Baked Rigatoni with Three Cheeses is pure comfort food that fills the belly and the soul. Homemade tomato sauce mixed with ridged rigatoni pasta, layered with a combination of ricotta and Parmesan cheese, followed by mozzarella, then topped with Parmesan. Perfect for dinner, cookouts, and family events. Mangia!
When my kids ask if they can have friends over to hang out, I usually make pizzas for them to enjoy while they watch a movie or play pool. This time I wanted to do something different. Baked rigatoni made with my Quick Tomato Sauce and three different cheeses, along with freshly made garlic bread would be served instead.
It may sound like a lot of work but it’s quite easy to prepare. Really.
About the pasta, rigatoni is my choice for two reasons: the ridges of the rigatoni gives the sauce something to cling to and rigatoni is wider than ziti which allows the inside of the tube to hold more sauce. You can use ziti and I’m sure baked ziti will sound familiar to you. I grew up with a brand that actually made ziti with lines or ridges, but if you look around, you will notice that most ziti pasta is smooth with no ridges. Because rigatoni is consistent with its size and ridges/lines, it is my preferred pasta.
As for the cheese, whole milk ricotta, shredded mozzarella, and either grated Romano or Parmesan cheese is what’s needed to complete this dish. Note that Romano is a little saltier than Parmesan, therefore, add salt to your taste.
I make a double batch of my Quick Tomato Sauce. The reason for doubling the sauce? Because this is a baked dish, the pasta absorbs the sauce as it bakes. If using just one batch, you will find yourself with a dry rubbery Baked Rigatoni. You don’t want that.
People have their own techniques on how to put this dish together. Here’s mine…
First, I make the sauce and let that simmer for 20 minutes or so. While that’s simmering, mix the ricotta with an egg and about ½ cup of grated cheese – either Romano or Parmesan – along with a splash of milk to give it some creaminess. Add salt and pepper, but be careful of salt if using Romano cheese because it is saltier than Parmesan.
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Cook the pasta for half the time listed on package. Check out my How to Cook Pasta post on properly salting the water. This particular pasta I used – De Cecco, one of my favorites – recommends 14 minutes. Since this is going to be baked and will continue to cook more in the oven, I only boil it for 7 minutes. Overcooked pasta is a no no. After draining the pasta, place it back in pan and mix it with a ladle or two of sauce to keep it from sticking.
To assemble, use a deep (3″) 9×13 baking dish. If you are bringing this to a party or gathering, I recommend using a 9×13 foil pan that is 3″deep as this gets filled to the top. I’ve lost so many casserole and baking dishes that were left and never returned that I’ve turned to foil pans. They can keep those!
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Spread two ladles of sauce onto the bottom of pan. Fyi, my ladle holds ½ cup.
*Add ⅓ of the rigatoni and spread it out
Add a few ladles of sauce to cover
Scatter dollops of ⅓ of the ricotta mixture
Layer with a ⅓ of the mozzarella
Top with ⅓ of the grated cheese
Cover the top with a piece of parchment paper. This will prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil. Then cover the top with foil and seal. Bake for 30 minutes covered, then 15 more minutes uncovered.
Needless to say, this Baked Rigatoni with Three Cheeses was a big hit. When I see the kids going for seconds and thirds, it warms my heart. I can hear my aunt Julia and uncle Tony yell “Mangia! Mangia!” with a big smile on their face and hand movements as if conducting a concert. Great family memories. I hope you create your own by making this dish and sharing it with your family. Mangia! Buon appetito!
Be happy, eat well…
Baked Rigatoni with Three CheesesPrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion diced
- 6 - 8 cloves garlic chopped
- 2 28 Oz. cans of ground peeled tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- a handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta
- ¼ cup milk
- ½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano
- 1 large egg
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup of additional grated Romano or Parmesan cheese for layering and topping
- In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two being careful not to brown. Stir in the salt, garlic powder, sugar, and pepper. Slowly add in the tomatoes. Cook for about ten minutes stirring occasionally. Tear up the basil leaves and add to sauce.
- Stir and simmer for another ten minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil pasta for half the time it states on the box. Drain, then toss with 2 ladles (1 cup) of sauce.
- Preheat oven 350 degrees.
Make the ricotta mixture:
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, grated cheese, and egg. Season with a sprinkle of kosher salt and some pepper to taste. Note if using Romano, it is saltier than Parmesan. I do taste this before and after adding salt and adjust from there.
- - You need a 9x13 deep (3") pan for this dish. It gets filled to the top.
- Ladle about 1 cup of sauce in deep 9x13 pan or deep 9x13 foil pan to just coat bottom then add ⅓ of rigatoni. The pasta won't cover the entire bottom and that's ok.
- Ladle sauce to cover pasta. Scatter the top with dollops of ricotta over the top. If you like, you can spread lightly across pasta. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella then sprinkle with some grated cheese. Repeat two more times ending with mozzarella and grated cheese over the top.
- Place a piece of wax or parchment on top then cover and seal with foil. The wax/parchment will prevent the cheese from sticking to the foil. To be safe, you may want to place the pan on a foiled lined baking sheet to catch any drippings. It depends on the depth of your baking dish or casserole pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Carefully remove foil and paper and cook for another 15 minutes.
- Serve and Mangia!