In the mood for a comforting Meatball Pasta Bake? Easy beef and pork meatballs in a simple tomato sauce, tossed with penne pasta and baked to gooey perfection.
And, all homemade people. No jars of premade pasta sauce here. All the flavour is totally in your control and I love that.
The easy meatball recipe
You heard right. An easy meatball recipe. These are my homemade Italian meatballs which are easy to make and bursting with flavour. Just on their own they’re amazing so you know they’ll be good baked into pasta.
They’re fried off until golden, then added to al dente spiral pasta, cheeses and rich tomato sauce for the ultimate in comfort food.
- Meatballs: Made up of beef and pork mince, breadcrumbs, milk, parmesan, parsley, onion, garlic and seasonings. These are easy to make and can be made ahead of time.
- Pasta: I use dried spiral or sometimes penne pasta. They both hold their shape well and allow let the sauce ooze through the gaps. But you can use up whatever leftover pasta you have too. It’s very forgiving.
- Passata and diced tomatoes: Two types of tomato make up this rich sauce. Passata may be called tomato puree or tomato sauce (not the ketchup variety) where you are.
- Seasonings: Salt, pepper, sugar and oregano are all the seasoning this sauce needs.
- Cheese: In two forms – mozzarella for its stringy texture and cheddar for flavour.
- Beef stock / broth: Make sure to use low-sodium if you can get it so you can control the salt content better.
- Onion and garlic: These add a great base flavour and umami.
- Basil: This adds freshness and is the perfect herby punch.
How to make meatball pasta bake
- The pasta: Start by boiling some water and make sure to add a good hit of salt to the water. Add the pasta once it’s boiling and cook until just before al dente (so that you can see just a little sliver of uncooked pasta in the middle when you bite into it.
- The meatballs: These are as simple as mixing all the ingredients in a bowl then rolling into balls.
- Cook the meatballs: Fry the meatballs in a pan until nice and golden all over then set aside.
- The sauce: Saute then onion first, then add the beef stock to deglaze the pan. Now add the remaining ingredients. Bring it to a simmer and check the seasoning.
- Assemble and bake: Now add the meatballs and half the cheese mixture. Give it a mix up and top with the remaining cheese before baking until golden and gooey.
Tips and tricks
- Make ahead meatballs: These meatballs can be made ahead, and even frozen, so go ahead and make a big batch so you can make your pasta bake at the drop of a hat.
- Al dente pasta: Actually you need pasta which is just before al dente. Softened on the outside, but you’ll see a line of uncooked pasta on the inside when you bite into it. This will mean it’s the perfect texture once it’s finished baking.
- Use a stove to oven pan: A good large skillet or casserole pan like mine, mean you can cook it on the stove, then transfer it straight to the oven. No extra dish to clean up.
Storing pasta bakes
Like many, this meatball pasta bake freezes well. If freezing it unbaked, assemble, then let it cool before wrapping and freezing.
Leftovers will keep well for 2-3 days in the fridge. Add a splash of water before reheating. Leftovers freeze well too, just make sure to wrap them really well.
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Meatball Pasta Bake Recipe
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup milk (60ml)
- 250 g pork mince (ground pork) (9oz)
- 250 g veal mince (ground veal, or beef) (9oz)
- ⅓ cup, not packed finely grated Parmesan (20g / 0.7oz)
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- ¼ cup very finely chopped red onion
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
FOR THE SAUCE
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (note 1)
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup beef stock
- 2 small cloves garlic, minced
- 1 400g tin diced tomatoes (14oz)
- 1 400ml bottle passata (14oz) (note 3)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
- 4 cups dry spiral pasta (400g / 14oz)
- ¾ cup grated mozzarella
- 1 cup finely grated strong cheddar
MAKE THE MEATBALLS
- Combine the milk and breadcrumbs in a large bowl and let them soak for 5 minutes. Add the remaining meatball ingredients and mix well to combine.
COOK THE PASTA
- Fill a large saucepan 2/3 full of water, add 3-4 teaspoons of salt per litre of water (per quart). Bring it to a boil then cook the pasta for 6-8 minutes, or until slightly undercooked (it will cook the rest of the way in the bake).
- Drain the pasta and tip it into an 8 cup casserole dish. If using the frying pan as your baking dish, just return the pasta to the saucepan. Drizzle over a tiny bit of oil and mix it around, so that it doesn't stick together. Set aside.
BROWN THE MEATBALLS
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / 180C fan forced
- Heat roughly half the oil in a large frying pan (a stove to oven pan is great for less washing up). Cook the meatballs over high heat turning often, until browned on the outside. (they don't need to be cooked through). Set aside.
MAKE THE SAUCE
- Add the remaining oil to the pan along with the onion. Over medium-high heat, cook the onion, stirring often until softened. Roughly 4-5 minutes.
- Add the the beef stock to deglaze, let it come to a simmer.
- Add the remaining sauce ingredients – garlic, diced tomatoes, passata, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar and 2 tablespoons basil – to the pan and mix to combine. Bring back to a simmer for 2-3 minutes until thickened slightly Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE
- Add the meatballs, pasta and half the cheeses and stir it all together.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, then bake 15-20 minutes or until golden and melty.
- I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (4 teaspoons worldwide)
- It’s best to use blocks of cheese and grate / shred them yourself. Pre-shredded cheese often has a floury coating to stop it sticking together but it also affects the texture and melt.
- Tomato passata may be known as tomato sauce (not ketchup style) or tomato puree where you are.
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