Pasta al forno – baked pasta the Italian way
Pasta al forno – traditional baked pasta
This recipe is based on the wonderful ‘pasta al forno’ (pasta bake) my Sicilian mother-in-law makes! In fact, she brought a dish (actually two) over to our house last Easter Sunday. We had 22 people for lunch which was quite a challenge but the great thing about Italian families is they are always happy to contribute towards the cooking and food, so it’s rare for the hosts to end up doing everything. Dessert is a very traditional offering and we actually ended up with 5 different cakes made by various guests and family members! Plus this wonderful pasta al forno!
(click to go straight to recipe)
If we include vegetarian dishes, there are hundreds of different recipes for baked pasta, pasta al forno, here in Italy. But, the most traditional and classic is with a meat sauce or ‘ragu’, a tube pasta type such as macaroni (in Italian ‘maccheroni’). rigatoni, tortiglioni, elicoidali, penne, trescatori etc and some local soft or semi soft cheese as well as parmesan, pecorino or grana sprinkled on top.
Pasta al Forno, perfect for Sunday lunch!
‘Pasta al forno’ is a popular dish in Italy on Sundays or public holidays, especially in the South. This is probably because it takes longer to make than recipes with pasta which has only been boiled, so it is too time consuming for a week day meal. However, it can be made mostly in advance and is ideal for feeding a large number of people. Needless to say, there are always plenty of guests at an Italian family Sunday or holiday lunch! Kids also love it and a beautifully baked ‘pasta al forno’ looks so great when brought to the table!
Normally in Italy, pasta is not the main course. It is the ‘primo’ or first course and is often followed by meat or fish with vegetables and sometimes potatoes, although Italians aren’t big potato eaters unlike the Germans or the Brits! For this reason, pasta is often served with a lighter sauce, but on special occasions when families get together baked pasta is a popular tradition.
Different ragu recipes.
Housewives and cooks in each Italian region have a slightly different way of making ‘ragu’ (meat sauce). However, the basic ingredients are much the same; two or three types of meat ground or cut into small pieces (often pork and beef or veal), fresh tomatoes or passata, carrots, celery and onions, plus stock and wine. The rest of the ingredients vary from region to region, sometimes from cook to cook.
In some regions, they also add hard boiled eggs to a baked pasta and many add homemade bechamel sauce to the dish. Not every pasta al forno includes a soft cheese, but most do. The most commonly used is mozzarella but scamorza, caciocavallo or provola are popular too.
This al forno recipe (see the next page) is made with ragu from Sicily , which includes peas. The cheese is caciocavallo and the pasta, tortiglioni. It was yummilicious. And, despite the number sitting down to lunch that day, there was quite a bit left over! So, I was able to enjoy it the next day too!
If you have never made pasta al forno, do give it a try. It’s a wonderful go-to dish when you are planning to feed a large number. I’d love to hear from any of you who make this recipe, so feel free to comment here on the blog or on the Pasta Project Facebook page!
(to see the recipe go to the next page. Just scroll down and click 2)
If you’d like to make a vegetarian pasta al forno take a look at the recipe for baked lasagna alla Norma or baked pasta with burrata and mushrooms. Both are really delicious!
Tasty. I replaced mozzarella with scamorza (as you suggest) which I happened to have and it made a lovely, stringy cheese core. I have a healthy appetite but even I find 100 gr of pasta per serving a bit much but, no worries, the rest goes in the oven for lunch the next day.
Thanks. Your site has become my ‘go to’ for genuine Italian recipes and I’m looking forward to challenging myself with a few filled pasta recipes.
Hi Nigel thanks for your comment! I’m happy you liked this baked pasta and so pleased you like The Pasta Project! When we make this recipe, there’s also leftovers and we love them for lunch the next dayI It’s a great reason to make generous portions!
So good! Could I make this only with beef?
Hi Sarah. Yes just beef works fine too! Enjoy!
This was really delicious, but I think i would add a stock pot when I next make it. When I was eating it I just felt like there was something missing, like it lacked a little bit of flavour. Great recipe though, any tweaks would be for personal preference
The best thing about pasta al forno is the fact that you actually don’t need to follow any specific recipe, the only important thing is to have a bit of sauce that embraces the pasta (not too much!) in order to keep the humidity to decent levels. What we used to do in my family was to make more pasta for dinner (let’s say 1kg instead of 500g) so that the leftover was used the day after to make pasta al forno (adding other leftovers we had in the fridge: the last bit of fresh pecorino, the final part of the leg of prosciutto etc). Cucina povera is the way.
I love that you can add your fridge leftovers the next day to make pasta al forno, but is the pasta mushy the next day? I’m thinking about making it ahead of time( the day before) and then just popping it in the oven for a fresh baked pasta. Will this work?
Hi Mary, if you cook dried pasta alone it will be a little drier the next day not mushy. If you mix it with sauce and other ingredients it will be fine for baking the next day as long as the dish is sealed and the pasta has been cooked less than al dente (so still quite firm) .
easy and delicious –
Would you be against sharing a few dessert recipes to accompany each of your pasta dishes? Thank you. Love your site!
Easy just to double the quantities to feed 8?
Hi Denise, thanks for your comment. Yes you could double quantities to feed 8. However, the portions are going to be very generous since this recipe is already quite generous for 4 people. If I were feeding 8 I’d double everything except the quantity of meat and pasta. Instead I’d just use 750 g meat and 650 g pasta. But, if you have leftovers, they can be eaten the next day. I don’t normally freeze ready cooked pasta al forno. I find the pasta gets mushy! Let me know how it goes. All the best from Verona.
David Bruce Patterson says
Making this for a party on Saturday March 13, I’ll report back.
Hi David, I’m sure it will be a hit! Yes, do let me known how it turns out! Buon appetito!
I can’t see were are the peas going, you didn’t mention in the method .
Hi Alexandra, thanks for your comment. Actually, adding the peas is step 9 in the first part of the recipe instructions. You need to add them to the sauce 15 mins before it is ready. Hope you enjoy this dish!
What temperature should the oven be? 200F?
Hi Rachel. Thanks for your comment. Oven temperatures are given in celsius as that’s what we use here in Europe. 200°c is about 390°f.
I must have done something wrong, because everybody seems to love this dish, while I was left seriously underwhelmed. Having zero former experience baking pasta, I followed the recipe to a “t”. The taste was OK, though for me the dish is too bland and needs some kick. My problem was the texture – a hard, dry, difficult-to-chew top layer and the mushy pasta beneath. Is it supposed to be like that? That hard top layer? If I decided to give it another try, I’d probably go for a smaller-sized pasta (I used rigatoni), more fresh mozzarella and some chilli. A light, bright, zingy green salad on the side is a must.
Hi MIK, thanks for your message. I’m sorry to hear you weren’t happy with your pasta al forno. It’s difficult to know what the problem was. This is a classic Italian recipe and we cook it a lot. The sauce needs to be simmered for at least an hour so it has a richer taste (in fact the longer you cook it the better it is). If you like a bit of spice you can, of course, add some red chili pepper (peperoncino), although that’s not traditional for this recipe. There are only 2 reasons that the pasta would be mushy underneath and too hard on top. It is either over-cooking or a low quality pasta. What brand of pasta did you use?
Hello, Jacqui! Thank you for responding. I used Italian Barilla pasta. I have a dual cook oven and baked the dish in the upper half at the fan setting. Perhaps I should just use the top-bottom heaters. I’m giving it another try today; keep your fingers crossed.
Tracey Milone says
Absolutely bellissimo! I have always cooked lasagne for my family but after cooking this, it will be a recipe that will be used over and over again!!!
The Pasta Project says
Grazie! Glad you love it!
I am cooking pasta al forno (baked the Italian way) for dinner today and in the recipe it says to chop the garlic. There is no mention of garlic in the ingredients so how much garlic do I put in please?
Hi Linda, thanks for pointing that out. I will correct it immediately! 1-2 cloves is what I sometimes use, depending on how big they are. If you like a more garlicky flavour you can add more. But garlic isn’t always used in ragu so you can also leave it out.
Danielle Wolter says
OMG i feel like i could eat this all day. it sounds just amazing. baked pasta dishes like this are the best!
Thank you dear Danielle! Baked pasta is definitely one of my favourites, especially when made with a meat ragu like this one. I could also eat it all day!
Gabby | The Tolerant Table says
This looks absolutely delicious! I haven’t had a gorgeous pasta bake like this since I was a child. I love the fact that there are so many varieties of ragu too, with everyone giving it their own flare.
Grazie Gabby! Yes this baked pasta is a real winner and classic Italian family fare! I want to make some of the other regional versions this coming winter! Now it’s a bit too hot to have the oven on!
Wow! 22 people?! Great thing you had help. The pasta looks great. Always love seeing how people around the world cook their pastas. Thanks for sharing the recipe!
Hi Mirlene, yep Italian family lunches often involve a lot of people!! My hubby has 4 sisters, all married with kids. So you can imagine how chaotic it gets! But so much fun and everybody mucks in!
This looks so delicious and I love that it’s filled with veggies. I’d love to make this one day for Sunday supper!
Thank you April! happy that you like this baked pasta! In reality you can put even more veggies in, although this is the traditional Sicilian way! All the best!
Samantha H. says
Yum! This looks super flavorful and delicious. I love a good richly flavored pasta sauce and red sauce with pasta covered in cheese.
Yes, Samantha! this definitely has all the ingredients that make baked pasta so good! It’s one of my favourite recipes for family lunches!