This Pasta al Forno, or oven-baked pasta, combines tender eggplant, penne pasta, marinara sauce, and all your favorite cheeses, all baked to perfection without the fussiness of layering. It’s comfort food at its best and a great way to sneak extra veggies into your diet.
If you’re into the cheese but the pots and two hours of cooking time in this eggplant casserole scare you (though it’s mostly hands-off, I promise), perhaps try this 30-minute cheesy white bean tomato bake or a one-pot eggplant lasagna instead. Otherwise, grab your apron, hit that Jump to Recipe button, and let’s make a baked penne pasta with eggplant!
- Eggplant (aka aubergine) – use an Italian eggplant for this recipe, and not the bright purple Chinese or Japanese eggplants. You’ll want an eggplant that’s medium in size at most, and it should have smooth skin and feel heavy for it’s size.
- Penne or any short, sturdy pasta will work in this recipe.
- Mozzarella – this recipe works best with fresh mozzarella, but you can use dried or pre-shredded mozzarella if you like.
- Parmesan – buy your Parmesan as blocks of cheese and grate it at home with a microplane. Please don’t use the green can for this recipe.
Tip from the wise quacker: whole tomatoes are your best choice in canned tomatoes because only good quality tomatoes can be canned whole.
Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.
Variations and substitutions
- Make your baked penne pasta with a sausage ragù.
- Sub out the eggplant for sauteed zucchini (courgettes) or mushrooms.
- Add some spinach, kale, or other greens when you mix it all together.
- Add some breadcrumbs to the Parmesan topping.
As with many things that happen in the kitchen, this eggplant casserole recipe was an accident. One night I planned to make Chicken Parmigiana but had no motivation. Instead, I used my chicken for easy panko chicken tenders stuffed into pita pockets.
That left me wanting Parmigiana, some mozzarella and basil, and now no chicken. But there were two eggplants in the fridge that were eager to dive into what became this baked penne pasta.
About pasta al forno
Pasta al forno translates literally to “pasta to the oven” or “baked pasta.” It’s a generic term that refers to the big Venn diagram of baked pastas including lasagna and baked ziti.
While there is a specific Sicilian pasta al forno with eggplant and caciocavallo cheese called Pasta ‘Ncasciata, my vegetarian baked penne pasta recipe is just in the pasta al forno style and has no specific origin. This eggplant casserole recipe also shares similarities with Pasta alla Norma (a stove-top dish with sauteed eggplant and ricotta salata) and Eggplant Parmigiana.
Recipe tips and tricks
This eggplant penne al forno borrows and adapts elements from many of these classic Italian dishes. Instead of frying the eggplant, it is roasted in the oven while you make tomato sauce and the pasta cooks.
Most important, there’s no need for the fussiness of layering. Just mix everything willy-nilly in the pasta pot, turn it out into a casserole dish, and bake.
Step 1: Cut the eggplant into half-inch cubes, toss with salt in a bowl, and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Rinse and dry off the eggplant. Then toss with two tablespoons of olive oil and, if you’re smarter than me, roast the eggplant in the same casserole dish you will use for the eventual penne pasta bake.
Bake for about 20 minutes until the eggplant is soft.
Meanwhile, start a large a pot of water to boil for your penne or other pasta. Change out of your white shirt if you’re wearing one, and make the tomato sauce.
Step 3: In a large sauce pan or frying pan, heat the olive oil for the sauce and cook the onion and carrot until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Step 4: Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Then add the remaining tomato sauce ingredients, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Step 5: Cook the penne pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water per the pasta instructions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
Off the heat, stir the eggplant and tomato sauce into the pasta. Then mix in the basil and cheese.
Step 6: Turn the eggplant casserole mixture into your baking dish.
Step 7: Sprinkle with Parmesan.
Step 8: Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the top of the baked penne pasta has browned.
Step 9: Serve hot, garnished with additional chopped basil and more Parmesan, if you like. Because who wouldn’t?
What to serve with a penne pasta bake
- A side salad like a simple green salad, raw carrot salad, or rainbow salad bowl.
- Steam or roast a green vegetable like green beans or broccoli.
- Make garlic bread from baguette or this semolina bread made as a free-form loaf.
- If you’re drinking wine, pick an unassuming red blend or medium-bodied red. This is not the time for a big Cabernet Sauvignon.
Yes. Although much of it is relatively unattended. It can be done while working from home, or save it for a weekend and open up a nice bottle of red wine to go along.
Yes, if you are pressed for time. Salting removes the liquid from the eggplant (remember osmosis?) but it’s much more important if you are frying eggplant.
The eggplant definitely doesn’t remain as solid slices in this dish. If you hate mushy eggplant, you can omit it, or the NY Times claims to have a crunchy eggplant Parmesan.
Yes, although it depends on the pasta shape. A rigatoni al forno will hold up better than fusilli. Freeze your baked pasta in a freezer bag or airtight container. It can be reheated in the microwave or in the oven covered in foil. Add the basil garnish only after reheating.
Yes. The most obvious component to freeze would be the tomato sauce.
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.
Pasta al Forno (Penne Pasta Bake)
- 1 9 inch by 13 inch casserole dish
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 16 ounces penne or other dried, tubular-shaped pasta (e.g. ziti, rigatoni)
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon white or red wine or dry vermouth
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- salt and pepper to taste red pepper flakes, if desired
- 1 cup basil, coarsely chopped plus additional for garnish
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
- 2 ounces Parmesan, grated
- Cut the eggplant into one-half inch cubes, smear with salt, and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes.1 medium eggplant, 1 tablespoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Rinse off and dry the eggplant. Toss them with two tablespoons of the olive oil then put them into the 9 by 13 inch casserole dish you will use for the penne pasta bake. Bake them for about 20 minutes until they have softened.3 tablespoons olive oil
- Meanwhile, start a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and return it to the pasta pot.16 ounces penne
- Also make the tomato sauce while the eggplants are cooking. In a large sauce or saute pan with a lid, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until softened.3 tablespoons olive oil, ½ medium onion, finely chopped, 1 carrot, finely chopped
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.2 cloves garlic, minced
- Add the tomatoes, wine or vermouth, and sugar and cover. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes.28 ounces canned whole tomatoes, ½ teaspoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon white or red wine or dry vermouth
- Add salt and pepper to taste.salt and pepper to taste
- Add the eggplant and tomato sauce to the pasta pot and stir to combine. Then mix in the basil and chopped mozzarella.8 ounces fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped, 1 cup basil, coarsely chopped
- Turn the mixture out into a 9 by 13 inch pyrex pan or other baking dish, top with Parmesan cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the dish is bubbling and the Parmesan has browned.2 ounces Parmesan, grated
- Garnish with the reserved basil and serve hot!1 cup basil, coarsely chopped
This penne pasta bake was first posted on March 25, 2021. It was last updated for clarity and step-by-step photos August 29, 2023.
Looking for dinner inspiration, classic recipes and new seasonal favorites?