This Pasta al Forno is an easy baked pasta dish that is perfect for a tasty weeknight dinner or Sunday lunch. Rigatoni is baked in a rich tomato, lentil and vegetable sauce and then topped with creamy mozzarella cheese and Italian hard cheese.
This pasta is the ultimate comfort food and an easy recipe that anyone can make and the whole family will enjoy. Serve it with crispy ciabatta garlic bread for a very tasty dinner.
In Italian Pasta al Forno simply means oven-baked pasta. Traditionally this dish is made with a meat sauce which can sometimes include ground beef and or Italian sausage. The pasta is usually a hollow short pasta baked in the sauce while topped with plenty of cheese.
There are plenty of versions of pasta al forno out there this is my version. My version of this pasta bake is a veggie version. I still use rigatoni and the rich tomato sauce is made with plenty of veggies and brown lentils. I top the pasta with fresh mozzarella and vegetarian Parmesan cheese.
🛒 What You'll Need
- Pasta - For a pasta bale like this you will need a hollow pasta so the sauce can fill the pasta when it cooks. I use rigatoni pasta but you could also use smaller-sized pasta such as penne.
- Vegetables - You will need carrots, onion, celery and mushrooms. I use brown (chestnut) mushrooms for this as they have more flavour.
- For the sauce - You will need passata, balsamic vinegar, and tomato puree (tomato paste).
- Herbs - I use dried oregano, dried parsley, fennel seeds, bay leaves and garlic.
- Lentils - I use precooked puy lentils, you can use canned lentils if you like.
- Cheese - you will need fresh mozzarella and a vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, I use Grana Padano.
- Other ingredients - Olive oil, butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
🔪 How To Make Pasta al Forno
Please see the recipe card below for the full recipe and ingredient list.
1. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery with a small pinch of salt and cook for about 20 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente then drain and toss in a little olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
2. Once the onions have softened slightly then add the garlic, oregano, parsley and fennel seeds. Cook for a minute then add mushrooms and a teaspoon of butter to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms start to release their juices.
3. Next, stir in the passata and the tomato puree and stir in the balsamic vinegar.
4. Add the lentils and stir well. Add the bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then gently simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.
5. Tip the cooked pasta into the sauce and gently stir.
6. Pour the pasta and sauce into a large baking dish then spread the cheese on top of the pasta. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes, remove the foil then bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is starting to go golden brown. Leave to cool slightly before serving.
👩🍳 Top Tips
- To avoid mushy pasta cook the pasta until al dente. If you cook the pasta for too long it will soften too much when it is baked in the oven.
- It is important to cover this pasta bake with foil when it's baking. If you don't you will end up with a hard top layer of pasta. Covering the casserole dish with foil prevents this from happening.
- It's also important to cook the onion and carrots until they soften. You will need to cook them for at least 20 minutes, if you have more time I recommend cooking them for 30 minutes.
Any leftover pasta should be stored in an is in the oven, airtight container in the fridge and used within a couple of days. For best results I reheat the pasta in the oven, cover the pasta with foil and heat until piping hot. You can also reheat this in the microwave but do not cover it with foil if you are using the microwave.
Technically speaking al forno means baked pasta so this covers all baked pasta, however, lasagne is more of a structured pasta dish with layers.
Yes, you can. Use a freezer-safe casserole dish to cook the pasta in. Once the pasta is cooked leave it to cool then wrap the dish in cling film and transfer the dish to the freezer. You could also divide the pasta bake into individual portions and freeze them. Pasta al Forno can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months. You can bake this dish from frozen however you will have to adjust the cooking time by 20 - 30 minutes.
- To add an even richer taste to the sauce you can add either white wine or red wine. I add wine when the onions are cooked, turn up the heat a little then add the wine and cook until the wine has reduced.
- If you want to add more veggies to this then try adding some fresh spinach or kale. Add the spinach to the sauce after you add the lentils, it will cook quite quickly. If adding kale then add it to the mushrooms, the kale will take more time to cook.
- For spice fans, you could easily add a bit of spice to this. I sometimes add a pinch of red chilli flakes to the sauce, I add this when I add the herbs and garlic.
🍽 More Baked Pasta Recipes
- Veggie Fajita Pasta Bake - packed full of peppers, mushrooms and onions in a spicy sauce topped with lots of cheese. This pasta bake is a delicious twist on veggie fajitas.
- Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake - made with lots of spinach, creamy ricotta and a deliciously rich tomato sauce. This is the perfect cosy comfort food! Hearty, comforting and so delicious.
- Pesto Pasta Bake - with courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes and hidden spinach, this is full of veggies and great for getting the kids to eat their greens.
🍝 Try These Pasta Dishes Next
Veggie Pasta al Forno
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium brown onion finely diced
- 1 medium carrot peeled and finely diced
- 1 stalk of celery finely diced
- 250 g / 3 cups of mushrooms (weight in cups is for whole mushrooms) wiped clean then sliced
- 2 level tsp dried oregano
- ½ level tsp dried parsley
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 cloves of garlic finely minced or put through a garlic press
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 550 g / 2⅓ cups of passata
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 bay leaves I use dry bay leaves
- 250 g / 1½ cups of cooked puy lentils
- 300 g / 10oz rigatoni pasta (dry weight)
- 125 g (1 x 8 oz) ball of fresh mozzarella torn into strips
- 25 g Grana Padano or vegetarian Italian Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)Heat the oil in a large skillet or saute pan. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery with a small pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat for at least 20 minutes until the onions start to soften. Stir often to prevent the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- While the vegetables are cooking, cook the pasta in a large pan of salted water.Once the pasta is al dente drain and toss in a little olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
- Add the sliced mushrooms to the vegetables along with a teaspoon of butter. Cook until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Then add 3 cloves of minced garlic along with two level teaspoons of dried oregano, half a level teaspoon of dried parsley and one-quarter teaspoon of fennel seeds. Cook for a minute or until you smell the herbs and garlic.
- Next, add the passata to the vegetables, also add one tablespoon of tomato puree and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Stir well then add the puy lentils and the bay leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper then simmer gently for 10 - 15 minutes.
- Now, add the pasta to the sauce and stir gently.Transfer the pasta to a casserole dishSpread the torn mozzarella over the pasta then cover with the grated Pana Grado.Cover the casserole dish with foil then bake in the oven for 2o minutes. After 20 minutes remove the foil and cook for another 10 minutes or until the cheese starts to turn golden brown. Leave to cool slightly before serving.
- Casserole Dish - my dish measures 18 x 27 cm and 6cm deep (11 x 7 inches and was 2 and a half inches deep)
- Nutritional Information - all nutritional information shared is an estimate based on third-party calculations. If calorie count and/or nutritional values are important to you, we recommend putting the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary depending on which brands were used. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.
- Weights and measurements - For US readers, I use Cuisipro measuring cups and spoons, and a Pyrex measuring jug for liquids. These are the industry standard. Cup/spoon volumes can differ from brand to brand, for accuracy, I recommend weighing all ingredients if possible for the best results.