This Cheesy Meatball Casserole recipe is the ultimate comfort food, combining juicy homemade meatballs, al dente pasta, and a savory tomato sauce, all smothered in melted, shredded mozzarella cheese. It's the perfect dish for a hearty family dinner or a casual get-together.
This meatball casserole is a delicious pasta bake recipe that combines al dente pasta with fresh homemade meatballs.
This dish is full of comforting flavors and simple, hearty ingredients. Our Meatball Casserole is perfect for a family dinner, combining tender, savory meatballs with a robust tomato sauce and a generous sprinkle of melty, gooey cheese.
It's a no-fuss, all-delicious meal that's easy to put together, yet packed with layers of flavor. Think juicy meatballs seasoned just right, each bite bursting with herbs and spices, all smothered in a homemade sauce that's both tangy and sweet.
Topped with gooey cheese that stretches with every forkful, this casserole will quickly become a family favorite.
This meatball casserole uses homemade meatballs, but you could use frozen meatballs if your rather use those instead.
If you are looking for other meatball recipes, be sure to check out our delicious spicy grape jelly meatballs using frozen meatballs.
What You'll Love About This Recipe
- Flavorful: The combination of meatballs, cheese, and pasta is a classic favorite for a good reason.
- Versatility: Perfect for all sorts of occasions, from family dinners to potlucks.
- Comforting Quality: Offers the warmth and comfort of a home-cooked meal.
- Customizable: Easily adaptable with different ingredients to suit your taste.
- Family-Friendly: Loved by both adults and children alike.
Olive Oil: A staple for sautéing; choose extra virgin for a richer flavor.
Onion: Fresh, preferably medium-sized; can be yellow or white for a mild, sweet flavor.
Carrots: Small, fresh, and firm; adds a subtle sweetness and texture.
Garlic Cloves: Fresh and minced; indispensable for adding depth.
Tomato Puree: Look for high-quality passata or puree for a rich sauce. It lets us make a marinara sauce to top your casserole with.
Pasta: Small shapes like elbows or shells; choose based on preference.
Ground Beef: 80% lean for the perfect balance of flavor and texture.
Panko Breadcrumbs: Adds lightness to the meatballs; Japanese-style preferred.
Parmesan: Freshly grated for the best flavor in meatballs.
Egg: Binds the meatball ingredients together.
Dried Oregano and Basil: Essential herbs for a classic flavor.
Fresh Parsley: Roughly chopped for a fresh, herby touch.
Mozzarella Cheese: Freshly shredded for melting perfection. You can use pre-shredded cheese, but it's usally coated with a powder that doesn't allow the cheese to melt as well.
Sea Salt and Black Pepper: Essential seasonings to enhance overall flavor.
See recipe card for quantities.
- Casserole Dish: For baking; a 9x13 inch dish works well.
- Skillet: Medium-sized for sautéing vegetables.
- Large Pot: For boiling pasta; should be large enough to prevent sticking.
- Aluminum Foil: To cover the casserole during part of the baking.
- Alternatives: If you don’t have a casserole dish, a deep baking tray can be used.
Start by setting your oven to 350° F. Grab your casserole dish. Something around 9x13 inches works great - and give it a light spray with nonstick cooking spray. This little step helps with cleanup later.
Heat up a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Toss in your diced onion, carrots, and garlic. Cutting them into small, even pieces ensures they cook uniformly.
Add a pinch of salt and pepper now, as seasoning in layers brings out the best flavors. Stir occasionally and cook until they're just turning translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
Pour in your tomato puree. Let this simmer gently for about 6-8 minutes. Stir it occasionally. This simmering melds the flavors together beautifully. You're looking for a slightly thickened sauce that will coat the back of a spoon.
Boil a large pot of salted water. Add your pasta and cook it a bit less than what the package says. Why? Because it'll continue cooking in the oven. Aim for al dente - firm to the bite.
After draining your pasta, put it back in the pot. Stir in about one-third of your tomato sauce. This is your first layer of flavor. Spread this saucy pasta evenly in your casserole dish.
Next it's time to make the meatballs. In a bowl, combine ground beef, grated onion, breadcrumbs, parmesan, egg, oregano, basil, and half of your parsley. Season well with salt and pepper.
Mix gently with your hands just until combined. Overworking the mix can make the meatballs tough. Now, shape this mixture into 14-16 meatballs. Place them on top of the pasta in the dish.
Pour the rest of your tomato sauce over the meatballs. Sprinkle with all that glorious shredded mozzarella. This is where the cheesy magic happens!
Now cover the dish with aluminum foil. This helps cook everything evenly and keeps the top from burning. Bake for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. You're looking for cheese that's melted and slightly golden - a sign of delicious things to come!
Let the casserole sit for a couple of minutes after taking it out of the oven. This makes it easier to serve. Sprinkle the remaining parsley over the top for a burst of color and freshness.
And that's it! A delicious meatball casserole perfect for serving up for dinner.
Don't Overwork the Meatball Mixture: When combining your meatball ingredients, mix gently until just combined. Overmixing can lead to tough meatballs. Using your hands is the best way to do this. Remember, you're aiming for meatballs that are tender and juicy, not dense.
Season in Layers: Adding seasoning at each stage of the recipe builds a more complex flavor profile. Start with seasoning your sautéed vegetables, then season the meatball mixture, and finally, adjust the seasoning of the sauce if needed. This layered approach ensures that every bite is flavorful.
Monitor Pasta Cook Time: Cook the pasta slightly less than the package instructions since it will continue cooking in the oven. Aim for an al dente texture - firm to the bite, not soft. This prevents the pasta from becoming mushy after baking, keeping the texture of your casserole pleasant and satisfying.
- Ground Turkey or Chicken: For a lighter version, replace beef with ground poultry.
- Different Pasta Shapes: Feel free to use any small pasta you have on hand.
- Homemade Tomato Sauce: If you have the time, a homemade sauce can add a personal touch.
- Spicy Kick: Add red pepper flakes to the sauce for a bit of heat.
- Vegetarian Twist: Use plant-based ground meat alternatives for the meatballs.
- Creamy Layer: Add a layer of ricotta or béchamel sauce for extra creaminess.
In the Fridge: Place any leftovers in an airtight container. They will stay good for about 3 days. The casserole actually tastes even better the next day as the flavors have more time to meld.
In the Freezer: This casserole freezes wonderfully. Divide it into portion sizes and store in freezer-safe containers. It'll keep well for up to 2 months. Perfect for those nights when you need a quick, comforting meal.
Reheating: The best way to reheat is in the oven. Preheat it to 350° F and warm the casserole until it's heated through. This method helps to maintain the texture and flavor better than microwaving. If you're reheating from frozen, let it thaw in the fridge first for even heating.
What to Serve With
- Avocado Salad: Creamy and refreshing, this salad balances the richness of the casserole with the smooth texture of avocado. It's a simple yet delightful addition.
- Italian Chopped Salad: A colorful mix of crisp veggies dressed in a zesty Italian dressing. This salad adds a crunchy and tangy contrast to the savory casserole.
- Garlic Bread: Perfect for mopping up the flavorful sauce, garlic bread adds a satisfying crunch and rich garlic flavor to your meal.
- Steamed Green Beans: These offer a light and healthy touch with their crisp texture, balancing the heartiness of the meatballs.
Cheesy Meatball Casserole
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 medium Onion divided - one-half diced and one-half grated
- 2 small Carrots diced
- 2 medium Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 24.5- ounce bottle Passata or Tomato Puree
- 10 ounces small Macaroni such as Elbows Ditalini, or Small Shells
- 1 pound ground beef 80% lean
- 3 tablespoons Panko Breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 large Egg
- ½ teaspoon dried Oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried Basil
- 1 cup fresh Parsley roughly chopped, divided
- 1-½ cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and grease a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Warm olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add diced onions, carrots, and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until they become translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
- Stir in passata and let it simmer for 6-8 minutes.
- In a large pot, boil salted water and cook pasta al dente, about 2-3 minutes less than the package suggests.
- Drain pasta and mix with one-third of the tomato sauce, then transfer it to the casserole dish.
- In a bowl, mix ground beef, grated onion, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg, oregano, basil, and half of the parsley. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Mix the ingredients gently with your hands, just until combined. Form into 14-16 meatballs and place them over the pasta in the dish.
- Top with the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella.
- Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden-brown.
- Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve. Enjoy your Cheesy Meatball Casserole!
Yes, you can easily swap the ground beef for other meats like ground turkey or chicken. These alternatives offer a leaner option while still retaining the rich flavor of the casserole. The cooking time remains the same, but ensure that the internal temperature of the meatballs reaches the safe level for consumption (165°F for poultry).
Making this casserole ahead of time is a great idea for busy days. Assemble the entire casserole, cover it, and store it in the refrigerator up to a day in advance. When you're ready to bake, remember to add an extra 5-10 minutes to the baking time if starting from cold.
This casserole is freezer-friendly! You can freeze it either before baking (assembled but uncooked) or after baking (fully cooked). Wrap it tightly to prevent freezer burn and store for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the oven at 350° F until heated through.
Absolutely! Feel free to experiment with various cheeses like cheddar, gouda, provolone, or a blend. Each type of cheese can add a unique flavor profile to the casserole.
While fresh herbs offer a brighter flavor, dried herbs are a perfectly acceptable substitute. The general rule of thumb is to use one-third the amount of dried herbs compared to fresh. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs, use 1 teaspoon of dried.
Yes, frozen meatballs can be a convenient substitute if you're short on time. Thaw them first and then use as directed in the recipe. Keep in mind, however, that homemade meatballs might offer more flavor and tenderness compared to store-bought frozen ones.