Imagine devouring a warm, freshly-baked hefty serving of this Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce — each piece of rigatoni pasta is smothered with rich Bolognese sauce and melty cheese. Sounds great? I know!
This rigatoni Bolognese just hits the right spot when you’re craving something meaty, cheesy, and comforting. The crushed tomatoes meld with the ground meat, roasted garlic paste, onion, celery, and carrots to make a flavor-rich sauce for the rigatoni noodles. It’s great for special occasions or just because. Putting it together can also be a great family bonding activity.
- What is the difference between baked ziti and baked rigatoni?
- ❤️ Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- 🥘 Ingredients
- 🔀 Substitutions
- 🌈 Variations / Options / Add-Ins
- 🥄 Equipment Needed / Helpful Tools
- 🔪 How to Make Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce
- 🍽️ Serving Suggestions
- 👩🍳 Pro Tips
- ❓ Recipe FAQs
- 🙏 Pairing
- 📋 Recipe
- 🛑 Food safety
What is the difference between baked ziti and baked rigatoni?
There is not much difference between the two. The slight difference is that rigatoni is wider and shorter, while ziti is a bit narrower and longer. Rigatoni has ridges which help catch sauce, while ziti is smooth.
You can almost always use these two interchangeably. However, for baked pasta recipes like this, it’s best to use the ridged rigatoni. It’s sturdy enough for baking and it holds the most sauce.
❤️ Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Rich and savory tomato-meat sauce, rigatoni pasta, and cheese are all combined in this dish. It’ll surely bring a smile to anyone it is served to.
- It is freezer friendly. You can whip up a big batch and store the rest for later, up to 2 months.
- It’s easy to incorporate veggies into this dish! Just chop the veggies small and the kids won’t notice.
- It’s pretty cheap and feeds a crowd, which makes it great for parties.
Looking for other delicious pasta recipes? Check out my spicy chicken pasta.
The ingredients you’ll need are all common and easily available in your nearest grocery store. The main ingredients are:
- Pasta: Rigatoni is great for heavy meat sauces like this because it’s firm enough to carry the sauce, even after baking. Plus, its ridges help the sauce adhere better.
- Canned crushed tomatoes: Try to find a low sodium or no sodium kind. This gives you more control on the saltiness of your dish.
- Cheese: Although I used Parmigiano Reggiano and Romano for this recipe for their strong flavor, you can use what you have on hand. A combination of one that’s strong in flavor and one that’s melty like mozzarella sounds great.
- Meat: To get the best quality, you can pick your choice cut of meat then ask the butcher to grind it for you.
See recipe card for quantities.
Meat: We love beef and tomatoes, but you can sub it with Italian sausage or ground pork if that’s what you have available. Or, make it a bit leaner by using ground turkey, or vegan using your favorite plant-based meat substitute.
Rigatoni pasta: Use whole wheat pasta for added fiber and less calories.
Roasted garlic paste: Roasted garlic has a sweet flavor which I really love, but you can always use minced fresh garlic cloves.
Cheese: Personally, I prefer the strong and sharp flavors of Parmigiano Reggiano and Romano. Mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and cheddar cheese are also great options for this dish.
Parsley: Alternatively, you can also use fresh basil leaves.
🌈 Variations / Options / Add-Ins
Customize this rigatoni Bolognese recipe by doing this:
- Toppings: Top it with sliced bell peppers, and other kinds of protein like pepperoni and bacon prior to baking for added flavor.
- Veggies: Add in other veggies like chopped zucchini and peas so the kids get to eat more vegetables.
- Spicy: Add chili pepper flakes while cooking to add some heat to the dish.
See this Instant Pot Italian Sausage Rigatoni which my family also loves!
🥄 Equipment Needed / Helpful Tools
Here are the few tools you’ll need to make this recipe:
- casserole dish: Use one that’s roomy enough. Do not overfill it, otherwise the pasta sauce might overflow.
- large skillet: If you have a cast iron skillet, I recommend using it. The pan distributes heat evenly, so it’ll do a good job browning your meat.
If you’re ready, let’s go to the cooking instructions.
🔪 How to Make Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce
This recipe comes together in under an hour, prep time and cook time combined. You’ll have a delicious homemade baked pasta dish in no time.
Step 1: Prepare
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and prepare a 13×9 dish with nonstick spray. It’s important to preheat the oven so that it has an even cooking temperature. Meanwhile, heat up a large pot of salted water to boil pasta in.
Step 2: Sauté ground meat
Use a skillet on medium-high heat to sauté the ground meat together with the onion, celery, and carrots. Once browned, drain off the liquid.
Step 3: Add the seasonings and tomato
Stir in garlic, 1 teaspoon parsley, salt & pepper, and tomatoes. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. The low and slow cooking develops all the flavors together.
Step 4: Cook pasta and combine with sauce
Cook pasta in the water you started boiling earlier. Drain pasta and combine it with the sauce in a mixing bowl or pot that’s large enough with extra room for stirring.
Step 5: Assemble
Stir in ½ cup of each cheese into the pasta. Spoon pasta mix into prepared baking dish. Try to get the pasta into an even layer for a nice presentation and even cooking. Then, top it with the remaining cheese and parsley.
Step 6: Bake until cheese is melted
The kitchen is going to smell delicious by this time. But don’t be tempted to open the oven door every once in a while to check. Let it bake and cook evenly.
Step 7: Serve and enjoy
Now, the only thing left to do is to devour your creation!
🍽️ Serving Suggestions
Serve your baked rigatoni with meat sauce with a glass of your favorite wine for a fancy date night! Or have it with these crispy baked parmesan asparagus fries for a treat that kids will enjoy.
👩🍳 Pro Tips
For beginner cooks or new moms, the thought of making this baked casserole pasta dish may sound intimidating. But trust me, it’s easier than you think! Here are some expert tips to help you achieve stellar results.
- Undercook the pasta. Most package instructions will tell you to cook pasta x-minutes until it is al dente. I recommend undercooking it by 3 minutes, since we will cook the pasta for a second time in the oven. This will prevent it from turning mushy.
- Use 90% lean ground beef. It has just the right ratio of fat to keep the dish moist and add flavor.
- Serving it for parties? Extend the yield of this recipe by adding mushrooms to the sauce! They’re rich in umami, which means your dish will be even more flavorful. Mushrooms are also packed with nutrients.
- Sprinkle as much cheese as you like. It’s your pasta dish anyways! However, if you sprinkle a lot of cheese on top, I recommend you use foil sprayed with non-stick spray to cover the top. It’ll prevent the cheese from burning.
❓ Recipe FAQs
Heavy, flavorful meat sauces like Bolognese goes well with rigatoni. I do not recommend using light oil-based sauces when cooking rigatoni; those are best for thin noodles like vermicelli and fettucine.
Serve your rigatoni pasta with fresh green salad on the side and a glass of red wine. Red wine always goes well with red sauce.
To store the leftovers, first, let them come to room temperature. Transfer the leftovers into air-tight containers. They will keep well in the fridge for 3 days, and in the freezer for up to three months.
Ready to get cooking? Print off the recipe card below or toggle on Cook Mode to keep your screen from going dark while you follow along on your phone or tablet.
Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees and prepare a 13×9 dish with nonstick spray. Meanwhile, heat up a large pot of salted water to boil pasta in.
- In a pre-heated skillet, cook the ground meat until it is no longer pink.
- Add onion, celery, and carrots. Continue cooking for about 3 minutes, then drain.
- Stir in garlic, 1 teaspoon parsley, salt & pepper, and tomatoes. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta with sauce.
- Stir in ½ cup of each cheese into the pasta. Spoon pasta mix into prepared baking dish in an even layer.
- Top it with the remaining cheese and parsley.
- Bake the pasta dish for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Serve and enjoy!
🛑 Food safety
We sometimes take for granted that we have years (or decades) of cooking experience, that the average visitor may not. So, here are some health and safety tips to help you out.
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don’t leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove