This sumptuous rigatoni al forno recipe comes together with a minimum of fuss and simple ingredients for a delicious satisfying cheesy pasta bake in one hour.
Why you’ll love it
- It has just the right amount of rich tasty simple sauce.
- You’ll only need a few ingredients.
- It’s super cheesy.
- It’s vegetarian.
Ingredients and substitutions
As you can see from the photo below, you only need a few simple easy-to-find ingredients to make this rigatoni al forno, but have a quick look anyway and ensure you have the right ones. If you’re short on anything or want to make a change, scroll down to see possible substitutions.
Zucchini: These bulk out the sauce and add delicate flavor. You can use yellow squash if you don’t have any zucchini on hand.
Tomato sauce: Use a good brand of tomato sauce with plenty of garlic flavor. If you’re not in the US, don’t like tomato sauce, or don’t have any you can make your own or substitute it with marinara sauce.
Olive oil: Use good quality tasty olive oil, but as you’ll be using it for frying, no need to use extra-virgin, save that for your salads. If you don’t have olive oil you can substitute any other mild or flavorless oil, or butter.
White wine: Use regular white cooking wine or a dry wine like chardonnay. If you don’t have white wine you can substitute rosé. If you’re avoiding alcohol, use an alcohol-free wine or substitute with a quarter cup of water and a quarter cup of white or red wine vinegar. If you’re serving children don’t worry, the alcohol will cook off.
Mozzarella: Use fresh buffalo mozzarella or fior de latte preferably, these are the soft sparingly types kept in the fridge in liquid. If you can’t find fresh mozzarella, you can substitute regular mozzarella, just grate it instead of cubing it.
Rigatoni: I used shorter rigatoni as that was what I was able to find but longer ones are perfectly fine too. If you can’t get rigatoni, you can substitute another short pasta shape like penne rigate or fusilli.
Onion: You need plenty of onion to make the sauce nice and chunky, any type is fine, of course, if you don’t like onion you can just leave it out.
Parmesan: The best is freshly grated yourself as it doesn’t contain any strange additives that will stop it from melting into the sauce. Vegetarians take note that vegetarian parmesan in Europe can’t be called Parmesan, it’s usually marketed as hard Italian cheese. In the USA you’ll find vegetarian versions under hard Italian cheese or Parmesan (check the packaging) but never under Parmigiano Reggiano which always uses animal rennet.
How to make it
Rigatoni al forno is very easy to make and assemble but I’ve provided step by step instructions here with photos in case you have any doubts.
- Prepare the vegetables. Peel and chop the onions. Peel the zucchini, quarter them lengthways, and slice into fine pieces no thicker than half a centimeter. You can also use a mandoline to slice the zucchini, or use a food processor as I did.
- Add the oil to a large deep pan and heat on medium-high. When the oil is hot but not smoking, added the chopped onion.
- Fry the onion for five to eight minutes until lightly browned, then add the wine and cook for around three minutes until mostly evaporated and absorbed.
- Add the tomato sauce and zucchini. If you like your sauce extra garlicky you can optionally add two or three cloves of crushed garlic to taste. Increase heat until the sauce is simmering and then reduce to medium to keep at a simmer for 20 minutes. I’d advise you to use a splatter guard to cut down on clean-up. Now is a good time to cook your pasta. Follow the package instructions (usually 10-11 minutes) but take two minutes off the cooking time so it’s very al dente, this will prevent your pasta from overcooking and getting mushy in the oven later. Cook your pasta in well-salted water.
- Lightly grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with more olive oil. Season the sauce to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.Add a quarter cup of sauce to the bottom of the baking dish and use the back of a spoon to spread it around. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce and toss well. Add half the pasta to the baking dish in a single layer.
- Sprinkle the pasta with half the parmesan and half the cubed mozzarella.
- Add the remaining pasta on top of the cheesy layer, and tip out any extra sauce on top.
- Cover with the remaining parmesan and mozzarella. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, making sure the edges are tucked in tightly to prevent any moisture from escaping, and tenting the top so it doesn’t touch the cheese. If the foil touches the cheese it will stick to it. Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 375ºF ( 190ºC) for twenty minutes, then remove the foil and bake ten more.
Your rigatoni al forno is done! If you want the cheese on top browner, you can broil it for a few minutes. Set aside for ten minutes to cool before serving.
This vegetarian pasta dish is delicious all by itself but you can take it to the next level or make it go further by serving it with:
- Garlic bread.
- Simple green salad.
- Balsamic spinach and mushrooms.
- Marinated artichoke hearts salad.
- Green beans.
- Roasted vegetables.
What you’ll need:
- A sharp knife.
- Optionally, a mandoline or a food processor.
- Measuring cups.
- A large wooden spoon or spatula for stirring.
- A large baking dish, around 13 x 9 inches or slightly bigger.
- Aluminum foil.
If you have any leftovers, you can decant them to a Tupperware container or keep them in the baking dish tightly covered in the fridge for up to four days. To reheat in the oven, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350ºF for 15-20 minutes until heated through.
To reheat in the microwave, add a tablespoon of water to the container, cover it, heat for two minutes, remove and stir, and heat for another two minutes or until piping hot.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes, although I prefer not to. You can either cook, cool completely, then wrap in one layer of aluminum foil and another layer of cling film, or simply freeze the components separately before cooking.
Al forno means ‘to the oven’ in Italian and refers to dishes that are baked.
Did you make this dish? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐and a comment below.
- 2 onions
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound zucchini (454g)
- 4 ½ cups tomato sauce (1080ml)
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta (454g)
- ½ pound Parmesan, finely grated (227g)
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cubed (454g)
- ¾ cup dry white wine (180ml)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel and chop the onions. Peel the zucchini, quarter lengthways, and thinly slice into pieces no more than half a centimeter thick. A food processor or mandoline will speed things up.
- Add the olive oil to a large deep pan and heat on medium-high. When hot, add the onions and fry for 5-8 minutes, stirring every now and then, until softened and lightly browned.
- Add the wine and cook for about three minutes until the wine is mostly gone. Then add the zucchini and tomato sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. I like my sauce nice and garlicky, if yours isn't you can optionally add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic now.
- Increase the heat to high and when the sauce is at a lively simmer, decrease it to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. I recommend using a splash guard to reduce clean-up. Now is the time to cook your pasta according to package instructions, just cook it 2 minutes less than the recommended time.
- Take the sauce off the heat. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and add a quarter cup of sauce to the bottom and smooth over the bottom with the back of a spoon.
- Drain the pasta and mix it with the sauce. Add half the pasta to the baking dish and cover with half the Parmesan sprinkled over, followed by half the cubed mozzarella.
- Repeat by adding the remaining pasta, scrape out any leftover sauce and smooth over the top, and then add the final layer of Parmesan and mozzarella.
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil that has been tented so it doesn't touch the cheese. Bake covered in the middle of an oven that has been preheated to 375ºF (190ºC ) for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. If you want your cheese browned you can broil the top for a few more minutes.
- Serve hot by itself or with garlic bread and a nice green salad.
Leftovers can be kept either covered in the baking dish or another suitable container in the fridge for up to four days and reheated either in the oven or microwave.
Serving SizeHalf a plate
Amount Per Serving Calories 486Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 11gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 61mgSodium 1495mgCarbohydrates 39gFiber 4gSugar 8gProtein 25g