There are not many things I love more than a one-pot pasta dish! This baked rigatoni pasta is the perfect comforting cold weather meal with ricotta, pesto and an easy creamy red sauce.
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In case you’re not living on the west coast, it’s been FREEZING and you know that we’re big fat wimps over here. That means I’ve been really leaning into the comforting meals like this Baked Rigatoni. It’s a one-post dish that’s loaded with flavor from the red sauce, the pesto and the ricotta. It’s a medley of flavors and it puts all other Baked Rigatoni recipes to shame!
What is Baked Rigatoni?
Baked rigatoni is a classic Italian-American dish that’s will wow everyone around your table. This pasta combines al dente rigatoni with everyone’s favorite tomato sauce and whatever other ingredients your heart desires, I’m into ground meat, vegetables, cheese (TONS OBVI!)—all baked together in one delicious medley of flavors. So don’t just settle for boring old spaghetti next time you want a red sauce pasta – get the whole gang over for an ooey-gooey night of Baked Rigatoni!
What is baked rigatoni made from?
- Rigatoni – obviously this is the base of the dish. You’re welcome to use any other short pasta you have on hand. At the end of the day, pasta is pasta.
- Sweet Italian chicken sausage – this is going to add tons of flavor to the red sauce. You’re also welcome to use ground chicken, ground turkey or ground beef!
- Garlic and Onions – pretty much mandatory for all WGC recipes!
- Herbs and Seasonings in the form of dried oregano, dried thyme and red pepper flakes – this is going to add a depth of flavor to the rigatoni
- Crushed tomatoes and heavy cream make up the majority of the sauce and it’s perfection. You can also use a jarred pasta sauce instead of crushed tomatoes if that’s what you have on hand.
- Cheese!! We need some shredded mozzarella (skip the fresh mozzarella for this as it doesn’t melt as well) and some ricotta.
- Fresh pesto too add some more herby notes! I make my own pesto from scratch!
- Basil to garnish
Here’s the general gist of how to make the best Baked Rigatoni
- Cook the pasta! Simple and easy enough – until al dente. Don’t over cook it!
- Next, sauté the sausage with the onion, and herbs over medium heat until browned. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding the crushed tomatoes and heavy cream and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Combine cooked pasta and sausage mixture, and the 1/2 of the shredded mozzarella and stir to combine. Place the pasta mixture in a large oven-proof dish. Top with the fresh mozzarella, ricotta and pesto and bake for 15 minutes covered with tin foil and then an additional 15 minutes uncovered until bubbly. Serve immediately and thank me later!
Variations or Substitutes:
Pasta – like I mentioned above, you can really use any shape of pasta for this recipe. You can also use GF pasta if you prefer.
Meat – I prefer sausage as the extra fat gives even more flavor to this dish. But any kind of ground meat is great.
Cheese – you want something that melts well. While burrata would be incredible, it gets a little too melty and becomes almost like liquid.
A few things that you can do to really amp up the flavor here!
- You want to let the sausage get golden brown. Those brown bits on the bottom of your pan – they are GOLD. Let the meat cook and sear, don’t stir to too much and really develop that flavor.
- Same goes for the onions. You want them to get nice and golden. If you just sweat them until they are translucent, you’re loosing some of the flavor!
- How long should you bake the rigatoni for? I usually cook it between 10-12 min but always use the packaging directions as my starting point.
Is rigatoni the same as ziti?
Rigatoni and ziti are similar but not the same. They’re actually two different types of pasta! Rigatoni is a tube-shaped, ridged pasta and Ziti, on the other hand, is smoother and flatter than rigatoni.
What is the difference between penne and rigatoni?
While both are tubes, but penne tends to have angled ends while rigatoni are straight with wider openings which I love for a dish like this when you want the meat mixture to go inside the pasta.
Can you make baked rigatoni ahead of time?
You can easily make it ahead and store it overnight in the fridge, ready to pop into the oven anytime you like! Just assemble all the ingredients together, layer them in a baking dish and refrigerate until ready to be baked.
Tools used to make this
What you’ll need:
- 1 pound medium rigatoni
- 1 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage
- 1 onion roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup fresh mozzarella cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup ricotta
- 1/2 cup fresh pesto
- Basil to garnish
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain the pasta, and set it aside.
- Remove the casings from the sausage. In a large skillet, combine the sausage, onion, and herbs over medium heat until browned, for about 10 minutes until the meat is golden brown. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds before adding the crushed tomatoes and heavy cream and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Combine cooked pasta and sausage mixture, and the shredded mozzarella and stir to combine. Place the pasta mixture in a large casserole dish. Top with the fresh mozzarella, ricotta and pesto and bake for 15 minutes covered with tin foil and then an additional 15 minutes uncovered until bubbly. Serve immediately.
- This recipe calls for rigatoni, but feel free to substitute it for any other type of short pasta
Drooling! Cannot wait to sink my fork into this!
Made this tonight and it turned out fabulous! Everyone loved it. Will make again.
Made this tonight for my family and they LOVED it!
Could this recipe be frozen once it’s assembled? I want to make it for a friend who has a baby in the NICU but I want her to have the option to eat it when she can.
Loved this one! Felt much more lighter and flavorful than a dense baked ziti – will definitely make again (and thankful we split the recipe and have half in the freezer!!)