If you're in the mood for a hearty Italian dish, you'll want to try this Paccheri al Forno. This traditional Italian dish is made with tube-shaped pasta, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese, and baked to perfection. It's so simple, yet so flavorful and satisfying. Plus, it's easy to make and is on the table in just over an hour!
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⭐ Origin Story
Paccheri is a large, tubular pasta about two inches long (like rigatoni!) generally made with durum wheat (semolina). This recipe is from Campania / Calabria, a region in Southern Italy. Paccheri was considered ‘poor man's pasta’ because they're so large that they're quite filling. It is mostly stuffed with cheese and baked, and then served with a hearty ragu or seafood sauce. Apparently, paccheri was used to smuggle garlic cloves from Italy to Austria (Italian garlic was banned because it was large and flavorful, what a story!)
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- Perfect comfort food. There's something about a big plate of steaming hot pasta that just hits the spot. This dish will warm you up from the inside out on even the coldest of days. P.S., check out my cacio e pepe, rigatoni arrabbiata or vodka pasta as well if you love yourself a hearty pasta dish!
- Easy to make. This paccheri al forno is pretty straightforward, so you can have it on the table in under an hour, which is perfect for those nights when you don't want to spend forever in the kitchen!
- Vegetarian version of a classic. I've usually seen paccheri al forno served with meat or even swordfish in some regions of Italy, but my recipe is a vegetarian version inspired by an excellent meal I had when I lived in Rome.
📋 Ingredients and Notes
To make paccheri al forno, you'll need paccheri pasta, fresh mozzarella cheese, ricotta, parsley, olive oil, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, san Marzano plum tomatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano, salt, and black pepper.
Notes and Variations
- Substitute paccheri pasta. I know the dish is named after this pasta, but if you can't find paccheri, rigatoni (or even large shells) are a good alternative!
- Use different cheeses. I've tried to stick to the traditional cheeses used in this dish (mozzarella and ricotta). You can use just one of these varieties, or swap it for a similar creamy cheese!
- San Marzano plum tomatoes: I've used canned whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes to make the tomato sauce. However, during the summer, when your tomatoes are bountiful, you can use fresh tomatoes. Note that the cook time might be slightly longer as the water in the tomatoes cook down!
📖 Make the best paccheri al forno!
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 180ºC.
Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil, and season with plenty of salt, like seawater. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in a medium bowl, add the mozzarella cubes, ricotta, and parsley and mix well.
Bring a large pan or skillet over medium heat, add extra virgin olive oil, add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for less than a minute.
Pour the San Marzano tomatoes and a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper to get the tomato sauce going. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes until bubbly. Mash the tomatoes with a spoon or potato masher to turn them into a sauce. Remove from the heat and partially cover with a lid.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and place it in a rectangle ovenproof baking dish 9’’x13’’ and leave it to cool down a bit. When the pasta is cool enough to be touched, stuff the Paccheri with half of the cheese mixture.
Add all of the tomato sauce over the pasta followed by the remaining mozzarella mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until cheese is nicely melted / golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Buon appetito!
👩🏽🍳Tips for Making the Best Paccheri al Forno
This traditional Italian pasta bake is packed full of flavor and is sure to be perfect for any occasion. Here are my top 5 tips to get your paccheri al forno right each time.
- Use good quality ingredients. This dish is only as good as the ingredients you use, so make sure to use fresh, high-quality produce. San Marzano tomatoes are the best for this dish, but any good-quality sauce tomatoes will do.
- Use a heavy pan. When cooking the sauce, it's important to use a heavy pan so that the sauce doesn't stick and burn. A pan with thick base will also help to evenly distribute the heat, ensuring that your sauce doesn't catch and burn on one side.
- Don't overcook the pasta. No one likes soggy pasta, so make sure to cook the Paccheri until it is just al dente! Pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so, it's better to slightly undercook the food than to overcook it.
- Use fresh mozzarella cheese. Paccheri al Forno wouldn't be complete without a generous sprinkling of mozzarella cheese. Make sure to use good-quality mozzarella!
- Let it rest. Once you've taken your Paccheri al Forno out of the oven, it's important to let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. This will give the sauce time to thicken and the flavors time to develop.
Paccheri is a large tube-shaped pasta that originates from the Campania and Calabria regions of Italy. The name comes from the Italian word "pacchero", which means "to slap". This likely refers to the shape of the pasta, which resembles a large open hand. Because of its large size, Paccheri is a versatile pasta that can be used in a variety of dishes.
Paccheri and rigatoni are both popular types of Italian pasta. Both are made from durum wheat semolina and have a cylindrical shape. However, paccheri are wider and larger than rigatoni.
Paccheri is made from durum wheat semolina and is shaped like a large tube.
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
To store cooked paccheri al forno, place it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To freeze this dish, portion it and place the dish in freezer-safe containers. You can freeze it before or after baking, but I strongly recommend freezing it before baking so the pasta doesn't overcook. Once frozen correctly, the dish can last up to 2 months in the freezer.
If you like this recipe, check out my other hearty pasta recipes:
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Paccheri al Forno
- 16 oz paccheri pasta, 1 bag
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 cup ricotta
- ⅓ cup basil, chopped, substitute parsley
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 14.5 ounces San Marzano plum tomatoes, 1 can
- 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, to taste
- 3 oz Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, or vegetarian parmesan of choice
- 2 tablespoons basil, chopped, substitute parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400°F / 180ºC
- Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil, and season with plenty of salt, like seawater. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, to al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, to a medium bowl, add the mozzarella, ricotta, and basil and mix well.
- Bring a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for less than a minute.
- Pour the San Marzano tomatoes and a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes until bubbly. Mash the tomatoes with a spoon or potato masher to turn them into a sauce. Remove from the heat and partially cover with a lid.
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain and place it in a rectangle ovenproof baking dish 9’’x13’’ and leave it to cool down a bit.
- When pasta is cool enough to be touched, stuff the Paccheri with half of the cheese mixture, and add all of the tomato sauce over the pasta followed by the remaining mozzarella mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the cheese is nicely melted and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Paccheri is a big, tubular pasta. If you're not able to find paccheri, you can also use another tubular pasta of your choice (e.g., rigatoni)
- To make this recipe vegan, use vegan mozzarella (like Miyoko's) and vegan parmesan instead of regular dairy cheese.