4.72 from 21 reviews

Back Pocket Baked Meatballs and Pasta

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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

Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for the full list of ingredients.

  • 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) Plus more sauce as desired.
  • 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

Scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe instructions.

  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!

Pick one!

Before You Begin! If you make this, please leave a review and rating letting us know how you liked this recipe! This helps our business thrive & continue providing free recipes.

baked meatballs with rigatoni pasta in a white casserole dish topped with basil and parmesan cheese
4.72 from 21 reviews

Back-Pocket Baked Meatballs and Pasta

Prep: 20 minutes
Resting time: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 6 people
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!

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
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • fresh basil and Parmigiano reggiano for garnish

Last step! If you make this, please leave a review and rating letting us know how you liked this recipe! This helps our business thrive & continue providing free recipes.

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.
    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
  • 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.
    12 oz. rigatoni, uncooked (about 4 cups dry pasta)
  • Arrange half of the uncooked meatballs and mozzarella chunks over the pasta.
    8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, torn or cut into small cubes
  • Spoon half of the marinara on top.
    28 oz. store-bought marinara sauce (We love Rao's)
  • 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 and the meatballs have reached an internal temperature of 165°F. ~1 hour.
    salt and black pepper to taste, 2 cups water
  • 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.
    fresh basil and Parmigiano reggiano for garnish

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.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 548kcal (27%), Carbohydrates: 57g (19%), Protein: 30g (60%), Fat: 22g (34%), Saturated Fat: 10g (63%), Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 8g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 101mg (34%), Potassium: 827mg (24%), Fiber: 5g (21%), Sugar: 9g (10%), Vitamin A: 924IU (18%), Vitamin C: 11mg (13%), Calcium: 268mg (27%), Iron: 4mg (22%)

Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is automatically calculated. It should only be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Kroll’s Korner can’t make any guarantees to the accuracy of this information.

Krolls Korner

Krolls Korner

Welcome to my tiny “korner” on the Internet! I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who loves cookies as much as kale. (OK, maybe I like cookies a little bit more but shh, don’t tell anyone). I am so glad you’re here! Follow along for hassle free, realistic and approachable recipes.

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14 Comments
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Melanie Root

My family loved this and its a super easy weeknight meal! Thank you!

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René

Confession—I cheated and used fresh pre-made meat balls from our deli. Made the meal even easier for this working mom on a weeknight. Thank you!!

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Susie

We had this tonight, sorry didn’t take a picture. We will next time because it was so good. So easy. We will definitely have this again

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Claire Smith

Delicious!! My husband and my 3 year old approved! Thank you for creating such delicious and simple recipes to help me feed my family!

Jessica Bishop

Thus is the perfect family meal! Everyone thought it was delicious. I didn’t have Rigatoni so I used Penne and it still came out perfect.

Emily

Delicious! I used farfalle and cooked it for 55 minutes prior to broiling. I also filled up the sauce jar with water rather than measuring 2 cups and I didn’t end up needing any extra sauce at the end.

Ashley Michl

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 Posted: 2 years ago by Ashley Michl