If you are looking for the definition of comfort food, you’ve found it! With a rich meat ragu, cheesy bechamel sauce and all the sweet tomato sauce, Pasta Al Forno is the ultimate comfort food to feed large crowds and please the entire family! Filling and extremely satisfying to eat, this Italian baked pasta dish poses serious competition to lasagna…
- What Is Pasta Al Forno?
- Best Pasta To Use For Pasta Al Forno
- Variations and Additional Extras
- Equipment Needed
- Method: How To Make Pasta Al Forno?
- Tips & Tricks For Success
- What To Serve Pasta Al Forno With?
- Storage and Reheating
- Recipe FAQs
- Other Baked Pasta Recipes
- Italian Food To Enjoy For Days
- Recipe Card
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What Is Pasta Al Forno?
A literal translation of Pasta al forno is simply “baked pasta”. That’s why you may have seen Lasagna al Forno or Spaghetti Al Forno on the menus of Italian restaurants. It simply indicates that the dish is cooked in the oven.
Pasta al Forno can use various different ingredients, and a range of meat and vegetables, but it always has a rich tomato-based sauce and a Parmesan Cheese topping. Typically, similar in flavours and ingredients to a classic Italian lasagna, Pasta Al Forno requires a lot less hands-on time, as you don’t have to layer the pasta.
- ground meat: we used ½ pork and ½ beef, but this recipe works well with just one type of meat. You can also use chicken or turkey mince.
- carrot: can be replaced with small bits of sweet potato or butternut squash.
- brown onion: can be substituted with red onion or shallots.
- garlic cloves: minced or finely chopped. You may use garlic powder or garlic paste too.
- tomato paste: also known as concentrated tomato puree.
- passata: we used smooth passata but chunky will work too.
- stock/ broth: ideally use the stock to match the meat. We used beef stock in this recipe. You may substitute the stock with the same amount of red wine and extra seasoning.
- butter: salted and unsalted will both work well.
- plain flour: also known as all-purpose flour.
- milk: dairy milk or unsweetened plant-based varieties will work.
- cheddar: we like sharp mature cheddar in this Rigatoni al Forno recipe.
- short pasta: we used rigatoni pasta, but read all about other pasta shapes suitable for this recipe in the section below.
- mozzarella ball: torn into bite-sized pieces. Fresh mozzarella cheese is optional but adds that extra creamy decadence to the dish.
- fresh basil: leaves only.
- parmesan cheese: can be replaced by other Italian hard cheese, like Pecorino Romano or Padano Grana.
Best Pasta To Use For Pasta Al Forno
Pasta al Forno is typically made with short tubular pasta, like rigatoni, ziti, tortiglioni or penne pasta. However, you can mix things up with other types of pasta: fusilli and conchiglie are great options too.
The rich ragu and copious amount of cheese will provide all the flavour and decadence you will need, so we don’t encourage to buy expensive pasta for this dish!
Variations and Additional Extras
- Whilst we made Rigatoni al Forno, you can change the pasta shape.
- Instead of beef and pork mince, you can use ground turkey or chicken. If you don’t want to use both pork and beef, we recommend using ground beef only, as pasta al forno made with pork only may be a little too greasy.
- Make your ragu spicy, by adding 1 chopped red chilli pepper or a teaspoon of chilli flakes.
- Trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet? Add some chopped celery, grated courgette and green peas to your ragu.
- Add some dried Italian herbs to the ragu too.
You will need:
- A sharp knife to chop all the veggies.
- A large skillet or frying pan to brown the meat and make the ragu in.
- A small saucepan to make bechamel sauce in.
- An ovenproof baking dish that is about 2L capacity (for 4 portions).
Method: How To Make Pasta Al Forno?
Heat a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook stirring occasionally until it is browned all over. Scoop the meat out into a bowl, cover and set aside.
Reduce the heat to low-medium, then add 2 tablespoon of oil to the same pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes.
Tip the browned meat back into the pan. Then add the tomato paste, passata and stock and stir well to combine. Season with salt and black pepper.
Cover the ragu with a lid and simmer on low heat for 1 hour.
In the meantime, make the bechamel sauce (also known as white sauce). Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir until you have a smooth paste that is coming off the sides of the pan.
Gradually pour in the milk and keep on stirring on medium heat until the mixture thickens to custard consistency. Take it off the heat, stir in the grated cheddar and season with salt and pepper.
When your ragu is almost cooked, preheat the oven to 180°C Fan. Boil the pasta for 3 minutes less than the package instructions (we cooked our rigatoni for 8 minutes in a large pot of water). Drain and add the (under)cooked pasta to the meat sauce.
Add pieces of mozzarella and torn basil leaves and mix well.
Spoon the pasta into an oven-proof dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over and scatter grated parmesan on top.
Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.
Tips & Tricks For Success
- Give your ragu time. The meat will need to soften and infuse with all the rich flavours of that tomato sauce.
- Cover the ragu and simmer it on low. You don’t want the sauce to be reduced too much, otherwise, you will end up with a dryer final result.
- Make sure you undercook the pasta significantly. And we don’t just mean al dente – we mean UNDERCOOKED. It will finish cooking in the sauce in the oven, absorbing all the flavours.
- Scatter the top with extra basil or fresh parsley for a fresh flavour and colour vibrancy of the dish.
What To Serve Pasta Al Forno With?
Rigatoni al Forno is a very filling dish! Rich ragu coating the pasta, not to mention all the cheesy goodness, leaves you full and satisfied. So we do not recommend a filling side dish for this recipe. Skip the traditional garlic bread, and serve a nutritious and delicious green vegetable side dish instead. We particularly like this Italian Baked Pasta with:
Storage and Reheating
Baked pasta can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Make sure to cool it down to room temperature, then spoon the leftovers into an airtight container and place it in the fridge.
To reheat, you can simply place the semi-covered microwave-safe dish with the Pasta in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Alternatively, reheat the dish in the oven. Cover an ovenproof dish with a sheet of tin foil an place it in the oven for 10-15 minutes (or until piping hot). Serve with freshly grated cheese on top.
The main reason for the sauce not sticking to the pasta is that there is not enough starch coating the exterior of the cooked pasta. Do not rinse cooked pasta under cold water and don’t add any oil to the pasta.
Different cheese browns at different speeds. If you are using Parmesan as a topping and your pasta isn’t browning, try placing it on the top shelf in the oven the next time you make it. Alternatively, place it under the grill for a few minutes just before serving.
There are a few reasons for this. First, your ragu sauce may have been reduced too much, and there wasn’t enough sauce left. Secondly, you have undercooked your pasta so much that it absorbed most of the sauce, leaving the final dish a little dry. Finally, if you assemble your cheesy pasta al forno in advance, it tends to be a little dryer. Again, the pasta absorbs most of the moisture and you sometimes end up with mushy pasta but overall a slightly dry dish.
Other Baked Pasta Recipes
If you enjoyed this Italian Pasta Bake, maybe we can tempt you with a few more of our oven-baked pasta recipes that the whole family will enjoy.
- Feta And Kale Canelloni
- Creamy Tuna Pasta Bake
- Tuna Pesto Pasta Bake
- Lasagna Verde (With Asparagus and Spinach)
- Aubergine and Courgette Lasagna
Italian Food To Enjoy For Days
Italian cuisine is a family favorite here at Somebody Feed Seb. Whether we’re cooking for a special occasion or a weeknight dinner, we can always count on a good classic Italian recipe to save the day. Here are some of our favourites:
Pasta Al Forno
- 500 g pork and beef mince
- 1 carrot peeled, chopped into small cubes
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves minced or finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 500 g pasatta
- 150 ml stock/ broth
- 25 g butter
- 25 g flour
- 250 ml milk
- 100 g cheddar grated
- 300 g rigatoni
- 125 g mozzarella ball torn into bite-sized pieces
- 15 g basil leaves only
- 50 g parmesan finely grated
- Heat a large frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook stirring occasionally until it is browned all over. Scoop the meat out into a bowl, cover and set aside.
- Reduce the heat to low-medium, then add 2 tablespoon of oil to the same pan. Add the carrots, onions and garlic and sautee for 3-4 minutes.
- Tip the browned meat back into the pan. Then add the tomato paste, passata and stock and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the ragu with a lid and simmer on the lowest setting for 1 hour.
- In the meantime, make the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir until you have a smooth paste that is coming off the sides of the pan.
- Gradually pour in the milk and keep on stirring on medium heat until the mixture thickens to custard consistency. Take it off the heat, stir in the grated cheddar and season with salt and black pepper.
- When your ragu is almost cooked, preheat the oven to 180° C Fan. Boil the pasta for 3 minutes less than the instructions on the packet. Drain and add the pasta to the meat sauce.
- Add pieces of mozzarella and torn basil leaves and mix well.
- Spoon the pasta into an overn-proof dish. Pour the bechamel sauce over and scatter grated parmesan on top.
- Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until the cheese browns and bubbles.