Saucy, cheesy pasta bake with homemade tomato sauce that’s bursting with flavor and the perfect juicy meatballs. Serve this for dinner, and you’ll be everyone’s hero.
Pasta is a little difficult to get bored of because there’s so many variations of pasta. It’s also a fun thing to cook because it’s really customizable. You can get inspired by your pantry ingredients, or whatever fresh vegetables you have in your fridge. This is why I always have canned diced tomatoes and canned tomato sauce in my pantry, as well as dry pasta noodles. That way, if I’m ever stuck, I know what’s for dinner. This is a good hearty one pot meal, and one that’ll be fun to play around with. You start with making really, reaaaally good meatballs…
If you’ve been following along to the adventures of my kitchen, you’ll know I (ok, my husband, but whatever) recently NAILED the perfect meatball recipe. They have caramelized onion, Parmesan, fresh and dried herbs, breadcrumbs and an egg keeping them juicy and packed with flavor. We made a gigantic batch and froze part of them, and I’ve been dipping into my stash since. Sadly, this recipe used up the last of them- but that’s ok because it was DELISH.
Whenever I make tomato sauce I usually just go off my typical formula. I like canned tomato sauce for smoothness and some diced tomatoes to give some chunky texture. These are added to garlic that’s been sauteed in olive oil, and you add your Italian herbs, salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity from the tomatoes. Simmer away and you’ve got yourself a great and super simple pasta base.
You could honestly go a little crazy here. You can stir some ricotta in the tomato sauce. I would have loved to have some fresh Parmesan grated on top. Fresh buffalo mozzarella would also make a lovely stretchy chewy topping. I kept it simple with some normal shredded mozzarella layered into the dish, because that’s what I had on hand. You could even, if you must, make this without cheese.
So without further ado, please find the recipe below, and let me know any thoughts or questions in the comment section!
Cheesy Meatball Pasta Bake
For the Meatballs:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 kg ground beef
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup parmesan
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 heaped tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch red chili flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
For the Tomato Sauce:
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz or 400 g)
- 2 cans tomato sauce (14.5 oz or 400 g)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon sugar
For the Assembly:
- 340 g penne or ziti pasta (whole wheat or regular) (12oz)
- 1 small bag shredded mozzarella cheese
For the meatballs:
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the finely diced onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, When it starts to soften, add the garlic and continue to cook until golden brown and soft. Set aside to cool.
- Heat oven to 220 C (425 F). Line baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large bowl, place all the ingredients (including the sauteed onion/garlic mixture). Knead with your hands (great time to use rubber gloves) until thoroughly combined. Roll into meatball sized balls and place each ball on the parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes, stirring the meatballs around halfway through. You’ll bake until you cut into one and you see it’s cooked through and the outside is golden brown.
For the tomato sauce:
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat till hot. Add the garlic and saute 1-2 minutes or until softened. Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce, the Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to a simmer, add the meatballs*, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 C (350F)
To prepare the pasta:
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Cook it just al dente as it will continue cooking in the oven. Drain the cooked pasta and set aside.
- After the meatball sauce mixture has simmered, add the cooked pasta into the sauce and toss to combine. Place half the mixture into a large casserole/baking dish and then sprinkle with half the mozzarella cheese. Add the other half of the pasta mix, and top with remaining shredded mozzarella.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted. Broil for 2-3 minutes to get the cheese golden brown if necessary.