Pasta is cooked al Dente then tossed in a baking dish with a delicious tomato sauce and several kinds of cheese. The pasta casserole is baked until golden brown. Learn how to make this Pasta al Forno recipe. It's a classic recipe that the whole family will enjoy.
Pasta al Forno is one of those dishes you won’t soon forget. The smell of the bubbling cheese and tomato sauce is enough to make your mouth water. It's hot and creamy, with tender baked pasta coated in a delicious, meaty tomato sauce and smothered in gooey, melted mozzarella cheese.
Pasta al Forno is one of those recipes that every family makes a bit differently, but it is always familiar. It has become a staple in my own family's dinners.
I love experimenting with different types of pasta and adding extra ingredients like vegetables or meat to make the dish even heartier. I often alternate between Italian meat sauce and my easy Italian marinara sauce.
But no matter how much I play around with the recipe, nothing compares to the warm and comforting feeling that comes from enjoying a classic dish of Pasta al Forno.
What is Pasta al Forno?
Al Forno is an Italian term that loosely translates to "from the oven." Pasta al Forno is simply a baked pasta dish. Recipes for Pasta al Forno can vary widely between regions and families.
The concept for making this dish is simple: combine pasta, sauce and cheese. Bake in the oven.
The variations on this recipe are practically endless and this Italian pasta bake can be customized to suit your tastes, the season and what's available in your pantry.
As a kid, my family made this dish at all parties and special occasions. This baked pasta recipe is great for feeding large crowds. My mom used ziti pasta so we called it baked ziti. I can never get enough of this ultimate comfort food.
- Olive Oil – Use your favorite light, neutral flavored oil.
- Pasta – Select a tube pasta shape such as penne, ziti, or rigatoni.
- Sauce – Use a simple marinara or try meat sauce for a more substantial meal. I make a meaty classic Italian recipe and keep it in the freezer for when I need it. In a pinch, you can use jarred sauce to keep things easy.
- Cheese – Use ricotta cheese, freshly shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese to give the pasta a nutty, cheesy flavor and texture. We like lots of cheese so three types of cheeses are used.
- Salt and black pepper - to taste
See recipe card for quantities.
1. Cook the pasta to al dente in a large pot of salted water. Drain and return to the stock pot.
2. Combine the pasta with the olive oil, sauce, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese and half of the mozzarella.
3. Transfer the pasta to a baking dish and top with the remaining mozzarella. Cover with foil.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Hint: Double the recipe and prepare half in a disposable pan and freeze for later use.
- Vegetarian – Meat sauce makes this a hearty meal but you can certainly use meatless sauce to make this a delicious vegetarian meal.
- Add Veggies – Stir in sauted veggies such as onion, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, mushrooms and more. Because this dish doesn't spend a lot of time in the oven you will want to precook the veggies so they are not raw.
- Vary the Pasta – I used penne pasta but you can substitute other tube pastas such as ziti, rigatoni or cavatappi.
- Gluten free – Simply swap the pasta for a Gluten Free variety which are becoming more readily available in most grocery stores.
- Meat – My favorite meat sauce already contains lean ground beef and sauteed Italian sausage but you can add other proteins as well. Use ground pork or stir in some crumbled hot Italian sausage.
Storage/ Reheating Leftovers
Store the leftover penne al forno in an airtight container in the fridge. If using a meat sauce, consume it within 3 days. Without meat, leftovers can be stored up to 5 days. Reheat gently in the microwave before serving.
This casserole freezes incredibly well. I often make a double batch and freeze one for an easy meal later on. To bake from frozen, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
- Cook the pasta to al dente as it will continue to cook while the pasta bakes. See my tips for How Long to Boil Pasta.
- Drain the pasta well and toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking.
- If adding veggies, cook them first so you don't have bites of raw vegetables in your pasta.
- Grate your own mozzarella for the best flavor.
- Reserve half of the mozzarella cheese for the topping.
- Garnish with fresh herbs, such as torn basil or fresh parsley, just before serving.
I love baked pasta dishes because they are practically a whole meal in itself. Still, it wouldn't seem right to serve pasta without a fresh salad such as my Arugula Salad with Fennel and Beets, Balsamic Glazed Caprese Salad or an Heirloom Tomato and Chick Pea Salad.
Pasta al forno is an Italian term that refers to any baked pasta dish. It is more a style of cooking rather than a specific recipe.
This is one of the most freezer-friendly pasta dishes. After combining the ingredients, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Freeze for up to two months. Go from freezer to oven and it will be ready in about an hour.
Prep the pasta up to 24 hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to bake.
If you like this Pasta al Forno recipe, please leave a 5 star rating below.
Pasta al Forno
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 16 ounces tube pasta (penne, ziti, or rigatoni)
- 3 ½ cups marinara or meat sauce
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 12 ounces mozarella cheese, freshly shredded
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a large casserole dish with the olive oil.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente or according to package instructions. Drain pasta well and add back into the pot.
- Stir in the marinara or meat sauce and the ricotta cheese. Mix in half of the mozzarella (reserve the rest for later) and the Parmesan cheese. Mix well and add the pasta mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Cover the casserole dish loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes then umcover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubby and the top is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
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