Penne al Forno is baked pasta with a creamy five-cheese sauce, extra melted cheese, and crispy breadcrumbs on top.
Al Forno is Italian for “in the oven” and refers to baking food – typically pasta, pizza, or bread. Add the aromatic cheesy, tomatoey sauce, baked to perfection, it’s a dish you can’t resist.
Penne, ziti, or another beloved type of Italian pasta is preferred for this dish, though I almost always use penne. The firm and long tubes of pasta are perfect for holding sauce.
If you’ve ever had Olive Garden’s 5-Cheese Ziti al Forno, you’ll find this recipe to be very similar. Another fantastic pasta dish with similar flavors to try is this giant cheese stuffed shells with spinach. It’s packed with three cheeses and spinach.
The sauce is made with tomatoes and cream, plus five Italian cheeses. Here is what you’ll need. We’ll talk more specifically about the cheeses down below.
- Pasta – We use penne, but you can also use ziti, rigatoni, or even farfalle. You just need a sturdy pasta that will hold up in baking.
- Tomatoes – I prefer to make my own tomato sauce, instead of buying marinara. Store-bought sauces are not nearly as good as doing it yourself, and it’s super easy. All you need is a 15 oz can of crushed or pureed tomatoes. I like San Marzano brand, but you can go with whatever you want. If you use crushed tomatoes, you’ll might want to puree it before making the sauce.
- Cream or half and half
- Seasonings – Dried oregano, salt, ground black pepper
- Cheese – see below.
What Cheese to Use
For this recipe, we want to use all Italian cheeses. Keep it real. We use mozzarella, Asiago, Parmesan, Pecorino, and Fontina. These are all Italian cheeses that you should be able to find.
If you can’t find one of them, it’s okay to substitute other cheeses like Provolone, Romano, or Grana Padano. Or you can make it just a 3-cheese variation and add more of one or two cheeses.
If you add more Parmesan or Pecorino, you may have to adjust the salt, as these are generally quite salty cheeses.
For more cheesy goodness you might also try this 5-Cheese Mac and Cheese recipe.
How to Make 5-Cheese Penne al Forno
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8” casserole dish. You can also use a cast-iron skillet or a skillet that is oven safe.
If you are using crushed tomatoes, you probably won’t need to puree them to make them smooth, but you can if you want to. If using chopped tomatoes, you’ll definitely want to puree them so they aren’t chunky.
For this you can use a blender or an immersion blender. I never use the full-size blender, because it’s too much trouble to get it out and clean it afterwards. Instead, I always use the immersion blender. It’s great because you can add the tomatoes to the saucepan and just blend it in there.
You can also start with pureed tomatoes or passata instead, which is already smooth.
Add the puree to a saucepan. Add the cream, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add half the mozzarella cheese. Reserve the rest for the top. Also add in all the other cheeses to the sauce. Stir to incorporate. This will make it quite thick.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce pan and stir until it’s coated well with sauce. Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
To make the topping, add the butter to a skillet over medium heat. When melted, add the breadcrumbs, oregano, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toast the breadcrumbs to golden brown. Remove from heat.
Then sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the top of the pasta. Bake for 25 minutes.
An Olive Garden Classic Copycat Recipe
If you’ve eaten at Olive Garden, you’ve likely seen this dish on the menu. They have a version of this dish that uses five Italian cheeses and Ziti pasta to make a delicious dish that is loved by everyone.
Our Olive Garden Five Cheese Ziti al Forno copycat recipe uses penne, which is often easier to find at the grocery store, and a mixture of different cheeses, along with delicious tomato puree and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.
It’s very similar to the dish you know and love at Olive Garden. You can make this dish as is, or change around the cheeses and ratios of sauce to pasta, to make it your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a different type of pasta?
Yes, you can use penne, rigatoni, or ziti. All of these pastas are similarly shaped and have ridges to hold the sauce. If you don’t have these on hand, you can use bowtie pasta, fusilli, or medium shells.
What are the five cheeses that Olive Garden uses for their Ziti al Forno?
This dish is served at Olive Garden and is a fan favorite, for good reason. The cheeses they use in their dish are mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, fontina, and ricotta. Feel free to use those cheeses, or any combination of them, for the one you make.
Is there meat in Five Cheese Penne al Forno?
This version of five cheese penne al forno has not meat. The Olive Garden recipe is also vegetarian, but you can absolutely add meat or seafood to the dish if you prefer. I would add ground beef, ground sausage, lump crab meat or lobster for a decadent version.
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Five Cheese Penne al Forno
- 1/2 lb dried penne pasta cooked according to package
- 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup cream or half and half
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup Mozzarella shredded and divided
- 1/2 cup Parmesan
- 1/4 cup Asiago shredded
- 1/4 cup Pecorino shredded
- 1/4 cup Fontina shredded
For the topping
- 1/2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- Sprinkle of salt and pepper
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, drain and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8”x8” casserole dish.
- Add the chopped tomatoes to a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the cream, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add half the mozzarella (reserving the rest for the top), and all the other cheeses to the sauce. Stir to incorporate.
- Add the cooked pasta into the sauce pan and stir until it’s coated well with sauce. Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Top with the remaining mozzarella.
- To make the crunchy topping, add the butter to a skillet over medium heat. When melted, add the breadcrumbs, oregano, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Toast the breadcrumbs to golden brown. Remove from heat.
- Sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs onto the top of the pasta. Bake for 25 minutes.
- If you use prepared marinara sauce instead of tomatoes, you may need to adjust the salt as most jarred sauces already include salt.
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Laura is a home cook, with 25 years experience behind the stove, who spends an extraordinary amount of time in the kitchen cooking. She loves making new recipes and finding wonderful new things to eat, both at home or abroad. She spends a lot of time researching, crafting, and perfecting her recipes and currently has a cookbook in development.