Baked Rigatoni in Creamy Tomato Sauce

Rigatoni1The layers of homemade tomato-meat sauce, cheese, and easy, creamy bechamel come together to make a delicious baked pasta dish that could also be a good alternative to lasagna, if you’re looking for something different. The white bechamel has a bit of nutmeg and blends so nicely with the tomato sauce. And I always like when I can cook a creamy dish without any cream — it keeps things just a bit healthier.

You’ll have a few pots on the stove for this recipe, but if you prepare all of the ingredients before you start, you’ll find it comes together quickly.

The recipe comes from Valerie’s Kitchen and I’ve made just a few tweaks, mostly by increasing the amount of meat. The original recipe calls for beef, but I always cook with ground turkey, so I’ve included instructions for both. Serve this with a green vegetable on the side to round out your dinner — I served ours with delicious buttered spinach.

16 oz. rigatoni, cooked until barely al dente

For the sauce:
Olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (or beef)
1 28-oz. can crushed Italian style tomatoes
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

For the bechamel:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

For layering:
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. If you forgot to cook the rigatoni, do that now.

In a very large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until fragrant. Add turkey and cook until browned. (If using beef, also drain off the grease.) Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer while preparing the bechamel.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk and nutmeg. Turn heat to medium and whisk and cook until smooth, thick and creamy. Remove from heat.

Add the pasta to the tomato-meat sauce and mix thoroughly.

In a 9×13-inch baking pan, layer half the pasta mixture, drizzle with half the bechamel, and top with half the cheeses. Repeat the layers. Bake 35 minutes, or until cheese is just starting to brown.


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