Baking/ Dinner/ European/ Pasta/ Recipes

Classic Pasta al Forno – Italian Pasta Bake

27/05/2021

The amazing OG pasta bake! Pasta al Forno is baked pasta, made the Italian way. The rich ragu meat sauce and rigatoni combo is guaranteed to bring the whole family together.

Serving a slice of Italian pasta bake from the baking dish.

Why We Love This

Both our families LOVE pasta bakes! They are the ultimate comfort food, filling your kitchen with rich aroma and always so full of flavour.

Just like our super popular creamy chicken pasta bake, this recipe easily serves 6-8 people as a main meal. 

Like all the best Italian dishes, pasta al forno tastes even better the next day, making it a great one to serve for dinner then pack for lunch the next day.  

Even better, you can customise the base recipe to use up leftover ingredients, or make a meat-free sauce for a vegetarian version.

A freshly cooked Italian pasta bake ready to be served.

What is Pasta al Forno? 

Pasta al forno is an Italian style pasta bake where al forno means ‘to the oven’ or ‘to bake’.

There are many regional variations to this oven baked pasta dish, but it essentially consists of tube or ring shaped pasta mixed through an Italian ragu or Bolognese meat sauce. It’s particularly popular throughout Sicily, where the most traditional Sicilian version is referred to as anelletti al forno (if using the distinct ring shaped pasta).

Some versions are made with a bechamel white cheese sauce mixed through the pasta, but we prefer to skip this step to make this dish even easier and quicker to prepare.

What You’ll Need

The meat sauce in this recipe is a simplified version of our Italian ragu sauce. The main difference between the two is that we’ve removed the n’duja salumi paste and added garlic to the veggie base.

  • Veggies & Herbs – We used onion, carrot, celery and garlic, which are common inclusions for bolognese-style sauces. Chop them super fine or use a food processor to make it easier. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
  • Beef & Pork Mince – Traditionally, Italian pasta sauces are made with a mix of beef and pork mince. We usually use a ratio of 70% beef / 30% pork, but feel free to experiment. You can use all of one, or play with the ratios depending on your preference. You could even swap for chicken or sausages for something completely different!
  • Red Wine – Dry varieties like Shiraz or Cabernet work best. Don’t worry about the alcohol content, as it will evaporate during the cooking process, leaving only flavour behind. Skip it if you prefer to avoid alcohol. 
  • Passata – This is a puree of uncooked tomatoes. It gives a lovely flavour and smooth texture to the sauce without being too watery. Substitute with homemade tomato pasta sauce, canned tomatoes (same amount) or 2-3 tbsp tomato paste. 
  • Pasta – We recommend rigatoni or penne, but you can use any kind of short tube pasta. 
  • Cheese – Any good melty cheese will work great, such as mozzarella, tasty or aged cheddar. Ricotta also works well.
Ingredients laid out for pasta al forno.

How to make Italian Pasta Bake (Pasta al Forno):

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add in the onionsgarlic, carrots and celery. Toss them around to coat them nicely in the oil, and cook until the onion becomes translucent (around 3 – 5 minutes).
  2. Add the beef and pork mince and stir to loosen and cook through.
  3. Pour in the red wine and stir until mixed through evenly. Cook uncovered until all the liquid has evaporated (around 20 minutes), stirring frequently so nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.
  4. Pour in the passata then season with salt and pepper and throw in the cloves. Stir once more so everything is nicely mixed. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook uncovered for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting until you’re happy with the flavour and consistency.
  1. Prepare the baking dish by rubbing the surface with olive oil, then coating in bread crumbs. Pour any excess crumbs into a dish to use on top later.
  2. Add half the cooked pasta into the ragu sauce and stir well, then add the remaining pasta and mix until all the pasta is well coated.
  3. Transfer pasta and sauce to the crumbed baking dish.
  4. Top with cheese and sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs. Bake for around 30 minutes until cheese has melted and slightly browned on top.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Prepare the Baking Dish – While you can skip this step, it works great to stop the pasta bake from sticking to the dish. Rub the surface of the dish with olive oil, then cover with a generous amount of bread crumbs. Remove any excess bread crumbs from the dish before adding your pasta, then sprinkle the excess crumbs over the cheese before baking.
  • Avoid Overcooking the Pasta – It will continue to cook while baking, so make sure to stop boiling 1-2 minutes before the recommended cooking time (al dente), otherwise it can become overcooked and too soft by the time the cheese has melted. 
  • Take Your Time – Slowly cooking the veggies and mince meat, and letting the sauce simmer gently will lead to richer, deeper flavour in the final dish.
  • Make Ahead – You can make the sauce a day ahead, to allow the flavour to really bloom overnight.
Cooked pasta and sauce covered with mozzarella and bread crumbs, ready to be baked.

FAQs

What should I serve with pasta al forno?

Since this recipe is already packed with veggies and makes big portions, feel free to serve it on its own. Otherwise, to make it go further or for big family gatherings, we love serving a light entree beforehand such as Mum’s pumpkin and corn soup. A light refreshing side salad like tomato and cucumber salad or fennel and orange salad can help to balance out the rich pasta sauce, or soak it up with a crusty bread loaf or garlic bread. And for dessert, try our Italian lemon ricotta cake or cantucci biscotti!

Do I have to cook the pasta first?

Yes, we recommend cooking the pasta first for the best texture in the final dish. You can technically make this without cooking the pasta first, but it will take much longer to get to the right texture and will absorb all the liquid from the sauce, drying out the final dish. You could possibly overcome this by adding more passata to the sauce before baking, but this hasn’t been tested.

Variations

  • White Bechamel Sauce – Try mixing Sarah’s super easy no-fail white bechamel sauce through the pasta for extra flavour and to help the pasta bake hold its shape. 
  • Add More Veggies – Zucchini, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, spinach or capsicum / bell peppers all work well with the flavours in this dish. You can cook them through the sauce, or slice and bake separately, then layer them between the pasta similar to moussaka or lasagne. 
  • Extra Texture – Use panko bread crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs.
Top down view of the cooked Italian pasta bake.

Want more amazing comfort food recipes? Here are our family favourites:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and a star rating below!

Close up shot of a pasta bake garnished with fresh oregano.

Pasta Al Forno – Italian Pasta Bake

The amazing OG pasta bake! Pasta al Forno is baked pasta, made the Italian way. The rich ragu meat sauce and rigatoni combo is guaranteed to bring the whole family together.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 8 serves
Calories: 559kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $15

Equipment

Ingredients

For the ragu sauce

  • 350 g beef mince
  • 150 g pork mince
  • 1 litre passata 2 pints
  • 1/2 cup red wine sub beef stock
  • 2 tsp garlic minced
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For the pasta bake

  • 400 g pasta rigatoni, penne or other tube varieties. Cooked al dente, 1-2 minutes less than packet directions.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups cheese grated. Use tasty, mozzarella or aged cheddar.
  • 6 tbsp breadcrumbs

Instructions

For the ragu sauce

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add in the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Toss them around to coat them nicely in the oil, and cook until the onion becomes translucent (around 3 – 5 minutes).
  • Add the beef and pork mince and stir to loosen and cook through.
  • Pour in the red wine and stir until mixed through evenly. Cook uncovered until all the liquid has evaporated (around 20 minutes), stirring frequently so nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.
  • Pour in the passata then season with salt and pepper and throw in the cloves. Stir once more so everything is nicely mixed. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook uncovered for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting until you’re happy with the flavour and consistency.

For the pasta bake

  • Prepare the baking dish by rubbing the surface with olive oil, then coating in bread crumbs. Pour any excess crumbs into a dish to use on top later.
  • Add half the cooked pasta into the ragu sauce and stir well, then add the remaining pasta and mix until all the pasta is well coated.
  • Transfer pasta and sauce to the crumbed baking dish.
  • Top with cheese and sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs. Bake for around 30 minutes until cheese has melted and slightly browned on top.

Video

Recipe Notes

The meat sauce in this recipe is a simplified version of our Italian ragu sauce, so feel free to use that if you have some on hand. The main difference between the two is that we’ve removed the n’duja salumi paste and added garlic to the veggie base.
  • Veggies & Herbs – We used onion, carrot, celery and garlic, which are common inclusions for bolognese-style sauces. Chop them super fine or use a food processor to make it easier. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
  • Beef & Pork Mince – Traditionally, Italian pasta sauces are made with a mix of beef and pork mince. We usually use a ratio of 70% beef / 30% pork, but feel free to experiment. You can use all of one, or play with the ratios depending on your preference. You could even swap for chicken or sausages for something completely different!
  • Red Wine – Dry varieties like Shiraz or Cabernet work best. Don’t worry about the alcohol content, as it will evaporate during the cooking process, leaving only flavour behind. Skip it if you prefer to avoid alcohol. 
  • Passata – This is a puree of uncooked tomatoes. It gives a lovely flavour and smooth texture to the sauce without being too watery. Substitute with homemade tomato pasta sauce, canned tomatoes (same amount) or 2-3 tbsp tomato paste. 
  • Pasta – We recommend rigatoni or penne, but you can use any kind of short tube pasta. 
  • Cheese – Any good melty cheese will work great, such as mozzarella or aged cheddar. Ricotta also works well.
  • Prepare the Baking Dish – While you can skip this step, it works great to stop the pasta bake from sticking to the dish. Rub the surface of the dish with olive oil, then cover with a generous amount of bread crumbs. Remove any excess bread crumbs from the dish before adding your pasta, then sprinkle the excess crumbs over the cheese before baking.
  • Avoid Overcooking the Pasta – It will continue to cook while baking, so make sure to stop boiling once it just becomes al dente, otherwise it can become mushy by the time the cheese has melted. 
  • Take Your Time – Slowly cooking the veggies and mince meat, and letting the sauce simmer gently will lead to richer, deeper flavour in the final dish.
  • White Bechamel Sauce – Try mixing Sarah’s super easy no-fail white bechamel sauce through the pasta for extra flavour and to help the pasta bake hold its shape. 
  • Add More Veggies – Zucchini, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, spinach or capsicum / bell peppers all work well with the flavours in this dish. You can cook them through the sauce, or slice and bake separately, then layer them between the pasta similar to moussaka or lasagne. 
  • Extra Texture – Use panko bread crumbs instead of regular bread crumbs.
  • Make Ahead – You can make the sauce a day ahead, to allow the flavour to really bloom overnight.

Nutrition

Calories: 559kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 284mg | Potassium: 406mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1582IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 249mg | Iron: 2mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Classic Pasta al Forno - Italian Pasta Bake

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