A cheesy baked rigatoni with Italian sausage, burst cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, garlicky marinara sauce, and lots of melted mozzarella. It’s baked until golden & bubbling, then topped with fresh parsley and parmesan. This is one of my favorite easy dinners for any night of the week, and the recipe has a bit of family history to it as well!
cheesy baked rigatoni – the story
This cheesy baked rigatoni has a very special story. It’s a recipe I developed for my family’s Chicago pizzeria, Nancy’s Pizza. Nancy’s has been around for years. The first one opened in 1971 when Rocco Palese invented the Chicago stuffed pizza. My dad and Rocco became close friends and eventually started working together. My dad then grew the company over the years and opened many Nancy’s around the Chicago area. Fast forward to today and we’ve got our whole family in the pizza business!
While Nancy’s pizza recipes have always remained the same, a few years ago we set out to update some of the other menu items – everything from new salads to some fun apps and a few comforting pastas. One of them being this cheesy baked rigatoni with Italian sausage and spinach.
The menu item at Nancy’s used to be just a classic baked pasta with marinara and mozzarella. And while it was delicious, we wanted to add just a little bit more flavor and some hearty additions. This rigatoni was the result, and it’s a dish that can be eaten as a full, complete meal.
It’s one of my absolute favorites from the menu and something I make for myself all the time at home. I’m so excited to be sharing it here on the blog so that you can bring a little bit of our nostalgic Italian family history into your own kitchens!
And trust me, there’s nothing not to love about this *very* cheesy pasta. Rigatoni pasta tossed with a simple garlicky marinara sauce, roasted Italian sausage, burst cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, and parmesan cheese.
It’s then layered into a baking dish with mozzarella in the middle (the secret touch) AND on top. Baked until golden and bubbling. It’s simply so good, and one of those easy pasta recipes you can come back to time and time again.
Note: One of the reasons this pasta is so good at Nancy’s is that we use really high-quality ingredients. When making it at home, try to buy fresh Italian sausage links from the butcher, use really good mozzarella and parmesan, and find a marinara sauce that’s full of only simple ingredients. I’ve been using Carbone’s marinara sauce and absolutely love how it tastes in this baked rigatoni.Print
Cheesy Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage & Spinach
a cheesy baked rigatoni full of italian sausage, burst cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach, garlicky marinara sauce, parmesan, and lots of melted mozzarella
- 1 lb mild italian sausage links
- ¼ cup + a drizzle of olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 lb rigatoni
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ lb (or 2 large handfuls) fresh spinach
- 1 (24 oz) jar marinara sauce
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus more for topping
- ½ lb shredded mozzarella cheese
- ½ lb fresh mozzarella cheese, drained + sliced ¼”
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the sausage links onto a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Rub to coat. Roast for about 12 minutes, or until just cooked through. Transfer the sausage to a cutting board. Once cool enough to handle, slice the sausage into ¼” pieces.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Once boiling, drop the rigatoni. Stir well and cook for 2 minutes less than the package’s instructions.
- Simultaneously, heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the ¼ cup of olive oil. Once hot, add the sliced sausage. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until browned. Add the cherry tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 3 minutes or so until the tomatoes burst open and release some juice. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes.
- Pour in the marinara sauce and stir in the spinach. Retrieve a ½ cup of starchy pasta water from the pot and add it to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer as the spinach wilts. Stir in the parmesan cheese and let it melt.
- Drain the pasta when it’s done and add it right to the sauce, along with the parsley. Stir to combine.
- Grease a 12” cast iron skillet (or 9x13x3” baking dish) with olive oil. Pour in half of the pasta. Top with half of the shredded mozzarella. Pour in the remaining pasta. Top with the sliced fresh mozzarella and remaining shredded mozzarella.
- Bake for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Broil on high for 1-2 more minutes until golden. Serve with a pinch of parsley and grated parmesan over top.
Once you pour in the marinara sauce, add a splash of water to the jar. Close the top, shake it around, and then pour the remaining liquid into the pot. This will help ensure that you get every last drop of sauce into your pasta!