Back Pocket Baked Meatballs and Pasta

Pasta  |  Published Jan 12, 2022  |  Updated Jan 12, 2022  |  By Tawnie

baked meatballs with rigatoni pasta in a white casserole dish topped with basil and parmesan cheese

Let me blow your mind with this ridiculously easy baked meatballs and pasta recipe. 🥰

I call it a back pocket pasta because it’s simply a good pasta recipe to have on hand! It has all of your favorite pasta flavors, it’s quick, really easy to make and I’m officially claiming it our new go-to pasta and meatballs recipe!

Plus, I think everyone needs a few back pocket recipes that you can easily whip up and know the whole family will love it. Family dinner win? Yes.Please.

There is nothing better than the smell of pasta, meatballs, red sauce and cheese baking in the oven. It’s a classic comfort and you’re going to love my shortcut hack.

A few other back-pocket pasta favorites you’ll love include this Ground Turkey Shell Pasta, Italian Sausage and Peppers Pasta and this nostalgic hamburger macaroni.

baked meatballs with rigatoni pasta in a white casserole dish topped with basil and parmesan cheese

You’ll love this baked meatballs and pasta because:

  • The meatballs get made in one bowl
  • Everything is baked in one casserole dish
  • No pre-boiling of the rigatoni noodles required
  • Makes fabulous leftovers
  • Is customizable
  • And most importantly…because it’s so delicious!

I hope you this becomes a new favorite for you!

baked meatballs with rigatoni pasta in a white casserole dish topped with basil and parmesan cheese

Ingredient Notes

  • Rigatoni: You’ll add uncooked rigatoni noodles directly into the casserole dish and they cook in the oven! A 12 oz. box (about 4 cups) is all you’ll need.
  • Store-bought marinara sauce: Use your favorite sauce! We love using Rao’s. (I use the 28 oz. sauce)
  • Fresh mozzarella: I recommend using fresh, low moisture mozzarella. It melts (and tastes) much more beautifully in the casserole compared to pre-shredded cheese.
  • Meatballs: This recipe uses a modified version of these beef meatballs. It’s a straightforward recipe using ground beef, Italian breadcrumbs, an egg, onion and some seasonings. It’s absolutely delicious!
  • Garnish ideas: fresh basil and Parmigiano Reggiano
ingredients you need to make a rigatoni dinner

Step by Step Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  2. Combine all ingredients for the meatballs. Roll the mixture into about 20 small balls.
  3. In a 8×10 inch baking dish (I use this rectangle porcelain baker), spread half of the uncooked rigatoni in an even layer.
  4. Arrange half of the meatballs and mozzarella chunks over the pasta.
  5. Spoon half of the marinara on top.
  6. Repeat layers with the remaining pasta, meatballs, mozzarella and marinara sauce.
  7. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
  8. Add 2 cups water to the dish, cover with foil and bake until pasta is tender, ~1 hour.
  9. Uncover and broil until tops are lightly browned and the bake is bubbly.
  10. Garnish with fresh basil and grated cheese.
step by step photos making a pasta dinner
meatballs on parchment paper and pasta, meatballs, cheese and marinara in a white baking dish

Tips and Variations

  • Use a cookie scoop to portion the meatballs. This keeps them in uniform size.
  • Add extra sauce! One of the main problems with pasta bakes is the dryness since the pasta soaks up a lot of that yummy red sauce. When serving, add more warmed marinara on top. Be generous!
  • Doctor up store bought marinara. Elevate the flavor with fresh garlic, fresh or dried herbs, olive oil, red pepper chili flakes, cheese, etc. I recommend using a high quality marinara so you don’t have to add anything to it (our favorite is Rao’s brand!)
  • Use ground turkey instead of ground beef for the meatballs.
  • I haven’t tested this recipe with a different noodle shape but I bet it would work well! Perhaps a ziti or penne noodle would bake up similarly to rigatoni.
  • Feel free to add more flavor when assembling the ingredients in the bake. I find just a little salt and black pepper go a long way but you could add Italian seasoning, oregano, onion powder, dried basil, parsley, chili flakes, etc.
a wooden spoon scooping out pasta from a white casserole dish

FAQ

Can I use frozen meatballs?

Yes. Be sure to thaw frozen meatballs prior to adding to the casserole dish. I also recommend buying small cocktail size meatballs so they are easier to eat.

Do I have to cook the noodles before adding to the pan?

Nope! That’s the best part. This is essentially a dump and bake recipe, the noodles cook in the casserole dish which is why the water is added in.

How can I moisten a dry pasta bake?

Freshly made, this pasta bake is not dry. But as it sits and if you enjoy it for leftovers it may become dry so I recommend tossing in some extra marinara sauce when reheating.

Can I use my own meatball recipe?

Of course! If you have a favorite go-to homemade meatball recipe you prefer to use, go right ahead!

pasta dinner on a white plate garnished with basil and cheese

HUNGRY FOR MORE? If you try this recipe, why not leave a star rating in the recipe card right below and/or a review in the comment section further down the page? I always appreciate your feedback! You can also follow me on Pinterest or Instagram. Sign up for my email list, too!

baked meatballs with rigatoni pasta in a white casserole dish topped with basil and parmesan cheese
kroll\'s korner logo

Back-Pocket Baked Meatballs and Pasta

This Back-Pocket Baked Meatballs and Pasta dish is comforting, easy to assemble and is a great go-to pasta dinner everyone will actually love. The homemade meatballs are made in just one bowl and you don't even have to boil the pasta for this one!
4.75 from 4 reviews
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Resting time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 548kcal

Ingredients

For the meatballs

  • 12 oz. ground beef
  • 1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano

For the pasta bake

  • 12 oz. rigatoni, uncooked (about 4 cups dry pasta)
  • 28 oz. store-bought marinara sauce (We love Rao's)
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, torn or cut into small cubes
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • fresh basil and Parmigiano reggiano for garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  • Make the meatballs. In a large bowl, gently mix together all of the ingredients for the meatballs. Work the meat just until combined either with clean hands or a spoon.
  • Form into small meatballs: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop, scoop out some of the meat mixture and roll into a ball ~2 Tbsp. each. Continue shaping until all meat is used and place on the prepared baking sheet, not touching. You will have about ~20 meatballs.
  • In a 8×10 inch baking dish spread half of the uncooked rigatoni in an even layer.
  • Arrange half of the uncooked meatballs and mozzarella chunks over the pasta.
  • Spoon half of the marinara on top.
  • Repeat layers with the remaining pasta, meatballs, mozzarella, marinara sauce. Season the top with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. (Be sure to cover all the noodles with sauce to prevent them from burning or becoming dry).
  • Add 2 cups water to the dish, cover with foil and bake until pasta is tender, ~1 hour.
  • Uncover and broil for a few minutes until tops are lightly browned and the bake is bubbly.
  • Cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm and garnish with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese. Serve with more marinara sauce if desired.

Video

Notes

  • Add extra sauce! One of the main problems with pasta bakes is the dryness since the pasta soaks up a lot of that yummy red sauce. When serving, add more warmed marinara on top. Be generous!
  • Use ground turkey instead of ground beef for the meatballs. I use 12 oz. because I felt the full pound (16 oz.) was just too much meatball to pasta ratio. If you don’t mind extra meatballs, use the full pound of ground meat! 
  • I haven’t tested this recipe with a different noodle shape but I bet it would work well! Perhaps a ziti or penne noodle would bake up similarly to rigatoni.
  • Feel free to add more flavor when assembling the ingredients in the bake. I find just a little salt and black pepper go a long way but you could add Italian seasoning, oregano, onion powder, dried basil, parsley, chili flakes, etc.
  • Recipe inspired by Food and Wine.
Find Kroll’s Korner on Instagram!Mention @krolls_korner or tag #krollskorner

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 548kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 101mg | Potassium: 827mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 924IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 268mg | Iron: 4mg

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Ashley Michl
3 months ago

Five stars (my phone won’t let me change the stars)! I made this today, prepared earlier and baked It for dinner! My family loved it, I did make some changes. I used about 48 ounces of Raos sauce plus just shy of 2 cups of water. I also added mushrooms spinach and onion in between the two layers. When it came out it seemed super watery but once it sat and I mixed it a bit it thickened fast and wasn’t watery at all! I used ground Turkey and it was delicious! Thank you!

Last edited 3 months ago by Ashley Michl
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