This Meatball Pasta Bake is a rich and delicious comfort food dish that you can also pack out with vegetables. An easy dish to make to feed a hungry crowd, it also freezes well too, making it perfect for batch cooking. You can make your own meatballs, or use store bought to save you some time.
When it's cold, we crave comfort food and it doesn't get much more comforting than this. Chunky pasta, mixed with homemade meatballs, a rich tomato sauce and then loaded with cheesy. Rich, gooey and delicious comfort food that your whole family will love. We love a pasta bake. They are a great way to save some money on your food shopping, as you can pretty much put anything in them, making them great for a fridge raid, or to use up leftovers.
- Meatballs - We went with good quality store bought meatballs to save some time. However, you could make your own if you want everything to be made from scratch.
- Pasta - Anything goes here, so use whatever you have in your cupboard. Something like penne or fusilli works rather than spaghetti or macaroni.
- Onion - You can swap the onion for shallots if you want a sweeter flavour.
- Courgette (zucchini) - If you want this to be more hidden, then you can grate it. Great for getting kids to eat more vegetables.
- Bell peppers - These add a lovely sweetness. You could use roasted red peppers if you wanted a more intense flavour.
- Mushrooms - This is a great way to bulk the meatball pasta bake out, as mushrooms have a really meaty texture.
- Spinach - An easy way to give any dish a vegetable boost. You could swap it for kale if you prefer.
- Passata - This is what makes up the pasta sauce (it's sieved tomatoes if you are in the US). You could use a jar of good quality pasta sauce if you prefer, or a tin of chopped tomatoes.
- Herbs - Oregano and thyme add lots of Italian flavours.
- Tomato puree - This helps to thicken the sauce and add a more intense flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar - This is always our "secret" ingredient in pasta sauce and it adds a lovely sweetness that compliments the tomatoes.
- Cheese - We top the meatball pasta bake off with some cheddar and mozzarella for a cheesy crispy topping.
How to make meatball pasta bake - Step by step
One: Prepare the vegetables.
Two: Put water in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the pasta to the water and reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes.
Three: Add some oil to a large frying pan over a medium heat, add the meatballs and cook according to instructions - this will take around 10 to 15 minutes. Take them out of the pan and set aside.
Four: Put a little more oil to the pan and add the vegetables. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes stirring occasionally until softened.
Five: Drain the pasta and put back in the pan with the cooked vegetables and all other ingredients (except the meatballs and cheese) and stir well.
Six: Transfer to a large baking dish.
Seven: Add the meatballs.
Eight: Add the cheese on top.
Nine: Put in a preheated oven at 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 for 20 minutes.
Why you will love it
- Easy comfort food - Is there anything more comforting than meatballs? Or a pasta bake? Put them both together. Total comfort food, and so easy to make.
- Freezes well - This freezes really well, making it great for batch cooking. So make extra and freeze for easy meals.
- An opportunity for hidden veg - There are lots of ways that you can sneak some extra vegetables in to this.
- A good way to use up pasta and cheese - Got some random bits of pasta in your cupboard? Throw it in here. It's a good way to use up leftover cheese too.
- Uses up meatballs - If you have made too many meatballs the night before, this is a good way to use them up.
Meatballs - You can go the homemade route, or the convenience route. No judgement, just do what works for you. Your local butchers should have some ready made meatballs, or you can pick up some great quality ones in your supermarket. Making your own is a good opportunity to flavour them exactly how you want to, or even add in some finely chopped vegetables for a vitamin boost. We used butcher's meatballs though. If you have made our Slow Cooker Meatballs, then any leftovers could be used in this dish and some of the sauce too.
Pasta - We used penne, as that is what we have in the cupboard to use up. But you could use fusilli, macaroni or conchiglie. I prefer penne or rigatoni, because they are bigger and the sauce gets inside the tube - but that is just a preference thing.
Vegetables - Pretty much any vegetables go in this pasta bake. But we would recommend keeping it to quick cook vegetables as this has a quick cooking time and root vegetables like carrots wouldn't cook in time. Peas and sweetcorn are a great addition to this, and they always go down well with kids. You could also add green beans, asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower. If you live with fussy eaters, then you could always blend the sauce up and stir it through the pasta, which would hide the vegetables.
Pasta sauce - You could use a jar of sauce, or your favourite marinara recipe. Or, if you have made our Easy Tomato Pasta Sauce, you could use that too. Failing that, just a tin of chopped tomatoes with still work well.
This is a pretty filling meal by itself and it has all the vegetables already in it. However, if we are trying to make it go a little further, then we love serving up some garlic bread with it. Either buy some ready made, or make your own easy garlic bread by cutting up some French stick and spreading it with a mix of butter, crushed garlic and dried herbs. Then pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. Why not try our Cheesy Garlic Bread recipe?
As well as garlic bread, you can bulk the meal out with a big green salad. The key to an epic green salad is to use a variety of greens, like romaine, spinach, kale and rocket. You want leafy greens, but crunch too. Then you need the perfect dressing. Why not try our Lemon Vinaigrette, Honey and Mustard Dressing or Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette. You could also try our Grilled Little Gem Salad.
Store: This is an ideal batch cooking dish, so it makes a great leftovers dinner. They will keep in an air tight container in the fridge for a couple of days.
Freeze: Make sure you let it cool down completely before freezing. You could even freeze whole trays of this and then once defrosted, put it in the oven for about 20 minutes to reheat. Great for an easy family freezer meal.
Defrost: Defrost it in the fridge overnight.
Reheat: To reheat, make sure it is fully defrosted and then put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. Always make sure that it is heated all the way through before serving.
Frequently asked questions
You need to cook the pasta before it gets mixed in with everything else, because there is not enough liquid and there is not enough cooking time to cook the pasta.
There are 475 calories in a generous portion of this. You can lower the calories by using less pasta and bulking it out with mushrooms and using less cheese on top.
To make this recipe gluten free, use your favourite brand of gluten free pasta and make sure the meatballs are gluten free too. You also need to make sure that there isn't any cross contamination.
You can easily double this recipe and it doesn't change the cooking time. Just make sure that you have a big enough baking dish to hold double the ingredients.
Yes, you can cook the pasta and sauce and allow them both to cool down, then assemble the pasta bake but leave the cheese off it and then put it in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to cook it (make sure it is defrosted if it has been frozen). Then you can top it with cheese and cook it.
• Make this a little bit more indulgent by mixing some breadcrumbs with the cheese before crumbling it on top.
• Give this dish a green veggie boost my mixing in some grated courgette (zucchini) and spinach when mixing it all together. You could even add vegetables in to the meatballs.
• Make sure all the vegetables are chopped up really small, so they all cook well. You can use a chopping attachment on a food processor if you want to make it a bit easier.
• Reserve a little of the pasta water to add to the sauce to make it nice and silky.
• Like a kick of spice to your meals? Add some red chilli flakes in to the mix. Some Worcestershire Sauce goes well too.
• You can make a vegan version of this by using your favourite vegan meatballs and using a vegan cheese alternative.
• You can make this dish creamier by mixing some cream cheese in to the cooked pasta.
More pasta recipes
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Meatball Pasta Bake
- 12 meatballs
- 250 g penne pasta
- 0.5 red onion - diced
- 0.5 white onion - diced
- 1 courgette - zucchini, diced
- 1 red pepper - diced
- 1 green pepper - diced
- 8 mushrooms - sliced
- 60 g spinach
- 500 ml passata
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 2 garlic cloves - crushed
- 2 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 40 g grated cheddar
- 40 g grated mozzarella
- Prepare the vegetables.0.5 red onion, 0.5 white onion, 1 courgette, 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, 8 mushrooms
- Put the pasta in a pan of boiling water and simmer for 12 minutes.250 g penne pasta
- Add some oil to a pan and when hot, add the meatballs and cook according to instructions - this will take around 10 minutes. Take them out of the pan and set aside.12 meatballs
- Put a little more oil to the pan and add the vegetables. Gently cook for 3-4 minutes until softened.
- Drain the pasta and put back in the pan with the cooked vegetables and all other ingredients (except the meatballs and cheese) and stir well.60 g spinach, 500 ml passata, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 2 garlic cloves, 2 tablespoon tomato puree, 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Transfer to a large baking tray.
- Add the meatballs.
- Add the cheese on top.40 g grated cheddar, 40 g grated mozzarella
- Put in a preheated oven at 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 for 20 minutes.
- Make this a little bit more indulgent by mixing some breadcrumbs with the cheese before crumbling it on top.
- Give this dish a green veggie boost my mixing in some grated courgette (zucchini) and spinach when mixing it all together. You could even add vegetables in to the meatballs.
- Make sure all the vegetables are chopped up really small, so they all cook well. You can use a chopping attachment on a food processor if you want to make it a bit easier.
- Reserve a little of the pasta water to add to the sauce to make it nice and silky.
- Like a kick of spice to your meals? Add some red chilli flakes in to the mix. Some Worcestershire Sauce goes well too.
- You can make a vegan version of this by using your favourite vegan meatballs and using a vegan cheese alternative.
- You can make this dish creamier by mixing some cream cheese in to the cooked pasta.