Cheesy Pasta al Forno with Italian Sausage

published Jul 22, 2022
Pasta al Forno Recipe

If you're not feeding a crowd, you can easily split this pasta bake between two dishes and freeze one for another day.

Serves6 to 8

Prep20 minutes

Cook40 minutes to 45 minutes

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pasta al forno in white dish on marble counter
Credit: Kelli Foster

Pockets of melty mozzarella, crumbles of juicy Italian sausage, and saucy rigatoni join forces in this baked pasta dinner that’s guaranteed to be a winner. Beyond the jarred marinara sauce (which keeps this meal weeknight-friendly), there are plenty of make-ahead moments to keep things as stress-free as possible. The entire casserole can be assembled and refrigerated for a couple of days — or even frozen for a couple of months, if you’re really trying to plan ahead.

What Is the Difference Between Lasagna and Pasta al Forno?

While both lasagna and pasta al forno are casseroles, they are each distinct.

  • Lasagna is a layered pasta bake of flat lasagna noodles, sauce, cheese, and often meat or vegetables.
  • Pasta al forno is a pasta bake more in line with baked ziti. Pasta al forno translates to “baked pasta” and it’s indeed that: Sauced pasta baked in a casserole dish, typically with cheese and sometimes with meat or vegetables.
Credit: Kelli Foster

What Is an “al Forno” Dish?

Al forno is Italian for “baked” — forno directly translates to “oven.” That means an anything cooked al forno simply means it’s been baked in the oven.

Do You Parboil Dry Pasta Before Baking It?

While you don’t always have to precook pasta before it goes into the oven (this orzo and this one-pot bake are just two examples), this recipe does require you to do so. Yes, it means having to bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil, but it results in more evenly cooked pasta and cuts down on time spent in the oven.

Pasta al Forno Recipe

If you're not feeding a crowd, you can easily split this pasta bake between two dishes and freeze one for another day.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 pound

    uncut low-moisture whole milk mozzarella cheese

  • 2 ounces

    Parmesan cheese (1 cup firmly packed freshly grated or 2/3 cup store-bought grated)

  • 1 pound

    uncooked hot or sweet Italian sausage

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2

    (about 24-ounce) jars marinara sauce (about 6 cups total), divided

  • 1 pound

    dried rigatoni pasta

  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics, cheese, and sausage.

  3. Dice 1/2 medium yellow onion (about 1/2 cup). Mince 4 garlic cloves. Cut 1 pound mozzarella cheese into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups). Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 packed cup), or measure out 2/3 cup store-bought grated. Remove the casings from 1 pound Italian sausage if needed.

  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

  5. Add the sausage, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula into small pieces, until browned and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 1 jar of the marinara sauce (about 3 cups) and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.

  6. Add 1 pound rigatoni pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions for 2 minutes less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and return it to the now-empty pot off the heat.

  7. Add the sausage mixture and remaining 1 jar marinara sauce to the pasta and stir to combine. Add half of the mozzarella and fold it in.

  8. Transfer the mixture to a 9x13-inch baking dish, or divide between 2 (8-inch) baking dishes or disposable foil trays. (Use a metal or disposable baking dish if you’re planning to freeze this.) Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.

  9. Bake until the edges are bubbling and the cheese on top is completely melted and browned in spots, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley leaves if using.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The unbaked casserole can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered with aluminum foil, and refrigerated. When ready to bake, remove from the refrigerator while the oven heats. Uncover and add 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Baking from frozen: If you plan to bake the casserole straight from the freezer, assemble it in a metal or disposable foil baking dish. Let the unbaked casserole cool completely in the pan, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months.

Bake the casserole, still wrapped in the foil, at 350ºF until heated through and an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F in the center. For a frozen casserole, this will take 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours. For a thawed casserole (thaw overnight in the refrigerator), this will take about 1 hour. Whether baking from frozen or thawed, bake uncovered for the last 15 minutes so the cheese can brown.