This classic Italian stuffed rigatoni recipe is filled with creamy ricotta cheese and served in a herby tomato sauce that leaves everyone at the dinner speechless.
Serve this bruschetta with mozzarella as an appetizer or alongside this stuffed rigatoni dish. The bruschetta's fresh basil and lightness help balance out this heavier pasta recipe.
As pasta recipes come, this oven-baked dish is timeless comfort food. I enjoy making this with loved ones, and this recipe works great for family dinners. And the presentation of the stuffed rigatoni creates a perfect honeycomb pasta held together with meat, sauce, and cheese is fantastic.
⭐ Fall in love with and Italian Classic
Out of all the Italian recipes that I have tried over the years, I would say this ricotta-stuffed rigatoni oven bake is in my top 3 dishes of all time. It is the perfect comfort food for a weeknight dinner that has lots of cheesy, meaty, and herby tomato flavors running through the pasta tubes.
Though this dish might be a bit technical for some home cooks and requires more patience and time to fill the pasta tubes with the cheese mixture, it is a great recipe to make with other people, like kids or your partner.
I made this dish the other night with my kids as they love to fill the pasta tubes with ricotta mixture because it's quite fun for them and saves me around 20 minutes if I did it myself. So if you have some extra hands to help out in the kitchen, it makes the experience much more enjoyable.
🍽 What you need
To make this dish at a nice steady pace without rushing it, make it on a day where you have a few hours to get stuck in the kitchen as it can be quite time-consuming. I promise you it will be worth the effort once it is baked.
You only need a few key tools to make this recipe and most of them are cookware
- A skillet
- A chopping board & knife
- A spatula
- A piping bag
- A mixing bowl
- A baking dish or springform pan
- Rigatoni pasta - 1 pound (500 g)
- Parmesan - 1 cup, finely grated
For the filling:
- Ricotta - 1 8 oz (250 g) container
- Mozzarella - 1 cup, finely grated
- Parmesan - ½ cup, finely grated
- Eggs - 2, beaten
- Parsley - 1 tsp
For the sauce:
- Olive oil - 1 tbsp
- Turkey - 1 pound, ground or ground beef
- Kosher salt and black pepper - use very generously
- Cloves garlic - 3, minced
- Italian herbs - 2 tbsp
- Crushed red pepper - 1 tsp
- Crushed tomatoes - 2 14 oz (400 g) cans, with juices
- Mozzarella - 1 ½ cups, shredded
🔪 How to make
Although this dish is time-consuming for most home cooks, the steps are relatively simple to follow and definitely worth your time. Make use of extra hands in the house to work with each other in the preparation process to save time.
- The first thing to do is pre-heat the oven to 400 F (200 C) so it gets nice and hot ready for baking.
- Boil a pan of water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain it, then toss with the parmesan cheese in a bowl.
- Lightly oil a springform pan and stand the rigatoni upright on the bottom ready to be filled with the cheese mixture.
- To make the filling, mix the cheeses, eggs, and parsley in a bowl until well combined, then set aside.
- To prepare the sauce, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the meat until browned evenly.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the garlic, Italian herbs, and crushed red pepper. Cook for a few more minutes and add the crushed tomatoes.
- Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20 minutes until most of the liquid has reduced.
- While the sauce is cooking, get the room temperature cheese mixture and fill the rigatoni noodles using a pastry tube. You only need to fill each one halfway up. (If the mixture is too thick to pipe, try blending it so it's smooth enough to pass through).
- Get the meat sauce and pour it over the pasta, covering it and pushing it down in order to fill up the remaining spaces.
- Bake it for 15 minutes first and then cover it with the shredded mozzarella cheese and bake again for an extra 15 minutes.
- Before removing from the pan, let it rest for 15-20 minutes so it sets before serving.
- Depending on where you live and cannot get your hands on some good ricotta cheese, you can substitute it for any local goat cheese.
- If you are using ground beef instead of turkey, try mixing it with ground pork for a more flavorsome meat taste. Ground beef, chicken and pork are all great options.
- Adding freshly chopped basil to the sauce will also give the pasta dish an authentic Italian feel and an extra layer of flavors.
💭 Top tip
Like most pasta bake recipes, you can mix the ingredients up to your liking. For example, with this stuffed rigatoni recipe, it is possible to swap ground turkey with sausage meat, and if you're feeling adventurous, why not use tuna mixed in with the tomato sauce. If you're familiar with tuna pasta bake, then you know it's going to be good.
🥗 Side dishes
This meal is usually served on its own in Italy as it is quite heavy and all is needed is some parmesan shavings and a glass of red wine to accompany the dish for dinner. Although I do love serving it with some homemade garlic bread or shop-bought, depending on how much time I have.
To make freshly homemade garlic bread, all you need to is:
- 4 cloves garlic
- 100 grams butter
- salt and pepper
- A bunch of chopped parsley
- A baguette or an uncut loaf of bread
To make it:
- Melt the butter and mix it with garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Cut the baguette in half and smother it with the butter mixture.
- Bake in a pre-heated hot oven for 10 minutes until it is crispy.
- Cut into pieces and serve with the stuffed rigatoni bake.
Like most recipes from Italy, you usually end up making a big meal that can be eaten for a couple of days once everyone has filled their boots. It is possible to store it in the fridge and the freezer for later use.
Once it has completely cooled down, transfer it from the pan to an airtight container, or if your fridge is big enough, you can wrap the pan in plastic wrap or tinfoil.
It can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. When the time comes to re-heat it, simply cook it on high for 20 minutes, so it is piping hot, or cook it in the microwave for 10 minutes on high.
Yes, you can freeze this pasta bake for up to 6 months. Make sure it has completely cooled down before transferring it to the freezer, and it is sealed tightly in a container.
You can prepare the sauce and the pasta noodles in the morning or the night before, ready for baking in the evening. The process is the same as in the cooking instructions above, and you can keep the noodles filled with the ricotta cheese in the fridge, then pour the tomato meat mixture over it when it comes to baking.
Alternatively, you can prepare the whole thing, pop it in the fridge or freezer, and then bake when you are ready.
👪 Serving size
For cheese or pasta lovers, this is a must-try Italian classic! I hope by this point I have tempted you into making this at home for your friends and family perfect for six servings. I know I will be making it again in the near future, as my kids love pasta, and also they get to help me out in the kitchen.
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- 1 cup parmesan - finely grated
for the filling:
- 1 container ricotta - 8 oz
- 1 cup mozzarella - finely grated
- ½ cup parmesan - finely grated
- 2 eggs - beaten
- 1 tsp parsley
for the sauce:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound ground turkey - or beef
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- 2 tbsp italian herbs
- 1 tsp red pepper crushed
- 2 cans tomatoes - 14 oz cans with juices crushed
- 1 ½ cups mozzarella - shredded
- salt and pepper - to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
- Cook the rigatoni in boiling water, about 1 minute less than package directions. Drain then toss with the parmesan cheese in a large bowl.
- Lightly oil a 9" springform pan and pack the rigatoni in tightly, standing on their ends.
to make the filling:
- In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, eggs and parsley until well combined, then set aside.
to make the sauce:
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add the ground turkey or beef and cook until browned.
- Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the garlic, italian herbs, and crushed red pepper. Cook for another minute or two.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer over medium heat until most of the liquid has cooked away - about 20 minutes.
- While the sauce is cooking, fill the rigatoni with the cheese filling. Use a pastry tube to pipe the filling into the noodles, filling each one about ½ full. (if you have a problem getting the mixture through a pastry tube, you can blend it with a hand held blender to make it smooth enough to pass through.)
- When the meat sauce is done, ladle it on top of the rigatoni, pushing it down a bit to fill up the remaining space in the noodles.
- Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then remove and sprinkle over the mozzarella cheese.
- Return to the oven and cook for about 15 more minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.
- Let rest about 15 minutes before removing the form and serving.