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 28 oz can of peeled, chopped tomatoes. I like San Marzano brand, but you can go with whatever you want. Since this is chopped tomatoes, you’ll have to puree it before making the sauce. Alternatively you can use tomato puree (passata in the UK and EU) instead and skip the puree step.
- 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, and Pecorino and Grana Padano. 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 and Romano. 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.
You’ll need to puree the canned chopped tomatoes, so they aren’t chunky. For this you can use a blender or an immersion blender. I actually never use the 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 instead. This is called passata in the UK and EU. It’s basically just tomatoes that have been pureed (not paste).
Add the puree to a saucepan. Add the cream, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add half the mozzarella (reserve the rest for the top) and the other cheeses to the sauce. Stir to incorporate.
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.
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, then sprinkle on the toasted breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.
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Five Cheese Penne al Forno
- 1/2 lb dried penne pasta cooked according to package
- 28 oz canned chopped 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 shredded mozzarella divided
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup asiago shredded
- 1/4 cup Pecorino 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 cream, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add half the mozzarella (reserve the rest for the top) and the other cheeses to the sauce. Stir to incorporate.
- 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.
- 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, then sprinkle on the toasted breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.
If you use prepared marinara sauce instead of tomatoes, you may need to adjust the salt as most sauces already include the salt.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.