Think those chain restaurants have a great tortellini al forno? Just wait until you try this recipe for rich, home cooked pasta.

Tortellini Al Forno

I’m a home cook, and I love experimenting with flavors. But that’s not to say I don’t eat out once in a while. It’s not only relaxing to me, but I’ve found that it’s a (sneaky?) way to get new ideas for recipes to try at home.

That’s why I was so surprised when I tried the tortellini al forno mini pasta bowl at Olive Garden this past weekend.

This rich pasta dish is one I’ve been making for a while. I don’t always make my own tortellini. It takes a while to do, and life sometimes gets in the way of having time to stuff and fold pasta. But I have mastered the art of creating the perfect al forno sauce, if I say so myself. It tastes just like the Olive Garden tortellini al forno – even better, if you ask my family.

The tortellini al forno Olive Garden menu option is fairly simple, but you can tell that it was prepared in a restaurant. I’ve got no complaints with the line cooks, but there’s something different about pasta that has been set in a pot of water: the consistency isn’t quite right. I think you’ll like my homemade tortellini al forno more.

“What is al forno?” you may ask. Well, al forno is an Italian phrase. It literally translates to “baked,” or “in the oven.”

Strangely, the recipe changed over time, consequently the tortellini al forno meaning has changed with it. It’s commonly served right from the stovetop. You won’t need an oven to make tortellini al forno.

Preparing the tortellini for this recipe is simple, just prepare the pasta as the package directions direct. Be sure to strain your pasta well. Leaving water in your pans is the quickest way to ruin a perfectly good pasta dish. Your sauce will thin, and your pasta will become soggy.

It’s up to you, but I also like to add a bit of salt and olive oil to the boiling water before cooking my pasta. The salt will increase the boiling point of the water, so the water will actually be hotter when you add the pasta. Olive oil will add flavor, but it will also keep your pasta from sticking.

Timing is everything when preparing a pasta dish. Tortellini doesn’t take long to cook. Depending on the brand you buy, it’ll only take between 5 and 10 minutes from the time you drop your pasta to the time you’re straining it.

Tortellini Al Forno

For the best results, boil your water while you gather and prepare your ingredients.

I’ve found that chopping the bacon takes longer than any other prep for this recipe. It’s slippery and those little strips can get away from you. I start with the bacon, then move on to the other ingredients.

If you’re grating your own cheese, save that for last. The high kitchen temperatures may cause it to stick together.

One of the best parts of home cooking is the flexibility you’ll have to choose your own ingredients. As you know, there are dozens of tortellini products on the market. I always use cheese tortellini for this recipe. The cheese in the pasta blends well with the mozzarella and the parmesan in the al forno sauce.

But we home cooks love to experiment, right? Why not try mushroom tortellini? Paired with the bacon and the parsley, mushrooms would be a treat. There are also veggie tortellinis you may like to try. Spinach would be great! Cheese and roasted garlic tortellini would pair well, too.

Once your water is boiling and your ingredients are in place, it’s time to start cooking. Begin with the bacon, as you’ll need to reserve some of the drippings for use later in the al forno recipe. Keep your cheese refrigerated until the last minute. Again, you don’t want it to stick, as this will make your sauce lumpy.

Have everything ready to go, and you’ll be rewarded with a dish worthy of a rave tortellini al forno Olive Garden review!

Recipe Notes

Lean vs. fatty bacon – We’ve all got a favorite brand of bacon. Some like it fatty while others prefer the leaner cuts. I’ve found that those leaner cuts work best in this tortellini al forno recipe.

Buying a fatty cut of bacon will mean that more of the product will burn off. You only need a couple tablespoons of drippings for the recipe, so it’s better to opt for the leaner, crispier cuts.\

Can’t find them in the grocery store? Just ask the butcher.  Many grocery stores have a butcher on site. He’ll be happy to cut your meat just the way you like it. Usually this doesn’t cost any more than what you’ll find at the meat counter.

No more clumpy sauce – When I first learned to cook, I picked up an important tip: making gravy is a bear if you don’t do it right. Making turkey or chicken gravy, for example, can result in a powdery and clumpy mess of flour if not done properly.

When you prepare this tortellini al forno recipe, you’re essentially making “bacon gravy.” You’ll whisk flour in with your bacon drippings, your gravy will be very lumpy.

Be sure to add your flour to your bacon drippings gradually. Pouring all the flour in at once will create huge lumps. Be sure the drippings are hot, but not spattering. Then use a tablespoon or even a teaspoon to add the flour, whisking as you go. Don’t add the milk until your flour is fully incorporated into your drippings.

A note on cheese – If you can manage it, I strongly recommend you use fresh cheese. Many times, manufacturers will add fillers to the pre-packaged cheese, and this can impact the texture and the quality of your al forne sauce.

Larger stores like Harris Teeter and Kroger have blocks of cheese in the deli department. You can choose from a variety of brands. I don’t recommend low-fat cheese for two reasons. First, they’ll change the consistency of your sauce. Second, they’re often packed with salt, and the flavor of your dish will change.

Tortellini Al Forno Check out these Recipes!

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One Skillet Shrimp and Pasta Scampi – Delicious shrimp sauce infused with its signature garlic flavor!