collage showing how to make rigatoni al forno.

Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.

  1. The vegetables: Start by sauteing onion and mushrooms until the onion is softened and the mushrooms are beginning to take on some colour.
  2. The meat: Add the beef and pork and cook, turning often and breaking it up with a wooden spoon until browned. Now add some wine and reduce that for a few minutes.
  3. The rest of the sauce: Now add the remaining sauce ingredients and let it all cook down for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce thickens a little.
  4. Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until it is just before al dente. When you bite into a piece you should still see a line of uncooked pasta running around the middle. This ensures it won’t be overcooked by the time the rigatoni bake is finished in the oven.
  5. Layer it up: If your pan is large enough you can just drain the pasta and mix it straight through the sauce with half the cheese then add the remaining cheese to the top and bake. I like to use a casserole dish and layer it up in 2 layers each of pasta, sauce, basil then cheese.
  6. Bake: Bake the rigatoni al forno until it’s bubbly and golden on top.
  7. Serve: Serve this up with a few pretty little basil leaves on top, some nice crusty bread and a nice side salad. You can also serve it with pesto garlic bread, like I have here or this parmesan cheese toast.

As a side note, you don’t need to turn this into a pasta bake. The sauce is delicious and rich and works perfectly well mixed through cooked pasta with a simply scattering of parmesan or your favourite cheddar over the top.

Tips and tricks

  • Use block form cheeses:  This goes for both the parmesan and mozzarella. Pre-shredded cheeses have a coating on them that stop the strands from sticking together in the pack however this can often stop it from melting smoothly too. It’s always best to use block cheese and grate or cut it yourself.
  • Make it golden: I find my oven does it just fine but you can also use the overhead grill or broiler in the last few minutes to get that top super bronzed and delicious.
  • Add some pasta water: If your sauce has reduced a little too much or you like it even saucier add a little pasta water to it. This has a two-pronged effect of thinning the sauce a little but also making it silkier.
Rigatoni al forno being scooped out of a dish with a spoon.

Variations

  • Use other meats: You can use other meats too. Try chicken mince, turkey mince or even Italian sausage removed from their casings.
  • Make it vegetarian: You can make this pasta al forno vegetarian too. Add some other veggies in the form of grated carrot and cubed zucchini or eggplant when you’re cooking the onion and mushrooms and skip the browning the meat step.
  • Make it spicy: Add some dried chilli flakes (red pepper flakes) to taste to add a kick of spice.
  • Add some ricotta cheese: A little ricotta cheese dotted amongst the cheese layer gives an extra level of creaminess.

Yield and storage

Serves: This rigatoni al forno recipe serves enough for 6-8 people – 6 hearty serves or 8 lighter servings.

Storing leftovers: Store leftover pasta bake in the fridge, covered well with plastic wrap.

Make ahead: The sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for 2-3 days or the freezer for 2 months in an airtight container. The whole dish can be made and assembled and stored (unbaked) in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months. Let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before baking.

Reheating: Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave for a few minutes on high, or in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180C / 350F.

A casserole dish filled with baked rigatoni al forno.

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Top down view of rigatoni al forno in a casserole dish with some removed.

Rigatoni Al Forno

5 from 2 ratings
This rigatoni al forno is the ultimate in comfort food. Rigatoni in a rich tomato meat sauce and loaded with cheese is baked to golden, gooey perfection. It’s easy, satisfying and a crowd pleaser!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onion, roughly diced
  • 200 g mushrooms, sliced (7oz)
  • 500 g combined pork and beef mince (250g of each) (1.1lb)
  • ½ cup dry white wine (125ml)
  • 2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes (800g / 28oz)
  • 2 cups passata (tomato purée) (500ml)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 400 g dried rigatoni pasta (14oz)
  • 400 g cubed mozzarella (14oz)
  • 100 g finely grated parmesan cheese (pls use a block) (3.5oz)
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) / 350F. Have a large high-sided baking dish at the ready (9×13 inch is about right).
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat.
  • Saute onion and mushrooms until the onions are soft and translucent and mushrooms are starting to take on some colour.
  • Add the pork and beef, turning and breaking up with a wooden spoon as it cooks, until browned.
  • Add the white wine and cook 2-3 minutes to evaporate.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, passata, salt and pepper then bring it to a low simmer. Cover with a splatter guard (or lid set ajar) and cook for around 15-20 minutes to reduce and thicken. If it thickens too much take it off the heat and add a little of the pasta water to loosen it.
  • While the sauce cooks, in a large pot, bring 2.5 litres (quarts) of water to a boil over high heat. Salt the water well and add the pasta. Cook about 3 minutes short of the package directions, or until just before al dente (when you bite into a piece it should still have some bite to it and still have a ring of white uncooked part through it). Drain the pasta.
  • Add a couple of large spoons full of sauce to the bottom of the baking dish.
  • Add half the semi-cooked rigatoni. Follow that with half the sauce, nudging and pushing it into the gaps.
  • Top it with half the mozzarella, half the basil and half the parmesan.
  • Repeat the layers again.
  • If your dish is very full, place it on a baking tray to catch any drips. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
  • Sprinkle over more basil leaves and serve with crusty bread.
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