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This One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni is for nights when you’re craving Italian, but also need something simple and easy to prepare. Rigatoni pasta baked in a spicy tomato pesto vodka sauce that’s creamy and so delicious! The secret to this one-pot pasta? A little Italian chicken sausage and plenty of cheese on top. This is a terrific fall and winter dish to serve any night of the week. But is equally awesome for your next Saturday night dinner party. It’s delicious and looks pretty on any table…not to mention everyone LOVES a GOOD baked pasta. This dish will be your new go-to when serving family and friends.

overhead photo of One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni

Serious question for you all? Are you cooking for Thanksgiving this year? Are you lined up to bring a side dish to your family’s meal? Or do you have nothing to do with actually cooking the Thanksgiving Day dinner? I’m so curious to know because I feel like only about one and every five people are actually cooking on Thanksgiving. The rest are either attending a family gathering and bringing a side dish/dessert, or just attending and not worrying about the food.

Am I right? Or no? I ask because every November I always see so many Thanksgiving recipes, but never many recipes for all the other days within this cozy month. Bottom line…we all LOVE Thanksgiving, but we also have to eat some good meals leading up to T-day too!

And that’s where I come in. I’ve made it a point each year to not only share Thanksgiving dishes but easy dinners too. Dinners like this one-pot pasta that I love so much. It’s such a busy time, so keeping things simple (and delicious) is my current goal.

One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Rigatoni before baking in pot

My family loves any and all pasta, but give them something saucy, a little spicy, baked, and cheesy too? That’s their meal!

My favorite part about a pasta dish though is its simplicity. And the fact that every person in my family will not only eat this recipe but really enjoy it too. When you have picky eaters this is music to your ears.

overhead photo of One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni

Here are the details.

Start off by making the sauce. It’s very important with this recipe to use a large pot, bigger than you’d think you might need. Because we are making the sauce and cooking the pasta together, you’ll need extra room. So be sure to use your largest pot available.

Next, the sauce. It’s made spicy with ground Italian chicken sausage, canned tomatoes, vodka (for best flavor), herbs, and pesto…to keep things creamy and cheesy too. Now I want to say, if Vodka’s not your thing, I totally understand. In this case, just swap the vodka for chicken broth or even just water. Either one will work totally fine and your sauce will still be great.

BUT, if you do drink or you’re ok with using alcohol for cooking, you must add vodka to your sauce. The vodka adds a sharp bite that helps to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes. When used in small amounts, the vodka will boost and intensify the aroma of the sauce. The key is to slow simmer the sauce, which will release the flavors and cook out the alcohol. So yes, this is safe to serve to kids!

side angled photo of One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni with spoon pulling up pasta and cheese pulling

Moving along…

Since I wanted to keep it quick and simple, I set out to make this a one-pot pasta. What does this mean? Well, it’s simple, everything from making the sauce, to the boiling of the pasta is all done in just one pot on the stove-top before being transferred to the oven to finish baking. If you have oven-safe pots, you don’t even need to transfer the pasta to a baking dish.

Easy, right? YES.

Once the base red sauce has been made, simply add the water and dry pasta right into the red sauce. I know it may seem odd, but trust me, it works. Just bring the mix to a boil and cook until the pasta is al dente. Cooking the pasta together with the sauce only takes a few minutes and saves you from having to break out another pot. Not sure about you guys, but I am all about fewer dishes.

overhead close up photo of One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni with serving of pasta removed from baking dish

Once the pasta is cooked, simply top with cheese and bake. If you’re cooking with cast iron or stainless steel, you can bake the pasta right in this very same pot. If not, simply transfer the pasta to your favorite baking dish. Either option works just the same!

And about thirty minutes later you’ll have cheesy baked pasta ready for eating….and your kitchen will be semi-clean! But even more importantly, it’s going to smell like an Italian grandma’s house. It’s an amazing aroma, and trust me, this rigatoni tastes even better. Think saucy, but still heavy on the pasta, a touch spicy, with a good amount of seasonings and herbs. The pesto adds fresh flavor and creaminess, and all that cheese on top…well that’s the best part!

Oh, and I forgot to mention the shredded kale that’s stirred into the pasta as well. Delish, and the greens help to balance out all the cheese.

You see, you can’t go wrong with a baked pasta like this. My one tip? Make this dish fancy…ish and serve it topped with fried rosemary and a bottle of red wine. Perfect for these long November and December nights.

overhead ohoto of One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni with portion of pasta removed and plate of pasta next to dish

If you make this one-pot spicy pesto cheese baked rigatoni, be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you guys and always do my best to respond to each and every comment. And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram! Looking through the photos of recipes you all have made is my favorite!

Watch the How To Video:

One Pot Spicy Pesto Cheese Baked Rigatoni

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories Per Serving: 668 kcal

Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.



  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the shallot and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken sausage and brown all over, about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cook another minute. Slowly add the tomatoes, vodka, 1/2 cup pesto, oregano, rosemary, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Then add 2 1/2 cups water, the pasta, and kale. Increase the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir frequently until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes. 
    3. If needed, transfer the pasta to a baking dish. Top with the fontina cheese, then drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup basil pesto evenly over everything. Add the mozzarella.
    4. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake 20-25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned on top. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with fresh rosemary. Enjoy!


You can find my homemade basil pesto recipe inside this post
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  1. 5 stars
    DELICIOUS! Fall is in the air… and this was a perfect Monday night dinner – with great leftovers for the week.

    Wouldn’t change a thing!

  2. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! I have tried multiple stores to find crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Can only find them whole. What do you recommend? If I buy the whole, do I need to chop them up or blend in a food processor first? Or can I just put them in whole? Or should I use regular canned crushed tomatoes? Thanks for any advice!

    1. Hi there! Hmm yes I would maybe just recommend mashing them up before or blending would work too! You can absolutely use regular crushed tomatoes as well!

  3. 5 stars
    I made this last night for dinner and we loved it! My husband and I both went back for seconds. The depth of flavors surprised me. It tasted like the sauce had been simmering all day. It was easy to prepare and my husband, who gets to clean up, was very happy with the one container he had to wash!
    I will certainly make this again and share with friends. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe.

  4. 5 stars
    Greetings from the UK. Delicious recipe, but next time I will cook the pasta (I used macaroni)separately. I downsized the recipe for 2 people and used regular chicken sausage (all I could find ) and broke the sausages up and added some red pepper Aleppo flakes for heat. I found the starch from the pasta thickened up the sauce too much and had to add extra water which then diluted the flavour too much. I added extra pesto dotted on the top too. I will definitely make this again but next time with the pasta cooked separately and will add a splash of pasta cooking water if needed. I used the Mutti Italian chopped tinned tomatoes in the recipe and HECK chicken sausages (only mentioning this for any UK readers) thanks Teighan. Love your recipes…

    1. Hey Nina,
      Happy Sunday!! So glad to hear you enjoyed this recipe, thanks a lot for making it and your review! Thanks for your kind message!! xT

  5. 5 stars
    Greetings from the UK. Looks fab… thanks for another amazing pasta recipe. I can’t see a metric conversion button. Am I missing it on your website? I have recommended your website to so many people. I especially like that you give metric conversions… appreciated.

    1. Hi Nina,
      Sorry about that, I’ll get the metrics added for you today! I hope you love this dish! xT

  6. 5 stars
    I’ve made this several times with spicy Italian pork sausage and it is so good! I will eventually try Tieghan’s spice blend to add to ground chicken. I think it would add more texture to the recipe. We always have Costco pesto on hand, perfect for this recipe.

    1. Hi Kim,
      Wonderful!! I appreciate you making this recipe, I’m so glad it turned out well for you! Have a great weekend:)

  7. 5 stars
    Delicious! Made it for lunch, fed 3 and still have half left. It’s rich and absolutely indulgent. Will definitely make this again.

    1. Hey Anne,
      Totally, spinach will work well for you! Please let me know if you have any other questions, I hope you love this recipe! xx

  8. This was amazing! I used pork sausage and subbed mozzarella for all fontina due to supply- was amazing! I did flip the broiler on to put a nice toast on the mozzarella towards the end. My kale hating family loved every bite- so I win!

    1. Hey Taylor,
      Wonderful!! I love to hear that this recipe turned out well for you and thanks so much for trying it out! xx

    1. Hey Barb,
      Sure, that would be okay for you to use! Let me know if you give this recipe a try, I hope you love it! xx

  9. 5 stars
    I made this for Christmas dinner used hot Italian pork sausage and spinach. It was fantastic and it was nice to prepare it earlier and pop it in the oven!

    1. Hey Jan,
      Happy Friday!! I appreciate you making this recipe and sharing your feedback, so glad to hear this was enjoyed! xT