Imqarrun il forn on a bed of rucola

Imqarrun il-Forn – A Maltese baked pasta casserole

The Maltese baked pasta, or as we call it here ‘Imqarrun il-Forn’ or ‘Ghagin il-Forn’, is a traditional Maltese recipe that every family loves to prepare. Ask anyone around, and they’ll tell you about how this comfort food is an absolute favourite for Sunday family get-togethers. You’ll also hear about how no one makes ‘Imqarrun il-Forn’ better than their grandma!

Like any other traditional recipe, there are a few different variations. Take the classic Italian lasagna as an example, every province you visit will have their own method and a host of different ingredients used to prepare the iconic dish. Some use bechamel sauce, others prepare it with ricotta, some recipes feature fresh pasta … You get the gist. 

For the Maltese baked macaroni recipe, the base ingredients will always be macaroni pasta, minced meat, eggs, tomato puree and a tablespoon of our beloved ‘kunserva’ (tomato paste). The rest of the ingredients will somewhat vary depending on which grandma is preparing it. 😊 I’ve sampled Mqarrun il-forn cooked with bacon and liver, corned beef, curry, chopped vegetables, topped with cheese and breadcrumbs or not, and anything in between. 

a Square serving of perfectly browned Ghagin il-forn

This traditional Maltese food is so loved around here, that we have another two national dishes which are very similar to it. The first is Ross il-forn (maltese baked rice), which follows a similar recipe yet uses rice in place of pasta. The second is the Timpana, a recipe using the exact same ingredients yet baking the pasta enclosed in pastry. 

How to make baked macaroni casserole healthy

In my healthier version, I use whole-grain pasta since it’s much more nutrient rich than white pasta. I cook macaroni in water with a vegetable cube to increase flavour. You can always use salted water if you prefer. It’s important to cook the pasta over medium heat, for 2 minutes less than the packaging states. This ensures your pasta doesn’t turn soggy after baking. 

I also replace the minced beef with soya mince, making it suitable for those following a plant-based diet. You can also use dehydrated soy if you prefer a less processed alternative. If you absolutely don’t want anything packaged, you can substitute soya mince with very finely chopped mushrooms. This would nevertheless lower the amount of protein per serving. 

The trick behind the low calorie count is veggies! The best thing about adding greens is that they add volume to the dish, without packing in extra calories. Not to mention the load of nutritional benefits. If you absolutely can’t stand the taste of veggies in your plate, try buying frozen riced vegetables so you’ll never get to taste them. 😉 

You can also rice your own fresh vegetables by mincing them in the food processor. This doesn’t work very well with frozen veg though. I also use fresh tomatoes which add a fresh, zesty dimension to the dish. You might need to add a little extra cornflour when using fresh tomatoes to ensure the sauce thickens enough. 

My absolute favourite characteristic of baked pasta is the crunchy, golden brown topping. It’s just something from another world! I use a mixture of plant-based grated cheese and nutritional yeast to complete this scrumptious dish. 

a square slice of Maltese baked macaroni casserole

Have you ever used nutritional yeast before? This food wonder tastes cheesy and nutty at the same time. It packs in 2.6g of protein and 1.1g of fibre for a 5g serving (a heaped tablespoon). On the other hand, 5g of grated cheese will only give you a teaspoon. By mixing the two you get more bang for your calorie buck. You’ll have enough cheese to cover the full baked pasta top, with fewer calories and more vitamins. 

These simple substitutions lower the total amount of calories per serving whilst adding in a whole load of nutrients and minerals that you won’t find in the traditional Maltese recipe. Sounds awesome right? That’s because it is, and this version is still a strong contender in terms of taste. 

What if I don’t have macaroni?

Don’t be lazy, go out and buy some! I’m joking! 🙂 Although the recipe is best made with macaroni pasta because of the way macaroni just holds together, I broke this fundamental rule the first time I made this recipe. I was desperately craving a nice plate of Imqarrun il-forn, yet only had farfalle in my cupboard. It was raining and I was too lazy to go out and buy macaroni, so I just made the dish using farfalle. 

In the meantime, I made the recipe again using macaroni but left both photos on the blog so you can see the difference. Bottom line is, yes, you can use another type of past. It will just hold together a little less than when you use macaroni.

Maltese Ghagin il-Forn using Farfalle

Which baking dish should I use?

 I always reach out for glass baking dishes when I’m making casseroles. Glassware distributes heat more evenly and it’s great for keeping the food warm for a longer period. Additionally, the acid inside the tomatoes tends to react awkwardly when coming into contact with metal and might ruin your dish, so best stick to glass for this recipe.  

A square slice of Maltese Imqarrun il-forn

If you watch the recipe video, you’ll notice me using some super cool kitchen gadgets. I really love my folding chopping board. I’m a SUPER clumsy person and always drop ingredients when I attempt to transfer them from the chopping board to the pan. This chopping board is a lifesaver and one of the most convenient kitchen tools I’ve ever used! 

I also fell in love with this silicone pot stand/expandable trivet. It folds neatly so you can store it away in your drawer without any hassle. It expands big enough to fit 2 dishes. And you don’t need to hassle with dish cloths or any other silly ways of protecting your surfaces from the heat.  

Finally, If you love healthy lunch recipes, you might want to check out this brungiel mimli recipe or these gorgeous healthy qassatat (Maltese pea pies)

Healthy Ghagin il-Forn (Maltese Baked pasta)

Imqarrun il-Forn (Maltese Baked Pasta)

Geraldine Bartolo
A plant based make-over of one of Malta's most loved dishes.
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Maltese, Mediterranean
Servings 6 square portions
Calories 277 kcal


  • Pot
  • Saucepan
  • Glass Baking Dish (30cm x 25cm)


  • 400 g Whole-Wheat Pasta
  • 3 Fresh Tomatoes (medium sized) optional
  • 600 g Vegetables I used mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower
  • 450 g Veggie Mince or Quorn
  • 50 g Kunserva tomato paste
  • 700 g Tomato Polpa or passata
  • 1 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp Mixed Herbs (fresh or dried) mint, parsley, basil and oregano all work well
  • 1 tbsp Cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp water to form a slurry
  • 70 g Vegan Grated Cheese
  • 30 g Nutritional Yeast


  • Boil the pasta – cook until al dente and still quite hard in texture. Since the pasta will be oven baked, there's no need to cook it for a long period or it will turn soggy.
  • Meanwhile stir fry the vegetables and veggie mince.
  • Add kunserva, olive oil and tomato polpa to the stir fry.
  • Mix the stir fry with pasta and place in a glass baking dish.
  • Top with cheese slices, grated cheese and nutritional yeast.
  • Bake for 25 minutes on 180° until the top is golden brown.


If you use My Fitness Pal to log your food, you can find this recipe listed on the database as ‘The Healthy Malteser Ghagin il-Forn’.

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