Pasta Al Forno

Right after giving birth to my first daughter I was bombarded with a myriad of problems resulting from the delivery and anesthesia. The baby was healthy, but I wasn’t doing so hot. My mom was coming to help, but I had a few days to get through once my hubby went back to work before she could come. So there I was, sick with a newborn and totally clueless as to how to survive. Nothing sounded good to eat, I felt like I had an elephant sitting on top of my head, and I was a human pacifier.

After one particularly long day of Gilmore Girls reruns, sporadic napping, smelling of the plague and eating nothing but microwave popcorn and pineapple juice, I got a knock on my door. A friend from church was holding a hot casserole dish and had her own one week old curled up in the Baby Bjorn. A saint, right? That meal she brought over that night, 6 years ago, has forever won a place in my heart. I needed it that night, more than she knew and probably more than I even knew. It restored my energy, fed my body and soul, and filled my house with aromas sweeter than those permeating from me.

You can probably guess that this pasta al forno is what was brought to me that night. It’s creamy, saucy, super flavorful, and might be one of the most perfect comfort foods ever. This recipe comes straight from the saint that carried it to my doorstep. She spent 18 months in Italy as a missionary and told me that it was one of the dishes she learned to make while there. In Italian “al forno” references food that has been cooked in the oven, so pasta al forno is simply pasta cooked in the oven. This recipe pairs a meaty tomato sauce with creamy béchamel, mozzarella cheese, and rigatoni—what’s not to love?

Let’s make it!  Start by browning 1 1/2 lbs of mild Italian sausage until cooked through and drain off the fat.

Pasta Al Forno

To the sausage add 2 cans of petite diced tomatoes a few chopped cloves a fresh garlic. Stir together and let simmer, covered,  for as long as possible.
Pasta Al Forno
Just before it’s ready to go into the pasta,  you’ll stir in some fresh basil. Wanna know how to make a chiffonade of basil? Stack picked basil leaves on top of one another until you have a fairly good sized pile.
Pasta Al Forno
Roll the pile of leaves into a cigar shape…
Pasta Al Forno
And cut, cut, cut! Thinly slice the basil “cigar” and you’ll end up with pretty little thin strands of basil.
Pasta Al Forno
Melt a stick of butter in a medium sized sauce pan (yes,  a whole stick. It’s worth it, promise)
Pasta Al Forno
Stir in enough flour to make it about the same consistency of toothpaste. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Pasta Al Forno
Stir the milk into the roux and continue to stir until it comes to a boil and is thickened. As far as types of milk go, I like to use whole milk. It  helps that have a toddler so I always have it available, but the whole milk makes it super creamy. You can sub 2%, or even 1% but please, for the love, don”t use skim.
Pasta Al Forno
Cook the rigatoni per the package directions and drain. Once you have the sausage sauce, bechamel, and pasta you’re ready to asseble.
 I’ve used 9×13″ pans in the past, just be aware that it will be a VERY full pan. If you have something bigger, use it! You’ll start with placing half of the pasta in the bottom of  the pan and topping with half of the sausage sauce and then half of the bechamel.
Pasta Al Forno
 Sprinkle with some mozzarella cheese and repeat the layering once more: pasta, sausage/tomatoes, bechamel, and mozzarella.
Pasta Al Forno
Bake uncovered at 350° for about 45 minutes or until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbly. These also make excellent freezer meals. Just freeze once assembled, thaw when ready to eat, and bake like normal. It’s the perfect thing to take to, say, some one who just had a baby? :)
Oh, and if you’re reading this Cari, THANK YOU!
This recipe is also a part of The Yahoo Shine Supper Club. Hop on over to see what it’s about!
Pasta Al Forno
Pasta Al Forno
Serves: 6 servings
  • 1½ lbs mild italian sausage
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans petite diced tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 (4 oz) stick butter
  • ½ C + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2½ C whole milk
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 lb dry rigatoni, cooked
  • 2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
  1. Brown sausage until cooked through and drain off excess fat. Stir in tomatoes and garlic and bring to a simmer. Cook covered on low for at least 30 minutes, longer if time allows. Stir in basil just before assembly.
  2. Make the bechamel by melting butter in a medium sized sauce pan. Stir the flour into the butter, adding more flour if needed to create a toothpaste-like consistency. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Using a whisk, stir in milk and continue to stir until it comes to a boil and is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in salt and nutmeg.
  4. In a large casserole dish (9x13" or bigger) place half of the pasta followed by half of the tomato sauce and bechamel. Top with 1 C of mozzarella cheese.
  5. Repeat the layering one more time with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Bake at 350° for about 45 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is browned.


  1. Linda says

    Wow Heather, this looks & sounds very tasty indeed! I am definitely going to make it once I have all the ingredients!

    BTW, you’ve done such a great job here with all the photos, I think it is just perfect for going onto the website too!

  2. Amy says

    This looked so good I had to make it for dinner tonight. It wasn’t hard at all .. but I did end up with several pots to wash. I am here to report that it was WORTH IT!!! Absolutely delicious and I will be making it again for sure. I froze half of it and we’ll see how it holds up. My experience is that pasta and cheese usually suffers after a stint in the freezer. But we are dining very well at my house tonight indeed! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. jeanine says

    I made this tonight. It was delicious and pretty easy! I found your blog through Yahoo and will definitely come back for more yummy recipes. Thank you for a wonderful meal.

  4. Rianna says

    This looks so good I absolutely have to try this. I was wondering if I can substitute the sausage with turkey or beef?

    • admin says

      Definitely! I’ve used turkey italian sausage before and it turned out great. If you decide to use just plain turkey or beef you might want to spice up the sauce by using a bit of red chili flakes, additional salt, and perhaps a pinch of fennel seed. Good luck!

  5. Catherine S says

    I also served a mission in Italy and love Pasta al Forno. Found your recipe in a search today as I wanted to make a big pan of pasta for my son at college. I was missing the mozzarella cheese which I know is horrid, but I used provolone slices and it worked out well and is delicious! He’ll be thrilled with a big pan of leftovers. Thanks!

    • Heather says

      I have a special little place in my heart for provolone and it goes great with pasta! Such a good mom for cooking for your college boy! :)

  6. Chris says

    Looks great! Do you drain the canned tomatoes before adding them? I’ve seen some recipes that drain and others that don’t.

  7. Annette says

    My husband and i are always trying to eat very healthy, do you have any nutrional information on this delicious looking dish.

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