Baked rigatoni, made with sausage! So much robust flavor and melted cheese! And the added benefit of hidden veg. A balanced meal in one pan.
Boy, if you are craving a hearty Italian dinner then have I got the recipe for you: Baked Rigatoni!
This baked rigatoni recipe has it all! Meat, veggies, starch… all bathed in a robust tomato sauce and layered with melty mozzarella cheese.
Pasta, tomato sauce, cheese, etc. You know what I mean! It’s delicious!
Table of Contents
- What is baked rigatoni?
- Why this is the best baked rigatoni recipe
- What does it taste like?
- Special equipment
- How to make sausage rigatoni
- How to serve
- Expert tips
- Frequently asked questions
- A few more of my favorite dinner recipes
What is baked rigatoni?
Rigatoni is one of the myriad shapes of pasta. It looks like a short, wide tube, and it has ridges all along the outside of it to catch and cling to the sauce.
When you add it to meat, cheese, veggies, and sauce, and bake it until piping hot and steamy, you have a winning combination!
Why this is the best baked rigatoni recipe
- Tastes amazing: All of the components compliment each other in the most scrumptious way!
- Few ingredients: You’ll only need a handful of ingredients to make it.
- Easy to make: It doesn’t take long to put it together.
- Serves a crowd: This recipe is perfect for big family gatherings.
- Hidden vegetables: Some of the pasta gets swapped out for veggies, so it’s more nutritious. And they’ll never even notice!
What does it taste like?
This sausage rigatoni recipe has TONS of flavor.
It’s tomato-ey and cheesy, with a hint of garlic and herbs.
There’s a richness to it that allows the flavors to linger on your tongue.
And it’s so meaty! There’s lots of savory Italian sausage in every bite.
There’s also some vegetables in there, but honestly I don’t think most people would even notice!
I’ve chosen eggplant because the taste is so mild, and it just kinda melts down into nothingness. To tell you the truth, I’m not a huge eggplant fan. But when it’s cooked together with all these other ingredients, it doesn’t even register.
And fennel compliments the sausage beautifully. Italian sausage is made with fennel seed, so it makes perfect sense! Again, you almost don’t even know it’s there. It just blends right in!
Pasta: Rigatoni pasta is traditional but you can use something else if you like!
Oil: So things don’t stick to the pot as they cook. I prefer extra-virgin olive oil. It has a higher smoke point and a really rich flavor.
Meat: I love sweet Italian sausage. It’s made from pork (but sometimes you can get a turkey version!) and it’s seasoned in a really killer way. You could also use hot Italian sausage if you want to make spicy baked rigatoni. Or you could just use ground beef or ground turkey if you prefer a milder taste.
Vegetables: If you want to hide veggies, you have to be smart about it. Choose vegetables that have a mild flavor, so they just cook up tasting like whatever sauce they’re in. I went with fennel and eggplant, but you could also try adding spinach, carrots, onions, cauliflower…
Tomato sauce: Use my homemade tomato sauce recipe, or a jar of the store-bought stuff!
Cheese: Mozzarella is traditional. I’ve used a combination of shredded, part-skim mozzarella and fresh mozzarella balls, torn into pieces. I also like to layer in some mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) for added richness.
How to make sausage rigatoni
This easy baked rigatoni recipe comes together in just 5 simple steps.
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Fill your big pot with water, add a tablespoon or so of salt, and bring it to a boil.
Toss in half a box of rigatoni and allow it to boil for one minute less than the package instructions direct. (This way, it will finish cooking in the sauce and absorb some of that yummy flavor!)
Then drain it in the colander and set it aside. If you like, you can toss it with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.
Step 2: Brown the meat
In that same pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers and then add the sausage.
Break it up with your spoon and cook it until it’s no longer pink. Bonus points if you get a nice brown crust on it!
Step 3: Add the veg
Prep the fennel by lopping off the stems and fronds and removing the core like this:
Then just chop it up into bite-sized pieces.
With eggplant, I’m not always sure how I feel about the peel, so I usually take about half of it off, in strips like this:
Chop that up as well, add it to the pot, and season.
Once the veggies have gone tender, stir in the tomato sauce.
Step 4: Layer it in the dish
Add the partially cooked pasta back to the pot and stir it in with the meat, sauce, and veggies, until every bit is coated.
Layer about half the mixture into the baking dish, and top with dollops of mascarpone.
Then pour the rest of the pasta mixture on top and layer with mozzarella.
Step 5: Bake
Basically, you just want to get the rigatoni so it’s hot all the way through, and the cheese is melted.
If you bake it immediately after assembling it, this can take as little as 10 minutes. If you prep it ahead of time, it could take a little longer to bring it back up to temperature.
How to serve
I’ve showered my baked rigatoni with some torn fresh basil leaves. You could also sprinkle on a pinch more crushed red pepper. And I really like to add a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano!
Look for “bulk” sausage: Bulk sausage is easier to work with because it’s just the seasoned ground meat. There’s no casing to deal with. But sometimes it can be harder to find. If all you can get is links, you can slice them longways and take the meat out, or just cut them into bite-sized pieces before cooking.
Mix things up: If you have a real aversion to eggplant or fennel, try using a different kind of veg instead. You can add almost anything! But milder-tasting veggies will work best, as they tend to just absorb all the other flavors.
Don’t overcook the pasta: The rigatoni will continue to soften as it’s added to the sauce and baked. It could end up mushy if you boil it for too long.
Make it in a foil pan: Baked pasta dishes like this one freeze really well! You can make up a big tray and stash it in the freezer for a night when you don’t want to cook. If you do, use a foil pan so your nice casserole isn’t tied up in the freezer for weeks on end.
Frequently asked questions
Baked noodle (aka: pasta al forno) dishes are perfect for making ahead!
Do everything but bake it, then cover it with foil and stash it away for a rainy day.
Whenever the craving strikes, just heat it in the oven until bubbly and delish!
This dish can sit out at room temperature for a few hours, but if you have any leftovers they should be chilled or frozen.
They’ll last in the fridge for around a week, or in the freezer for a few months. It can go straight from freezer to oven, but you may want to cover it with foil (so the top doesn’t burn) and extend the bake time as needed.
Reheat leftovers in the microwave or in a 170-degree oven until warmed through.
This rigatoni recipe serves at least 8 generously.
The nutritional info provided in the recipe card figures on a serving of 1/8th of the whole casserole.
A few more of my favorite dinner recipes
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- 8 ounces (226.8 g) rigatoni pasta
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) extra-virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces (453.59 g) Italian sausage, (I used sweet; hot would work too)
- 1 (234 g) fennel bulb, roughly chopped
- 1 (458 g) eggplant, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon (3 g) kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (1.5 g) garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) crushed red pepper flakes
- 24 ounces (680.39 g) tomato sauce
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) mascarpone
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) mozzarella, shredded or torn
- Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Cook the rigatoni pasta for one minute less than the package directs.
- Drain the pasta and set aside (add a drizzle of olive oil, if desired, to prevent sticking).
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high until shimmering.
- Break up the sausage and cook (stirring) until no longer pink (approx. 5 minutes).
- Add the fennel, eggplant, salt, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper, and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender (approx. 5 to 10 minutes).
- Pour in the tomato sauce and toss to combine.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Stir in the cooked pasta and transfer about half the mixture to an oven-safe baking dish.
- Top with dollops of mascarpone.
- Layer on the remaining rigatoni mixture, and sprinkle on the mozzarella.
- Bake until the cheese is melted and the sausage rigatoni is warmed through to the center (approx. 10 to 25 minutes).