AI Forno Meaning: Exploring This Mouth-Watering Technique

Contents show

What Does AI Forno Mean?

Italians use the phrase al Forno, meaning “to the oven,” to refer to dishes they bake, such as pizzas, fish, meat, vegetables, and pasta. Al Forno is a Southern Italian tradition that integrates wood-fired ovens and open-fire cooking into their cuisines. 

Have you ever asked yourself- what does al Forno mean in Italian? If yes, you are in the right place! Keep reading to discover what the popular term means and some amazing al Forno recipes. 

Baked pizza in oven

Origins of the Word “Al Forno”

Pasta al Forno is very popular in southern Italy, where different communities use unique recipes. For instance, Campania boasts of its cannelloni, while Sicily has timballo. These pasta dishes come in the form of a visually-appealing dome of baked pasta the locals make with ring-shaped anelli

Throughout Southern Italy, pasta al Forno is the dish they serve at big gatherings. Most people prepare the baked dish in advance, making it ideal to feed a crowd. Also, the Italians prepared the al Forno in a specific oven, as described in the next section. 

The “Authentic” Al Forno Oven

Traditionally, the oven used in South Italy has brick walls and uses wood as fuel. The ovens also have heavy, arched, and hinged doors. Some al Forno-style restaurants use charcoal and wood to achieve the highest possible temperatures, which are ideal for baking pizzas and artisan bread. 

All authentic Italian restaurants boast of the superiority of their brick ovens which they refer to as furnaces. Some of the restaurants provide documentation to prove that they imported their ovens from Italy to enable them to prepare authentic Italian cuisine. 

Modern Electric Ovens

A considerable number of modern Italian restaurants use modern electric ovens. These are special ovens whose internal mechanisms can mimic the traditional al Forno effect. For example, they can create the smokiness and extreme heat their wooden-fired counterparts provide. 

Al Forno Pasta

Recently, people have started using the term al Forno to describe pasta dishes that they prepare with al dente pasta and finish off in the oven. They cook the pasta until it’s soft but firm, allowing it to offer some resistance when you bite. 

According to legend, you can test whether your pasta is at the correct cooking stage by throwing a strand against the wall. If it sticks, it is ready to eat. On the other hand, if it falls, you have overcooked it!

So, how would you define al Forno pasta? The term pasta al Forno has become very popular, and people incorporate it into the names of various pasta dishes. So the pasta al Forno meaning depends on the ingredients you use. For example, casserole ziti al Forno and lasagna al Forno are popular examples of typical dishes that have the term in their names. 

When you bake these entrees, the high temperatures enhance their flavors and create a crispy top layer. Additionally, you’ll use fewer steps when preparing pasta this way than the traditional recipes with more conventional results.  

Many Italian restaurants have a dish they call al Forno. However, there are slight variations in the ingredients. Still, the original version mixes tomato sauce, chopped fresh carrots, canned chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, onions, frozen peas, mozzarella, oregano, rigatoni pasta, and salt and pepper. 

Examples of Some Italian Al Forno Recipes

There are many al Forno recipes you can try at home. Here is an overview of some Italian al Forno recipes you should consider: 

Meat al Forno Recipes

Beef Al Forno with Whole Cherry Tomato Sauce

This rich beefy recipe will surely level up your preferred pasta bake. It contains large conchiglioni pasta shells that offer a deep vessel for your delicious ragu. The ragu contains garlicky mince and Sacla’ Whole Cherry Tomato & Parmesan Sauce. You’ll need around 1 hour and 15 minutes to prepare this dish. Also, you can easily get the ingredients at your local store.  

Herby Garlic Butter Pasta Sauce al Forno

This recipe is pretty straightforward. It is basically an Italian sausage bake that is ideal for a quick and delicious weeknight dinner. 

Penne al Forno with Bolognese sauce

In this recipe, you mix penne pasta with Bolognese sauce made with beef, fresh parsley, San Marzano tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano, and various spices. 

Penne al Forno with meat sauce

Here, you will use penne pasta, red meat sauce, and homemade béchamel sauce to prepare a mouth-watering dish. Remember to bake the pasta until the cheese melts and becomes bubbly. 

Fish al Forno Recipes

Baked Lemon Herb Fish

In this recipe, you season fresh fish fillets with herbs such as parsley, thyme, dill, lemon zest, and minced garlic. Afterward, you bake the fish in the oven until it becomes flaky, and the aromatic flavors of herbs and citrus infuse it. The result is a light and refreshing taste that complements the delicate nature of the fish.

Parmesan Crusted Baked Fish

This recipe coats the fish fillets with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and a blend of herbs for a cheesy and crispy twist. After that, you bake the coated fish in the oven until the coat is golden and crisp while the fish inside is tender and moist. The crispy crust and tender fish give the dish a delightful contrast of textures and flavors. 

Mediterranean-Style Baked Fish

This recipe gets its inspiration from Mediterranean cuisine. It features fish fillets seasoned with a mixture of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and Mediterranean spices such as cumin, paprika, and oregano. Bake the fish to perfection to get a moist and flavorful fillet. 

Pasta al Forno Recipes

Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno

This baked pasta dish combines rigatoni pasta with cauliflower, capers, olive oil, garlic, pepper, and salt. Remember, you can adjust the ingredients to suit your personal taste. For instance, some people include additional elements such as broccoli rabe or modify the dish to be more vegan. 

Cheesy Pasta al Forno with Italian sausage

For this recipe, you will need pasta, Italian sausage, garlic, onions, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese. 

Penne al Forno

This baked pasta dish typically includes penne pasta, a tomato-based sauce, and cheese. You can consider having several penne al Forno recipes, such as the five cheese penne al Forno

This recipe includes penne pasta mixed with a creamy five-cheese sauce that features Parmesan, mozzarella, Gorgonzola, fontina, and ricotta cheese. Top the pasta with extra melted cheese and crispy breadcrumbs before you bake it in the oven. 

Vegetable al Forno Recipes

Vegeterian Pizza al Forno

This is an excellent option for those who love a meatless option. It features a variety of bright and flavorful vegetables, such as red onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and black olives. You combine these toppings with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of dried oregano. The result is a vibrant and satisfying pizza containing fresh vegetables’ deliciousness. 

Baked Parmesan Vegetables

This recipe mixes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Use parmesan cheese, herbs, and breadcrumbs to coat the vegetable mixture. After that, bake the vegetables until they become tender and the cheesy crust turns golden and crusty. 

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

For this recipe, you will combine a colorful selection of Mediterranean vegetables such as eggplant, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini. Also, toss the mixture in olive oil and use oregano and basil to season it. Roast in the oven until it becomes tender and slightly charred. The result is a colorful dish showcasing vegetables’ natural sweetness and flavors. 

Chicken al Forno Recipes

Pollo al Forno

Pollo al Forno is an Italian dish that implies “oven-baked chicken meaning “oven-baked chicken.” Some popular examples include: 

  • Italian baked chicken: For this recipe, you will use chicken breasts marinated in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and herbs before you bake in the oven. 
  • Tuscan baked chicken: This recipe features chicken breasts that you marinate in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs, then bake in the oven with olives and cherry tomatoes. 

Pizza al Forno Recipes

Margherita Pizza al Forno

This is a classic Italian pizza that is simple to prepare yet very delicious. The margherita pizza al Forno features a thin, crispy crust topped with tomato sauce, melted mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil leaves. If you love the traditional combination of flavors, you’ll love this recipe!

Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza al Forno

This pizza al Forno combines the peppery bite of arugula with the saltiness of prosciutto to create a delightful contrast of flavors. You top the pizza with tomato sauce, thin slices of prosciutto, mozzarella cheese, and fresh arugula. After baking, you finish it with a drizzle of olive oil. The result is a savory and refreshing pizza having a gourmet touch. 

Group of people eating pizza

Delicious Pasta AI Forno Recipes to Try at Home

Lasagna Al Forno 

Lasagna originates from ancient Rome, and food enthusiasts globally love it! Most people are familiar with the traditional Lasagna alla Bolognese that mixes rich beef ragu with cheese and tomato sauce. 

But almost all the regions in Italy have their unique way of preparing this dish. So, lasagna al Forno meaning is unique in terms of ingredients used. For instance, Genova is popular for its lamb lasagna. Vegetarians can also find friendly options like the Sicilian lasagna that replaces beef with roasted aubergine and ricotta salata. 

You don’t need to develop a new strategy if you want to make the perfect lasagna. Use this recipe to create an authentic lasagna alla Bolognese at home. 

Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

Serving Size: 4 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 hours

Nutritional Facts

Calories: 639 kcal per serving 

Fat: 1.26 ounces (35.6 grams)

Saturated fat: 0.64 ounces (18.2 grams)

Carbs: 1.61 ounces (45.7 grams)

Protein: 1 ounce (28.4 grams)

Equipment Needed

  1. 2 saucepans
  2. Baking dish (medium to large)
  3. Oven 
  4. Box grater
  5. Stockpot 


Ragu Ingredients
  • 10.52 ounces (300 grams) beef shin
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely cut
  • 1 large onion, finely cut
  • 2 carrots, finely cut
  • 2 large celery sticks, finely cut
  • 16.91 fluid ounces (500 milliliters) passata 
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • A bay leaf
  • 16.91 fluid ounces (500 milliliters) of beef stock
  • 3.38 fluid ounce (100 milliliters) red Barolo wine
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Black pepper (freshly ground), to taste
Lasagne Ingredients
  • 14.11 ounces (400 grams) fresh lasagna sheets
  • 1/3 cup or 1.76 ounces (50 grams) Parmigiano Reggiano, shredded 
Bechamel Sauce Ingredients
  • 20.29 fluid ounces (600 milliliters) of milk
  • 2.12 ounces (60 grams) plain flour
  • 2.12 ounces (60 grams) butter
  • Generous grating of nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to add flavor 


To Cook the Ragu
  1. Place a large saucepan on the stove and heat it to medium-high heat. Add some olive oil and let it warm up. Brown the meat on all sides for roughly 5 minutes. Please work in batches if needed. Once the meat browns, set it aside.
  2. Lower the heat to medium. In the pot, include the onion and garlic and cook them until they release their aroma and turn golden brown. This process should take around 2 minutes. Afterward, add the carrot and celery and continue sautéing until the vegetables have softened, which should take about 5 minutes.
  3. To deglaze the pot, pour in some red wine and let it simmer for approximately 5 minutes until it reduces by half. Introduce the tomato puree and passata, and cook for a few additional minutes.
  4. Reintroduce the browned beef to the pot, along with the beef stock and bay leaf. Heat the liquid on medium-low until it reaches a simmer. Place the lid on the pot and simmer for at least 3 hours or until the beef is soft.
  5. After three hours of cooking, check the sauce’s thickness. If the sauce is still too runny, take out the beef and simmer the liquid over medium heat until it reaches the consistency you desire.
  6. Heave the beef into lumps and swirl through the sauce. Taste for seasoning, making adjustments to the salt and pepper to suit your taste.   
To Cook the Bechamel
  1. As the ragu cooks, liquefy the butter in a saucepan and put it in the flour. Whip until mixed before cooking on low heat for up to 2 minutes. 
  2. Take the saucepan away from the heat and add the milk as you stir until the mixture thickens. 
  3. Add nutmeg, salt, and black pepper to your liking. Put it aside. 
Finish Off your Lasagna

Follow these steps to assemble the lasagna:

  1. To prepare the baking dish, apply a thin layer of ragu on the bottom. Consider using a medium to large-sized dish. Top the ragu with a layer of lasagna sheets, followed by another layer of ragu. This time around, be generous and use the back of the spoon to push it to the edge. After that, add a layer of béchamel, then sprinkle with a generous handful of shredded Parmigiano Reggiano. 
  2. Repeat step 1 until you use up the pasta and sauces. Please ensure you have at least five layers of pasta and sprinkle the top with Parmigiano Reggiano. 
  3. Bake the lasagna for 40 minutes. Consider covering the dish with aluminum foil for the first 15 minutes to ensure your lasagna does not dry out in the oven.  
  4. After 40 minutes, remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to sit for at least five minutes.
  5. While serving, slice it into equal-sized portions, then finish with freshly shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. 
Important Tips

If you want to make the perfect lasagna, here are some hidden truths:

  • Patiently source the ingredients and make the lasagna from scratch
  • Use fresh pasta to get authenticity 
  • Try making your own lasagna sheets at home
  • You can use minced meat

Aubergine Cannelloni Al Forno 

Cannelloni refers to sheets of fresh lasagna that you stuff, roll into tubes, and bake. Nowadays, cannelloni dishes have become well-liked across Italy. However, the southern region of Campania invented the dish. 

The thought of macaroni ripieni or stuffed pasta has existed since the late 1700s. But cannelloni first cropped up in Sorrento in the early 20th century.  

In Northern Italy, they usually make cannelloni with fresh egg pasta and serve it with a creamy besciamella (béchamel) sauce. In the Sorrento-style version (alla Sorrentina), the locals replace the bechamel with a combination of three regional calling cards: basil, mozzarella, and tomato. 

In the recipe below, we’ve preferred to stuff the cannelloni with golden fried aubergine, a vegetarian filling popular in Campania. Here is the recipe:

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Serving Size: 4 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Nutritional Facts

Calories: 760 kcal per serving

Fat: 1.04 ounces (29.6 grams)

Protein: 0.65 ounces (18.3 grams)

Carbohydrates: 2.11 ounces (59.9 grams)

Fiber: 0.35 ounces (10 grams)

Salt: 0.14 ounces (0.4 grams)

Equipment Needed

  1. Baking dish
  2. Mixing bowls
  3. Whisk
  4. Saucepan
  5. Large pan
  6. Frying pan
  7. Wooden spoon
  8. Knife
  9. Fork 
  10. Cling film
  11. 2 tea towels
  12. Cutting board
  13. Aluminum foil
  14. Oven 


Pasta Ingredients
  • 14.11 ounces (400 grams) semolina or durum wheat flour
  • 7.05 ounces (200 grams) of warm water
Sauce Ingredients
  • 28.22 ounces (800 grams) of tinned plum tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped finely
  • Fresh basil (handful)
  • 1.7 fluid ounces (50 milliliters) of extra virgin oil
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
Filling Ingredients
  • 1 large aubergine (around 400 grams), chop into 0.39-inch (1-centimeter) cubes
  • 7.05 ounces (200 grams) mozzarella, chopped
  • 1.76 ounces (50 grams) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 1.7 fluid ounces (50 milliliters) of extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil (handful)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


Step 1: Make the Pasta
  1. Sieve the flour, heap it onto a clean surface, and then use your fingers to make a small well at the center. 
  2. Pour half the water into the well and slowly mix the water and flour. You can use a fork or your fingers. 
  3. Add the remaining water and keep mixing as the mixture starts to dry up.  
  4. Roll the dough into a ball using your hands once the water thoroughly combines. 
  5. Knead until it feels sticky and its outside looks a bit rough. 
  6. Next, wrap the dough in a cling film or tea towel, then let it rest for 15 minutes. 
  7. Once rested, roll the dough out on a floured surface until its thickness is about 0.08 inches (2 millimeters). 
  8. Use a sharp knife to chop the dough into rectangles measuring 5.91 x 3.92 inches (15 x 10 centimeters) for the desired shape.
Step 2: Make the Sauce
  1. Place a large, deep saucepan over low heat and pour some olive oil. Fry the garlic gently until it is fragrant, about 2 minutes. 
  2. Pour in tomatoes, basil, and a pinch of salt. As the mixture cooks, please break up the tomatoes using the back of a wooden spoon. 
  3. Turn the heat to medium, allow the sauce to bubble away for 15 minutes, and put it aside. 
  4. As the sauce is simmering, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan set to medium heat. Before sautéing for 10 minutes, add the aubergine and a pinch of salt. Once the aubergine is soft and golden, kindly take it off the heat and let it cool down.
Step 3: Cook the Pasta
  1. Prepare a bowl of cold water and boil salted water in a large pan. 
  2. Drop several sheets of pasta at a time into the boiling water. Allow them to cook for about a minute, remove them and toss them into the bowl of cold water for around 20 seconds. 
  3. After that, place the cooked sheets of pasta on a clean towel. Ensure you put them in a single layer. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with the remaining pasta sheets. 
Step 4: Assemble and Bake
  1. Start by preheating the oven to 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). 
  2. Spread a scoop of the tomato sauce into a large baking dish before arranging your cannelloni rolls in one layer on top. 
  3. Stuff each sheet of pasta with a tablespoon of aubergine and a tablespoon of mozzarella. Include a single basil leaf. Put the filling at the longer edge of the sheet, then roll your cannelloni. 
  4. Pour the remaining al Forno tomato sauce over the cannelloni rolls, then top with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. 
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and allow the finished dish to stand for 10 minutes before you serve. 

Gnocchi AI Forno 

The Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is a special dish that will likely become one of your favorites. It features fluffy gnocchi dumplings that are light but satisfyingly filling, and the tomato sauce is a hallmark of the dish’s simplicity. 

Furthermore, the fresh mozzarella finish allows this dish to balance quality cuisine and comfort food. If you are unfamiliar with the dish, read its simple recipe below. 

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Serving Size: 3-4 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour 

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Nutritional Facts

Calories: 313 kcal per serving 

Carbohydrates: 2.96 ounces (84 grams)

Fat: 1.06 ounces (30 grams)

Saturated fat: 0.42 ounces (12 grams)

Sugar: 0.6 ounces (17 grams)

Dietary fiber: 0.21 ounces (6 grams)

Protein: 0.67 ounces (19 grams)

Equipment Needed

  1. Large pot
  2. Colander 
  3. Large baking dish
  4. Mixing bowls
  5. Whisk 
  6. Saucepan 
  7. Frying pan
  8. Wooden spoon
  9. Knife 
  10. Oven dishes
  11. Cutting board
  12. Garlic press


  • 17.64 ounces (500 grams) or 2 ½ cups of gnocchi.  
  • 1 ½ cups tomato sauce (this is the sauce you’ll be making in this recipe)
  • 0.88 ounces (25 grams) fresh mozzarella, cut into 0.39-inch (1-centimeter) cubes
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • Fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt 
Tomato Sauce Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed lightly
  • 2.20 pounds (1 kilogram) cherry tomatoes, wash and halve
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 5-6 basil leaves, washed and chopped


Method – Tomato Sauce
  1. To start, heat up some olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
  2. Put in the crushed garlic cloves and brown until the oil is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Please don’t burn the garlic!
  3. Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
  4. Cover the frying pan and simmer on low, medium heat for 40 minutes until thick. Ensure your tomato sauce is thick and shiny. 
  5. Mix in the chopped basil and remove the pan from the heat. 
  6. You can use the sauce immediately or cover it and keep it in the fridge for up to four days. On the other hand, you can freeze it for up to a month. You’ll use this tomato sauce in the next step. 
Method-Complete the Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
  1. Preheat the oven to 482 degrees Fahrenheit (250 degrees Celsius)
  2. Cook the gnocchi in salted, boiling water until they float. This should take around 3 minutes
  3. When cooked, drain the gnocchi and use the tomato sauce you prepared to toss before gently mixing in the fresh mozzarella
  4. Spoon the mixture into individual-sized oven dishes such as ramekins. Alternatively, you can use a single large baking dish
  5. Top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  6. Put it in the oven and bake for up to 7 minutes, or until heated through and Parmigiano Reggiano and mozzarella melt
  7. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Enjoy!
Expert Tip

We recommend you pair this dish with wine because the combination of mozzarella and tomato sauce gives the dish a lot of acidity. Consider an Italian red wine like Nero D’ Avola with a decent amount of acidity. The wine’s acidity plays off the tomato’s acidity well and softens its edge without overwhelming the cheese’s creaminess. 

Conchiglioni AI Forno 

For a perfect conchiglioni al Forno you need fresh spinaci from Tuscany. This popular leaf is loved across il bel paese (the beautiful country) for its pairing with ricotta. Combining the two with ample seasoning gives you the most popular filling for filled pasta or pasta ripiena

This recipe does not load the filling into tortelloni or cappellacci. Instead, we use conchiglioni- gargantuan pasta shells. It is a classic winter dish that will indeed ensure you get through the season well. 

Time: 1 hour

Serving Size: 4 servings

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Nutritional Facts

Calories: 627 kcal

Fat: 1.06 ounces (30 grams)

Saturated fat: 0.42 ounces (12 grams)

Carbohydrate: 2.96 ounces (84 grams)

Sugar: 0.60 ounces (17 grams)

Dietary fiber: 0.21 ounces (6 grams)

Protein: 0.67 ounces (19 grams)

Cholesterol: 0.002 ounces (55 milligrams)

Equipment Needed

  1. Large pot
  2. Frying pan
  3. Colander 
  4. Casserole baking dish
  5. Cheese grater
  6. Liquid measuring cup
  7. Measuring cups
  8. Measuring spoons
  9. Whisk 
  10. Mixing bowls
  11. Large oven-proof dish
  12. Knife 
  13. Cutting board
  14. Oven 


  • 12.35 ounces (350 grams) conchiglioni (you can use large pasta shells, fresh or dried)
  • 5.29-7.05 ounces (150 – 200 grams) mozzarella (slice roughly)
  • A few basil leaves
Sauce Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x 14.11 ounce (2 x 400 gram) tins of chopped tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • Fresh basil (1 generous handful). Tear the leaves as you toss them in to release their flavor
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Filling Ingredients
  • 5.64 ounces (160 grams) of fresh spinach
  • 17.64 ounces (500 grams) of ricotta cheese
  • Generous grating of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Start by cooking the pasta as per the instructions on its packaging until it’s al dente. Be careful not to overcook it. Overcooked pasta is usually soft and mushy. 
  2. After that, drain the pasta and rinse it in cold water. Put it on one side
  3. As the pasta cooks, add olive oil to a frying pan and gently fry the onions until they turn translucent, then turn the heat down. Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. 
  4. Add tomatoes to the mixture and simmer for 20 minutes. Put salt, pepper, and basil leaves in the sauce during the last five minutes of cooking to enhance its flavor. Put your sauce aside.
  5. Use a colander to rinse the spinach leaves with boiling water to soften them. Cool by immersing in cold water, and squeeze out as much water as possible. 
  6. Put the spinach leaves in a large mixing bowl. Thoroughly combine the leaves with ricotta cheese.
  7. Use the nutmeg, salt, and pepper to season the spinach mixture
  8. After that, use about 1/3 of the tomato sauce you’ve just made to line a large oven-proof dish
  9. Fill each of the cooked conchiglioni individually with a generous tablespoonful of the spinach and ricotta mix and layer on top of the sauce (open side up) to ensure you cover the dish’s bottom
  10. Pour some of the tomato sauce you’ve just made over the shells and shower with some basil. Build another layer of pasta on top of this
  11. Repeat step nine and ten until the dish is full and you have used up all your conchiolin. Use the remaining tomato sauce that you’ve made to finish on top
  12. Top with mozzarella slices and bake for 25 minutes at 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius)(fan 352 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius)) until it forms a golden crust. 

Ziti Al Forno

This recipe is a specialty of the Campania region, especially in the bustling Naples. Ziti refers to long-dried pasta tubes that you break into shorter pieces before cooking. This approach results in a smaller shape than rigatoni. 

Ziti al Forno (baked ziti) is the characteristically Neapolitan preparation for this pasta shape. You bake the broken tubes in a rich tomato sauce sprinkled with three cheeses and topped with fresh basil. 

While you can trace this dish to Campania, the American TV series, Sopranos made it popular. The TV series put Ziti al Forno on the American culinary map from its first episode. Thanks to Sopranos, Carmela’s ziti al Forno recipe regularly features throughout the popular series during Sunday dinners.

Baked ziti is very satisfying and easy to prepare, making it ideal for a mid-week meal or feeding a multitude. It is no wonder that Naples uses the dish for family feasts, celebrations, and holidays. Read the simple recipe in the next section.  

Time: 1 hour

Serving Size: 4 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving: 499 kcal

Carbohydrates: 1.42 ounces (42 grams)

Dietary fiber: 0.07 ounces (2 grams)

Sugars: 0.04 ounces (1 gram)

Fat: 0.04 ounces (1 gram)

Saturated fat: 0 ounces (0 grams)

Equipment Needed

  1. Large pot
  2. Colander 
  3. Large pan
  4. Casserole baking dish 
  5. Cheese grater 
  6. Liquid measuring cup
  7. Measuring cups
  8. Measuring spoons
  9. Whisk 
  10. Mixing bowl 
  11. Knife 
  12. Cutting board
  13. Oven 


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 17.64 ounces (500 grams) tomato passata or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 12.35 ounces (350 grams) ziti (this recipe is not geared towards homemade ziti)
  • 4,23 ounces (120 grams) ricotta cheese
  • 1.76 ounces (50 grams) parmesan, grated
  • 8.82 ounces (250 grams) of mozzarella cheese, chopped roughly
  • 0.53 ounces (15 grams) of fresh basil leaves, torn roughly


  1. Preheat the oven to 374 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) 
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then add 1/4 a teaspoon of salt. Cook your ziti following the instructions on the package
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large pan as the ziti cooks, then put in the garlic and chili flakes and cook for around 3 minutes. Be vigilant and monitor it carefully to prevent the browning of the garlic.
  4. Put the tomato passata or chopped tomatoes in the pan and heat them until they simmer gently—add some salt and pepper to taste and half of the basil leaves. 
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, remove it from the heat and drain off the water
  6. Mix the ricotta and parmesan in the mixing bowl to create a creamy filling. Add some salt to taste
  7. Add all the tomato sauce into the drained pasta and toss to ensure it coats it evenly. After that, fold in the ricotta and mozzarella. It doesn’t need to be thoroughly mixed because having patches of ricotta adds to the finished dish
  8. Transfer the pasta mixture to an oven-proof dish, then sprinkle it with a layer of parmesan and about half of the remaining basil leaves
  9. Bake the ziti for up to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the edges begin to bubble
  10. Leave it to cool for a few minutes before serving with another sprinkling of the remaining basil leaves. 

Important Tip

This baked ziti uses chili-flecked tomato sauce topped with creamy ricotta and mozzarella. This combination goes well with an easy-drinking red wine like Primitivo from Puglia in Southern Italy, as it is lightly acidic and moderately tannic. This wine matches the spice but does not overwhelm the dish’s subtle flavors. 

Tips for Making Pasta al Forno

As you have probably noticed, pasta al Forno is a versatile dish that allows you to play around with your favorite ingredients. However, there are tips that, if you follow, you will end up with the best version possible. Some important tips include: 

Use Short Pasta for Best Results

The best pasta for al Forno is short pasta with a ridged texture. Popular examples are rotini, rigatoni, fusilli, penne, and ziti. The short, ridged noddles provide the sauce with more surface area to cling to.

Cook Your Pasta Al Dente

It would help to be mindful of how you cook your pasta al Forno. It’s important to remember that the pasta will keep cooking even after you’ve put it in the oven. Therefore, you may want to avoid overcooking it (overcooked pasta is usually soft and mushy) before you put it into the casserole dish. 

If you cook your pasta beyond al dente before adding it to the sauce, you will have a mushy dish. On the flip side, if you undercook your pasta (undercooked pasta and hard and crunchy), you will end up with a tough leathery texture. 

In this sense, it is best to cook your pasta for two to three minutes less than the cooking time on the package. On the other hand, if you are making it fresh, ensure you use properly cooked pasta (it should be tender inside and a bit firm on the outside). This will help you get a perfectly al dente pasta bake. 

Your Sauce Should be Slightly Thin

Most pasta recipes advise thickening the al Forno sauce on the stovetop. But, it would help to keep your sauce slightly thin for the al Forno because it will continue thickening during baking. 

You can achieve this by adding pasta water to the sauce after removing the pan from the heat. Also, transfer the pasta to the baking dish immediately when the sauce is still runny. 

Be Creative!

Pasta al Forno is a flexible dish that allows you to make several adjustments to incorporate ingredients on hand. For example, you can substitute the Italian sausage with prosciutto or ground beef or include vegetables like zucchini, red pepper, olives, and mushrooms. 

If you love extra creaminess, add béchamel sauce or ricotta cheese to your filling. But remember that the adjustments you make will affect the nutritional information of your dish. 

Make Your Pasta Al Forno Ahead

Pasta al Forno is an excellent make-ahead dish, especially for weeknight meals. Therefore, consider assembling your pasta dish and freezing it unbaked. 

This way, whenever you are ready to heat the dish, simply pop it in the oven and add another 30 minutes to the baking time. The pasta dish can stay fresh in the freezer for up to two months. 

Baked fish

Wrapping Things Up

If you can’t go to Italy, these recipes will deliver Italy to your door. Use any of these simple recipes to prepare an authentic Italian dish from the comfort of your home. 

Note that you can adjust the ingredients and quantities and experiment with different approaches for a unique al Forno menu. Buon appetito!