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Laura's Pasta al Forno with Sugo

My Nonna (grandmother) in Naples makes this dish on Sundays when our whole family gathers around her long wooden table to eat together. I love to make on Sundays as well. To make the process a little faster, you can easily make the sugo ahead of time and freeze it.
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 7 hr 55 min
  • Active: 1 hr 45 min
  • Yield: 8 to 10 servings
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1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from about 1 slice crusty bread, pulsed in a food processor)

2 tablespoons whole milk 

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

1 large egg 

1 clove garlic, finely minced 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound ground beef (80 percent lean works best) 


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound pork spare ribs 

1 pound Italian sausage, cut into chunks 

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped 

1 cup red wine 

Three 24.5-ounce bottles tomato passata 

6 leaves fresh basil, torn 

Pasta al Forno:

3 large eggs

Kosher salt

1 pound rigatoni or penne pasta 

1/2 cup whole milk ricotta, preferably fresh (the crumbly kind, if you can find it) 

4 ounces provolone, cut into small cubes 

4 ounces sopressata, cut into small cubes 

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

8 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes 


  1. For the meatballs: In a small bowl, add the fresh breadcrumbs and mix them with the milk; set aside for just a few minutes so the breadcrumbs can soak up the milk.
  2. In a large bowl, add the Parmigiano, parsley, egg, garlic, the breadcrumb mixture, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper or more to taste. Mix everything together with a fork and add the ground beef. Mix everything together until well combined. Form tiny little meatballs (about the size of 1 teaspoon) and place them on a large plate (get your kids involved in this stage). Cover them with plastic wrap and pop them in the fridge for around 1 hour.
  3. For the sugo: In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and allow it to get nice and hot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with a pinch of salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and place them in the hot pan. Cook them until they develop some color, just for a few minutes on each side (you will most likely have to do this in batches). Transfer to a plate and repeat the same process with the sausage.
  4. Cook the tiny meatballs in batches in the same pan until they too have developed some color all around, a few minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  5. Add a bit more oil if the pan is to dry, or discard some oil if the meat has rendered off too much fat. Add the onions and lower the heat to medium. Cook until they have softened quite a bit, 6 to 7 minutes.
  6. Add the red wine, allowing it to reduce for 1 minute. Add the passata, along with your browned ribs and sausage with all the juices collected in the bottom of the plates, and give everything a good stir. Allow the sugo to come up to a boil, then drop in the meatballs (don't forget those flavorful juices). Lower the heat to low, partially cover the pot and allow your sugo to cook low and slow for about 4 hours, making sure to check on it every once in a while.
  7. Taste and season your sugo well with some salt and pepper; add in the torn basil leaves.
  8. Take the ribs and sausage out of the pot and place them in a large shallow plate; cover to keep warm. Remove the tiny meatballs with a large slotted spoon and set aside.
  9. For the pasta al forno: Place the eggs in a saucepan, cover with water and bring them to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then turn the heat off and cover the pan. Let them sit exactly 10 minutes, then drain and dunk them in ice water to cool. Peel and roughly chop them.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Ladle about 1 cup of the sugo in the bottom of a deep 13-by-9-inch pan and set aside.
  11. Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni in some salted boiling water for about 7 minutes (check the cooking time on the box of rigatoni and cook them for 2 minutes less); drain them well.
  12. In a large bowl (and I do mean large), add the ricotta, about 3 cups of sugo, the tiny meatballs, the provolone, sopressata, eggs and half of the Parmigiano. Mix to combine. Tumble your mixture into your prepared pan, cover with some foil and bake for 35 minutes.
  13. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Remove the foil, top with the mozzarella and sprinkle over the remaining Parmigiano. Pop it back in the oven to bake until the top is golden brown and bubbly, another 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes before serving.

Cook’s Note

If you have a metal baking dish, a low-sided metal roasting pan or even a really big cake pan, use it for this dish. You'll be glad you did. The edges of your pasta al forno will get crispy and the center will be soft and delicious. Buon appetito!

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