Rigatoni Al Forno is a hearty and comforting baked rigatoni dish packed with tender pasta noodles, crumbling, browned meat, sumptuous, melted mozzarella cheese, and a tantalizing tomato sauce.
Adults and kids alike will enjoy the various flavors and textures that come together in one savory casserole dish.
One of the best things in life has got to be a piping hot rigatoni al forno, pulled straight from the oven and set onto the table. By the time this rustic oven baked pasta is ready to eat, your kitchen is already tidy: you’ve rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. You’re ready to sit down and go to town!
Why You'll Love this Recipe!
The perfect pasta dish for any time of the year – baked rigatoni is perfect both as a summer dinner, or as a comforting rustic meal in the dead of the winter. Either way, baked pasta night is my favorite because it’s just so easy. Gathered around the table, my baby and twins happily devour heaping spoonfuls of this cheesy baked rigatoni and I smile knowing that they’re enjoying heart-healthy vegetables along with all-important protein in the tasty meat sauce.
What does al forno mean?
What does al forno mean? The translation, from Italian, is “at the oven” or “from the oven.” The term describes foods that are baked in an oven that has been heated to an extraordinarily high temperature. The high temperature at which the food cooks results in an appetizing, crusty layer forming on the surface of the pasta. Often, al forno dishes are baked in traditional ovens which burn wood or charcoal; this practice can enhance the al forno effect by producing a smoky quality. In addition to Rigatoni Al Forno, other al forno dishes include lasagne al forno or ziti al forno.
Is Rigatoni Al Forno Healthy For You?
Rigatoni Al Forno is certainly a smart choice for a pregnancy dinner. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional highlights of the main ingredients used in this pregnancy recipe!
Whole Grain Pasta
Although you can use traditional rigatoni pasta for this recipe, whole grain pasta would be a wise choice. Whole grain pasta, or grains fortified with folate are both a great source of nutritional folate. Appropriate consumption of folate helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Folate is essential for a healthy pregnancy diet both before and during pregnancy. Whole grain pasta is also a fantastic source of magnesium and selenium for pregnant women. Magnesium is important for pregnant women because adequate intake of this mineral is essential for proper embryonic and fetal development. Magnesium helps formation of baby’s bones and teeth.
Ground Chicken Meat (Mince)
Ground chicken offers many benefits to a pregnant woman. Chicken meat contains protein, niacin, selenium, and phosphorous. Not only does this food possess high vitamin and mineral content, it is also a low-fat protein option! Overall, this meat is considered to be a high-quality source of animal protein.
Protein is a critical component to every pregnant woman’s diet. The importance of protein in pregnancy cannot be overstated. Protein promotes the growth of the fetal tissues, which continue to grow exponentially, day by day. This includes growth of baby’s brain. Furthermore, the expansion of mama’s blood supply also requires additional protein consumption. The protein in chicken meat is helpful not only to pregnant women, but also for individuals across a variety of age groups, including children and the elderly.
Tomatoes are certainly a smart food choice during pregnancy. These delicious fruits offer the unique health benefit in that they are full of essential vitamins and fiber. Furthermore, tomatoes are full of antioxidants but they contain no fat and are very low calorie. Vitamins in tomatoes include essential vitamins A, B6, and C, and minerals include iron, potassium, and manganese. Additionally, tomatoes are a source of carotenoids such as lycopene and beta carotene.
The lycopene which tomatoes possess helps to improve bone health, delay age related brain disease and reduce pain from nerve and tissue damage. Interestingly, cooked tomatoes have been shown to provide higher levels of lycopene than raw tomatoes which only allow 4% absorption of lycopene.
Like tomatoes, carrots also contain beta carotene. Beta carotene is an antioxidant that body transforms into Vitamin A. Vitamin A has an important role in the healthy development of the fetus and the newborn, with lung development and maturation being particularly important. Carrots are also a great source of vitamin C and folate.
Only a few simple ingredients are used to prepare this hearty, rustic rigatoni alforno recipe!
- 500 g ground chicken (1.1 lbs)
- 500 g rigatoni pasta (1.1 lbs)
- 700 g tomato sauce (3 cups)
- 1 cup carrots, shredded (90 g)
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated (90 g)
- 2.5 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (270 g)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ¼ cup salt for the pasta water + 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- Parsley, for garnish
How to Make Rigatoni Al Forno
This rigatoni al forno recipe is so simple to make. If you have time, this could be a one-pot dish, however I prefer to multitask by getting the pasta cooked while the sauce is simmering away. Either way, clean-up is a breeze. You and your family will be sitting down to enjoy this satisfying and comforting recipe in no time!
Step 1: Cook the rigatoni noodles
Boil a large pot of generously salted water, about 1.5 gallon (6.8 dl). You’ll want to use about ¼ cup (70g) of salt. Once the water is boiling, carefully drop in the rigatoni pasta. Cook per the package directions until the noodles are just barely al dente. It is better to undercook slightly than to overcook because the noodles will continue to cook further once in the oven.
Step 2: Prepare the rigatoni al forno meat sauce
While the pasta is cooking, warm the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large, deep skillet, over medium heat, for 1 minute. Add the ground chicken, break it apart using a wooden spoon, and brown for 5 minutes.
Step 3: Add meat sauce seasonings
Add the chopped garlic, dried basil, onion powder, salt, and pepper and stir together for 1 minute so that the seasonings warm up.
Step 4: Add tomato paste and shredded carrots
Add in the tomato paste and stir together, using a wooden spoon, until the tomato paste has become distributed throughout the ground meat. Add in the shredded carrots and stir together until they too are distributed. Heat for 2 additional minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 5: Add the tomato sauce
Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet and stir until the meat and carrots are well incorporated. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Step 6: Add the cooked rigatoni noodles
Carefully drain the cooked pasta and add it directly to the skillet containing the meat sauce mixture. Mix until well distributed.
Step 7: Add shredded mozzarella cheese
Add the mozzarella cheese and using tongs, toss the mixture until the mozzarella cheese is well incorporated.
Step 8: Transfer mixture to baking dish and bake
Pour the pasta mixture into a large, 9 x 13 inch baking dish and bake, covered with aluminum foil, in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Initial baking time is 20 minutes. This pyrex baking dish is a staple in every house!
Step 9: Bake further, uncovered
Carefully remove the aluminum foil covering. Additional baking time is 10 minutes, uncovered.
Step 10: Serve and enjoy
Carefully remove the rigatoni alforno dish from the oven. The sauce should be bubbling and the top layer should have a crispy appearance. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese, garnish with fresh parsley or fresh basil, and serve! Perfection!
Serving Suggestions and Tips
I prefer to eat rigatoni al forno immediately. The crunchy, crispy top layer of this baked rigatoni contrasts with the more tender, al dente bottom layer full of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Be aware that the textures will change over time as the noodles begin to settle and absorb moisture from the air. At the dinner table, rigatoni al forno is great with:
- Fresh green salad
- Slices of buttered garlic baguette
- A bowl of warmed, mixed olives
- Freshly ground black pepper and extra shredded parmesan cheese as toppings
- Crushed red pepper flakes for some spice
- Minced fresh herbs such as fresh basil, fresh parsley, or chives
Some variations on rigatoni al forno include substitutes for:
- Pasta: try other varieties of pasta instead of the rigatoni! Other great options for baked pasta recipes would include shorter, dense varieties of noodles including penne, fusilli, rotini, farfalle, ziti, or elbows. I much prefer baked rigatoni because the larger noodle has a larger surface area and a larger hollow center. In this way the noodle easily traps more sauce and meat! You get a more substantial bite. Also, the robustness of rigatoni pasta allows it to withstand a variety of cooking techniques, yet retain its shape and texture.
- Meat: ground chicken is my protein of choice but certainly ground beef, sweet Italian sausage, or turkey would be excellent options. If using a higher fat ground beef option (e.g., 80% lean), be sure to drain the excess grease after browning the meat. If you are a vegetarian, then replace the meat entirely with a variety of chopped vegetables such as mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, carrots, or even yellow squash! I think this would be a delicious alternative!
- Veggies: I have always liked the subtlety of shredded carrots in pasta sauce. In a rigatoni al forno, I prefer that my vegetables aren’t competing with the meat and noodles, Thus, shredded carrots fit the bill. Other similar shredded vegetable substitutes could include shredded zucchini, shredded eggplant, bell peppers, or even broccoli. Note that when making baked rigatoni, I opt to use granulated onion powder instead of chopped onions solely because my family does not appreciate onion chunks. (Though I do!)
- Cheese: If you enjoy ricotta cheese, you can certainly substitute 1 cup ricotta cheese for 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. This would add additional flavor and dimension to this baked rigatoni.
Make Ahead and Storage
Refrigeration / Make Ahead Instructions
Can baked pasta be made in advance? Absolutely, in fact, this would be a wonderful meal to gift to that pregnant woman in your life! She would be ecstatic to receive this ready-made dinner! Simply allow the pasta dish to cool, uncovered, once removed from the oven. Once cool, cover the top tightly with aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
To reheat, pull the baking dish from the fridge and place it on a baking sheet in the oven (foil and all). Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes until the pasta is warm and bubbling. Ensure that the dish is tightly covered with aluminum foil so that the noodles do not lose any additional moisture. Alternatively, you can take a personal-sized scoop of this pasta and heat it up in the microwave, on a microwave-safe dish for 1 minute, or until warm.
Can you freeze baked pasta? Yes, rigatoni al forno can be frozen for up to 3 months, for later use. It freezes very well. If you are planning to freeze an entire pan of baked rigatoni al forno, I suggest using a disposable aluminum foil pan, such as this one. I adore the versatility of these pans!
To reheat from the freezer, pull the baking pan from the freezer and allow the rigatoni to thaw for 30 minutes at room temperature. Then, slide it straight into the oven, covered with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) for 45 minutes until the noodles are warm. Cover the dish before reheating so that the noodles do not lose any additional moisture.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Does rigatoni come in different sizes?
Yes, rigatoni can come in different sizes. The length depends on the specific manufacturer, but this pasta type is identifiable by its cylindrical shape, wider diameter, and the ridges that run the length of the noodle exterior. Here are some cute, shorter rigatoni noodles that are also gluten free!
Should rigatoni be chewy?
If you want your finished rigatoni al forno to be al dente, then it is ok if your cooked pasta is chewy or slightly uncooked when adding it to the sauce (Step 6, above). The pasta will continue to cook, in the sauce, while it is baking in the oven and thus the chewiness will develop into an al dente texture. Bottom line, the noodles will cook further in the oven. If you use soft noodles, then your finished al forno will have extremely soft noodles.
What does “al dente” mean?
In Italian, al dente literally means “to the tooth.” The term al dente describes cooked pasta noodles that have a firm texture (not chewy), yet are still tender and offer a springy resistance when bitten into. To most, this is the ideal pasta texture.
Can I use elbow pasta?
Yes, certainly you can substitute elbow pasta for the rigatoni pasta. Cook the elbow pasta per the package directions in order to yield just barely al dente pasta. You want your pasta to be not quite al dente when adding it to the sauce because it will continue to cook and we want to avoid overcooked pasta. For elbow pasta, cook time is typically in the 7 minute range, but this depends on your noodle size. For smaller elbow noodles, try eating a noodle at the 5-minute mark to ensure you’re not entering overcooked pasta territory!
You'll Also Love These Related Pregnancy Dinner Recipes
- Hearty Turkey Chard Soup
- Bulgur Pilaf with Tomatoes and Peppers
- Alaskan Rockfish Baked in Parchment with Tomatoes
Rigatoni Al FornoAuthor:
- 1.1 lbs ground chicken
- 1.1 lbs rigatoni pasta
- 3 cups tomato sauce
- 1 cup carrots, shredded
- 2 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 1 tsp salt + ¼ cup (70g) salt for the pasta water
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Parsley, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees C).
- Boil a large pot of generously salted water, about 1.5 gallon (6.8 dl). You’ll want to use about ¼ cup (70g) of salt.
- Once the water is boiling, carefully drop in the rigatoni pasta. Cook per the package directions until the noodles are just barely al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, warm the extra virgin olive oil in a large, deep skillet, over medium heat.
- Add the ground chicken to the oil. Break it apart using a wooden spoon, and brown for 5 minutes.
- To the meat, add the chopped garlic, dried basil, onion powder, salt, and pepper and stir together for 1 minute.
- To the meat mixture, add in the tomato paste and stir together, using a wooden spoon, until the tomato paste has become distributed throughout the ground meat.
- Add the carrots to the skillet and stir together until they are distributed. Heat for about 2 additional minutes over medium heat.
- Pour the tomato sauce into the skillet and stir. Simmer sauce for 5 minutes over medium heat.
- Carefully drain the cooked pasta and add it into the skillet containing the meat sauce mixture. Mix until well distributed.
- Add the mozzarella cheese and toss the pasta until the mozzarella cheese is well incorporated.
- Pour the entire pasta mixture into a large, 9 x 13 inch baking dish and bake, covered with aluminum foil, in the oven at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for 20 minutes.
- Carefully remove the aluminum foil covering. Bake for 10 additional minutes, uncovered.
- Carefully remove the rigatoni al forno dish from the oven. The sauce should be bubbling and the top layer should have a crispy appearance.
- Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese, garnish with fresh parsley or fresh basil, and serve.
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