Southern Italian Style Pasta al Forno

Sunday means one thing in an Italian household: food and family, and lots of both. Growing up in southern Italy, Sunday meant Mass, followed by a large family meal that was usually prepared, or at least started, before Mass. Mom would get up early to prepare the sauce, along with whatever else we were having that day. Pasta al Forno, or baked ziti was served pretty regularly in my household, usually with a second course of fried cutlets and peas with pearl onions. It was a traditional Sunday meal, a frequent go-to when you wanted to eat something a little more elaborate, but couldn’t think of anything else! Generally, mom would get everything ready beforehand, including breading the cutlets, making the sauce and dicing up all the ingredients. Then upon returning from church, we’d prep the pasta for the oven, and fry the pre-breaded cutlets. The peas required little attention, thus the perfect side dish! This dish is sure to bring many Italians and Italian-Americans to their youth! 

Southern Italian Style Pasta al Forno 
​Serves 6

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 3 crushed garlic cloves
½ small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 lb ground meat (beef, beef & veal combo, turkey)
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional for salting the pasta water
1 (28 ounces) can, plus an additional ½ (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes

For the pasta: 
¾ – 1 lb ziti, penne or rigatoni pasta 
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided 
8 oz shredded mozzarella, divided
½ lb deli-style ham, diced, divided
¼ lb deli-style salami or soppresata, diced, divided
4 eggs, hardboiled and diced, divided


  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and parsley and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the ground meat, and break it down using a wooden spoon, sauté for 4 – 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt to taste, and 1 cup of plain water, stir and simmer on medium – low heat for 30 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, turn the heat on high and bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a 6-quart pot. Add the pasta, stir, and cook 4 minutes less than the box instructs.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Scoop about approximately one and a quarter cups of the sauce and layer it on the bottom of a 9 x 11 (or 9 x 13) inch baking dish. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot it cooked in. With the heat off, add 2 – 3 cups of the sauce to the pasta and mix well. Add almost all of the following ingredients: grated cheese, mozzarella, ham, salami and diced eggs, reserving some for toppings. Mix well to combine all the ingredients. 
  4. Add everything on the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining sauce and spread evenly over the pasta. Top with the remaining toppings, also spreading evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a crunchy topping develops. Serve hot or at room temperature. This dish is also wonderful reheated and served the next day.

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