This pasta al forno is the real-Italian deal! Tiny meatballs, and pieces of mozzarella cheese combine with a rich sauce and your choice of pasta for a delicious, oven-baked meal.
UPDATED October 28, 2021
There are many pasta al forno, or oven-baked pasta recipes that you can choose from, so let me explain why you should use this one.
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Let me first ask: have you traveled to Italy? If you have, you will agree that the food is just “next-level” there, correct?
The recipe I am sharing is one of the ways that pasta al forno is made in Italy. My mother was born in Italy, so the recipes you’ll find on my site are almost always authentically Italian, and if they aren’t, I let you know.
If you have never been to Italy, all I can tell you is that you have to taste the difference in the food in order to understand. It’s simply top quality, and you can tell from your very first bite! Using the best ingredients and an authentic Italian recipe is the best bet for delicious results.
What Does “al Forno” Mean?
When you see “al forno” it simply means baked. It literally translates to “by or to the oven”. So pasta al forno means oven-baked pasta. It is partially boiled before going into the oven, so any recipe that tells you to put dry pasta in a bowl with ingredients and bake it, is not the real deal! The photo below shows pizza “al forno” with the oven (forno) in the background.
Where is Pasta al Forno From?
Pasta al forno originates from Italy. This recipe is the way my family (from Italy) makes baked pasta, but this isn’t the only recipe. However, any recipe which includes loads of seasoning (including Italian seasoning), 25 ingredients and 2 lbs of cheese is not an authentic one, you can be sure.
Here’s another type of baked dish with mozzarella cheese: gnocchi alla Sorrentina
Do They Bake Pasta in Italy?
Of course! As noted above, baked pasta comes from Italy, and it is a beloved dish!
How Can I Make my Pasta Taste Like the one in Italy?
It’s easier than you think because in the US, Canada, UK etc., we do have access to quite a few top quality Italian foods! Last month, I went on an “Italian Tomato Tour” hosted by ANICAV and The Greatest Tomatoes from Europe campaign. What is ANICAV? It is the Italian Association of Canned Tomatoes Producers – which represents the world’s finest European preserved tomatoes.
ANICAV member companies account for more than 60% of the processed tomatoes in Italy, and almost all the whole peeled tomatoes produced in the world, including the internationally well-known San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP. The cans will always say “pomodori pelati Italiani”, which simply means “Italian peeled tomatoes”. Much more to come about this tour including a new pizza dough recipe!
We tasted so many fabulous tomato based dishes, many of them created using Italian canned tomatoes, yes, even during tomato season! You see, if you have the best quality canned tomatoes, they are much better than store bought fresh tomatoes. The standards are set extremely high for canned vegetables in Italy. In fact, all food standards are extremely high, which is why the food tastes better. I was able to tour a tomato factory (CIAO) in Southern Italy, and saw what rigorous rules have to be followed with my own eyes.
Can I Freeze Pasta al Forno?
Pasta al forno can definitely be frozen, either before or after baking. Here’s a tip: if you want it to taste the best when you eat it, freeze it BEFORE baking it in an ovenproof dish. That way, when you defrost and bake it, it tastes just made!
Here’s my simple and delicious recipe below–it’s a good one!
Pasta al Forno (Baked Pasta)
my family’s recipe serves 6
FULL PRINTABLE RECIPE BELOW
Prepare the 3 Parts of the Recipe
Make the mini meatballs.
Make the pasta sauce, but instead of ground beef, add the meatballs.
Note: when making the meatballs, I like to use a combination of meat: I used organic ground beef, ground pork and ground chicken.
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, minus 4 minutes. For example, the orecchiette cooking time was 11 minutes so I cooked them for 7 minutes. Reserve at least 1 1/2 cups of pasta water when you drain it.
Assemble the dish.
Add some sauce and meatballs and some of the pasta water and mix well. Continue to add the sauce and water until it is no longer dry, and has a good amount of sauce (I added over one cup of water). Remember, the pasta is still undercooked and will absorb quite a lot of liquid.
Toss in the diced mozzarella, stir well and put into a baking dish. I recommend using whole milk mozzarella.
Bake the Pasta al Forno.
Bake in a preheated 400°F degree oven for 20 minutes, covered with a lid. Remove the lid, sprinkle with grated cheese. Continue to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how crispy you want the top of the pasta.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Just look at that cheese pull!
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- 1 lb high quality pasta (I used orecchiette, short penne or mezzi rigatoni also work well)
- tomato sauce made with mini-meatballs (or tomato sauce and mini-meatballs, or omit for vegetarian) - recipe links in NOTES
- 4 oz mozzarella cheese, diced
- grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
- Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, but drain the water, reserving at least 1 1/2 cups, 4 minutes before the end of the suggested cooking time (for example, the orechiette cooking time was 11 minutes and I cooked them for 7 minutes).
- Add some sauce and meatballs and some of the pasta water and mix well. Continue to add the sauce and water until it is no longer dry, and has a good amount of sauce (I added over one cup of water; remember the pasta is still undercooked and will absorb quite a bit of liquid).
- Toss in the diced mozzarella, stir well and put into a baking dish.
- Bake in a preheated 400F degree oven for 20 minutes, covered with a lid. Remove the lid, sprinkle with grated cheese, and continue to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how crispy you want the top of the pasta.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then serve.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 257Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 33mgSodium: 325mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 13g
Nutrition information is only estimated.