Utah Bites

Baked Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce

Here is my version of baked rigatoni with rich tomato sauce. This hearty and cheesy dish is one of these truly comfort foods everyone loves.


When I was in graduate school in New York City, I loved an inexpensive cafeteria-style Italian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen called Manganaro’s Hero Boy. The now-shuttered eatery dated back to 1893 and closed recently due to COVID. Their hero sandwiches were incredible. But I also really liked their baked ziti with a rich tasting tomato sauce. On a recent visit back to NYC I finally learned the secret of their sauce (don’t use fresh tomatoes, use canned). Here is my version of Manganaro’s baked ziti, although I prefer rigatoni pasta. 


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil 
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly mashed 
  • 1 28 oz. can good-quality peeled Italian tomatoes (You can also use crushed tomatoes or tomato puree.)
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. red-chili flakes (optional)
  • a few fresh basil leaves
  • freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar 
  • 1 lb. dried pasta: ziti, rigatoni or penne (I usually prefer rigatoni)  
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella – half cut into small cubes and half thinly sliced
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and saute until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove and discard the cooked garlic. You want to infuse the olive oil for the sauce (or sugo) with the garlic, but not have bitter garlic in the sauce. 
  4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Then, add the peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, fresh basil, chili flakes and a few grinds of black pepper. If you add the tomatoes to the hot pan it can splatter and burn you, not to mention make a mess. That’s why I allow the olive oil to cool before adding the sauce ingredients.
  5. Use a spoon, spatula, or potato masher to break up the peeled tomatoes if you use whole tomatoes. 
  6. Bring the sauce to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow the sauce to simmer for 1/2 hour. Just before using the sauce, remove and discard the basil leaves and stir in the 1/2 tsp. Sugar.
  7. Chop half of the mozzarella balls into small cubes and slice the rest, thinly.
  8. While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling water, just to al dente.
  9. Drain the cooked pasta and transfer to an oiled baking dish or casserole. Pour in the sauce, along with the cubed mozzarella and 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir to mix well.
  10. Top the pasta with the sliced mozzarella and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in the oven for 1/2 hour, or until the cheese is bubbly.

Serve with a fresh green salad. Mangia!



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Food writer Ted SchefflerOriginally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.

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