Rigatoni Pasta Bake

Prep Time 10 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Servings 8 servings

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This Rigatoni Pasta Bake is a hearty and comforting casserole made with rigatoni pasta, meat sauce, and plenty of cheese! This make-ahead, freezer-friendly casserole is sure to be a regular in your menu rotation!

rigatoni pasta bake in white baking dish with blue towel on the side.
Table of Contents
  1. A Comfort Food Classic
  2. What You’ll Need
  3. How to Make Baked Rigatoni Pasta
  4. Variations and Substitutions
  5. Can You Make this Ahead?
  6. Can You Freeze a Pasta Bake?
  7. Serving Suggestions
  8. Storing and Reheating Leftovers
  9. Rigatoni Pasta Bake Recipe
  10. More Pasta Recipes

A Comfort Food Classic

I know we’ve all been there.

It’s 4:59pm, you have a 1-year-old on one hip, and a package of ground beef in the opposite hand, and you’re wondering what you can make with your… zero free hands.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.

The answer? This Rigatoni Pasta Bake. Made of al dente rigatoni pasta, a hearty tomato sauce with ground beef, and loads of cheese, this pasta bake is your new favorite casserole.

If you ask me, casseroles have gotten a bad rep, but in reality they’re a busy mom’s best friend. You can get all the food groups in one simple dish: protein, veggies, dairy, carbs. You can load it up with all kinds of flavor, and sneak in all kinds of things your kids wouldn’t normally want to eat. You can make it when you have time, stash it in the fridge or freezer, and then pop it in the oven to be ready whenever you need it. So simple, so flavorful, and so easy!

What You’ll Need

This recipe is so flexible, you can really add whatever you like. This is just the base recipe for you to build on and adapt, according to your family’s needs and preferences! See the “Variations and Substitutions” section below for more. (Note: for the full recipe card with specific amounts, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)

  • Beef: I like to use lean ground beef in this recipe. It has plenty of flavor, and less fat than ground chuck.
  • Onion: You can use any kind of onion—red, white, yellow, or sweet. Dice it into small pieces.
  • Italian Seasoning: An Italian seasoning blend gives a savory herbal flavor to this bake. Feel free to substitute whatever herbs and seasonings you like, though. Basil, oregano, parsley, etc.
  • Garlic: Freshly minced garlic gives the brightest flavor, but you could substitute garlic powder as well.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pasta Sauce: You’ll need a couple of large jars of your favorite pasta sauce.
  • Rigatoni: If you can’t find (or don’t want to use) rigatoni, penne pasta makes a good substitute, and so does ziti.
  • Mozzarella Cheese: Shredded mozzarella is my go-to! Provalone is also a good option.
close up image of top of rigatoni pasta bake.

How to Make Baked Rigatoni Pasta

The process for making this dish really couldn’t be easier, which again is why casseroles are a mom’s secret weapon! Here’s how to make it:

  1. Saute the Ground Beef and Onion. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the ground beef and onion together until the meat is browned and the onions have softened. Drain well.
  2. Add the Seasonings and Pasta Sauce. Place the saucepan back over the heat, and then add the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper to the meat. Cook 1 minute. Pour in the pasta sauce and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set the saucepan aside.
  3. Make the Pasta. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the rigatoni, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook just until al dente. You don’t want to cook it too long, because it will continue to soften in the oven. Reserve half a cup of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta.
  4. Assemble the Casserole. Stir the reserved pasta water into the meat sauce, and then combine the pasta and sauce, stirring well. Pour into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Cover with a lightly greased piece of foil.
  5. Bake. Bake the dish at 350°F for 20 minutes, or until heated through. Uncover and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and beginning to turn golden brown.

Variations and Substitutions

As I mentioned before, you can tweak this recipe in all kinds of ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

  • Dairy Free: To make this pasta bake dairy free, simply swap the cheese for dairy-free cheese, or leave the cheese out entirely. Be sure to check the rest of your ingredients to make sure they don’t have dairy in them.
  • Veggies: Bump up the veggie content of this casserole by adding extra vegetables to the meat sauce as it cooks. Mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, or even shredded carrots go well in here!
  • Lighten Up: To lighten the recipe, opt for ground turkey or Italian turkey sausage in place of the ground beef, and use low-fat cheese. Also, be sure to look for pasta sauce with no added sugar and unrecognizable ingredients.
spoon lifting rigatoni pasta bake from baking dish.

Can You Make this Ahead?

Yes! Simply prepare up to the point of baking. Then cover in plastic wrap or foil (or a lid if your baking dish has one that fits tightly). Stick it in the fridge for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to bake, pour ½ cup water over the pasta (trust me on this one!) and bake as per the instructions.

The reason I pour the water over is that the pasta soaks up moisture as it sits in the refrigerator. Adding water will help the dish bake up moist, and will result in delicious, saucy pasta, not watery pasta as you might think!

Can You Freeze a Pasta Bake?

Like pretty much all ground beef casserole recipes, this Rigatoni Pasta Bake freezes wonderfully! Simply cover in plastic wrap, and then in a layer of tin foil, to prevent freezer burn. Label with the recipe name and the date, and pop it in the freezer.

When you’re ready to cook, place the casserole in the oven at 350°F, covered only with foil. Bake until heated through, about 50-60 minutes. It may take up to 90 minutes, but you’ll need to keep an eye on it to be sure. If your baking dish is not freezer-to-oven safe, then take the casserole out of the freezer early, and leave it out on the counter to thaw for 1-2 hours before baking.

plate of rigatoni pasta bake with fresh parsley.

Serving Suggestions

To serve your pasta bake, try having a green salad and some garlic bread, or one of these easy side dishes:

Broccoli Salad: This Easy Broccoli Salad is loaded with the crisp crunch of raw broccoli, and a ton of other goodies that will keep you coming back for more.

Glazed Carrots: Sweet and simple Honey Glazed Carrots are an old-fashioned side dish that’s always welcome at the table.

Soup: A soup starter followed by baked pasta is a cozy dinner the whole family will love. Try this Potato Leek Soup recipe for an easy veggie-based option.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

  • To refrigerate leftover pasta bake, place the pasta bake in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  • To reheat, place the desired portion in an oven-safe dish and bake at 350°F until heated through. Sprinkle with water before baking if it seems dry.
  • To freeze, pack leftovers into airtight food storage containers or bags. Freeze for up to 3 months (unless it was previously frozen; in that case, only re-freeze if it has been sitting out for less than 2 hours, and only keep for the time remaining to make 3 months total). Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
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Rigatoni Pasta Bake

5 from 104 votes
This Rigatoni Pasta Bake is a hearty and comforting casserole made up meat sauce, rigatoni pasta and cheese! Meal prep and freezer friendly.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Cuisine American, Italian
Course Main Course
Servings 8 servings
Calories 440cal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 cups tomato pasta sauce roughly 2 jars
  • 500 grams Rigatoni pasta about 1 lb
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • In a large saucepan, stir and cook ground beef and onion over medium heat until browned and onions have softened. Drain any juices released.
  • Add the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute.
  • Add the pasta sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, for 5 minutes. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add rigatoni, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook just until al dente (it will continue to cook slightly in the oven).
  • Reserve ½ cup pasta water and drain pasta. Stir reserved pasta water into meat sauce.
  • Combine pasta and pasta sauce in saucepan. Pour into a lightly greased 9×13″ or similar baking dish.
  • Cover with a lightly greased piece of foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until heated through.
  • **Optionally, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Bake at 350 degrees F until heated through, about 30-40 minutes.
  • Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes, until cheese has started to brown.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 440cal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 57mg | Sodium: 1310mg | Potassium: 899mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 865IU | Vitamin C: 12.3mg | Calcium: 196mg | Iron: 4.1mg
Keywords baked pasta, freezer meals, make ahead meal

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Meet Ashley

My name is Ashley Fehr and I love creating easy meals my family loves. I also like to do things my way, which means improvising and breaking the rules when necessary. Here you will find creative twists on old favorites and some of my favorite family recipes, passed down from generations!

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Comments

    • jimAND ROSE nashwinter says

      love rigatoni;we are from niagara falls and grew up on italian food;keep up the great work;jim and rose

    • Nicole says

      I made this tonight. I had garden fresh veggies (frozen – carrots, corn, peas and green beans) that I added to the onions once they turned translucent. Love t how versatile this recipe is!

      • Tammy says

        I need your email address so you can address this issue. Hopefully it will work and I can start saving your wonderful recipes. Thanks, Tammy

  1. Meg Spangler says

    This was awesome! Had it tonight with my boyfriend who also thought it was really good! We had it with a side salad and it was better than any other baked rigatoni recipe I’ve tried. Can’t wait to try more of your recipes like the Millionaire Shortbread! 😋

  2. Ross says

    It turned out delicious but I used 1 pound of ground beef and 1 teaspoon of salt according to the recipe but when I tasted it the salt was overwhelming. Ended up going on google to see how to reduce the saltiness and it recommended some lemon juice and a little sugar. It worked but I still can’t figure out why it was so salty originally. Any advice?

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Ross, So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this review! I have no idea why it would taste salty to you, we do not have that issue. You could always try to use unsalted tomato sauce, that might work better for you.

  3. Vickie says

    Cooked noodles for five minutes and they were hard as rocks. Came out that way too. What did I do wrong?

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Vickie! I’ve not seen where rigatoni only cooks in 5 minutes. It’s normally 10-12 minutes. As stated in Step 4, you are cooking it to just al dente but I didn’t list an exact time.

    • Amanda Trayes says

      You don’t cook the noodles for 5 minutes. You cook the sauce with the meat mixture for 5 minutes. You cook the noodles til al dente

  4. Melissa Hartley says

    Can I use tomato sauce instead of sauce in a jar? I also want to add a can of diced tomatoes. I sure wish I had some Italian sausage to add, that would give it a lot of flavor.
    Thank you.

    • The Recipe Rebel says

      Hi Melissa! I haven’t tried this with just using tomato sauce. It is a lot thinner than jarred pasta sauce so the consistency may be off. Hope you enjoy it!

  5. Nicolette S says

    This was so easy and fun to make! I did use two jars of spaghetti sauce (24 oz each) and noticed in the comments after the fact that I was only supposed to us 40 oz so I used 8 oz’s too much but it still turned out fantastic! I did sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese on top with the rest of the cheese cause we all love cheese. All in all, this is definitely a repeat recipe for my family!

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