This baked rigatoni recipe is tasty and comforting pasta bake with meat and veggies all in one dish! Layers of tender pasta, a perfectly seasoned meat sauce, eggplant, and fresh tomatoes, all topped with a thin layer of melty fresh mozzarella.
Prepare the Eggplant. Place eggplant slices on a large tray. Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside for 20 minutes or so (the eggplant will sweat out any bitterness). Using a paper towel, pat the eggplant dry and wipe any excess salt.
Broil the Eggplant. Spray or brush the eggplant generously with extra virgin olive oil. Place on top rack of heated oven to broil for 4-5 minutes or so, watching very carefully. The eggplant should "wilt" and brown. Remove from heat and set aside. (you will need to switch oven to bake later)
Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season well with kosher salt. Cook the pasta to al l dante according to package instructions. This might take about 11 minutes or so. When ready, drain, reserving a little bit of the pasta cooking water.
Prepare meat sauce. While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large deeper pan. Cook the onions over medium-high heat until translucent, about 3 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, again tossing regularly. Add the meat and spices, and season with Kosher salt and black pepper. Using a wooden spoon, break the meat up into smaller piece, continue to stir until the meat is fully cooked through and has browned (about 7 to 10 minutes). Add the canned crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for 15 minutes or so. Carefully taste and adjust salt, if needed add more salt.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and position a rack in the middle.
Assemble the rigatoni casserole. Spoon a little bit of the meat sauce to cover the bottom of a large 14 x 10 x 3 deep baking dish, Add about ½ of the pasta. Assemble the broiled eggplant on top, then add half the meat sauce. Now add the remaining pasta and top with the remaining meat sauce. Finally, assemble fresh tomatoes and mozzarella slices on the very top.
Bake! Place the rigatoni dish on the middle rack of your heated oven. Bake for 20 to 25. If needed, put the rigatoni under the broiler briefly. Watch carefully until top of the rigatoni casserole gains some good color (you're looking for some of the pasta to crisp up; the tomato and mozzarella may char or brown in some spots).
Prepare ahead instructions. You can assemble the rigatoni up to step #8 a night or two in advance. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking, step #9.
Freezing instructions: You can fully prepare and bake this casserole. Let cool completely, then cover tightly and freeze. Best to use a freezer-to-oven safe casserole dish so that you can bake it directly from frozen. Otherwise, let it thaw out for a couple of hours before baking.