Here’s comfort in a bowl. This meatball pasta bake can be a 5 ingredient recipe with store-bought items or with homemade Parmesan meatballs and marinara sauce.
Ready for a meatball pasta bake? This one will feed you for days with its cheesy goodness and meatball heartiness. And we’re gonna go with versatility on this one. If you’re not too fussy and want to keep it super simple and hassle free, this can be a five ingredient pasta bake with store-bought stuff. Or we can take it up a notch and make our own Parmesan meatballs from scratch because that’s pretty easy too (and so, so, so very yummy). The homemade meatballs can be baked for those looking to be healthy, or pan-fried for those short on time.
If you don’t like jarred marinara sauce, we can jazz that up a bit too. And finally, you can go with shredded mozzarella for the topping or fresh mozzarella. Remember, this is as simple and delicious as you choose to make it. It all depends on your mood.
I went with making the meatballs myself because the green shaker Parmesan is a secret ingredient that makes the meatballs delicious. Once you try them out, you might not want to go back and like me, you might not be able to order meatballs at restaurants anymore because you can make it better. Plus you might get random declarations of love from your significant other. Cause I know I do when I make them.
I also went with my own marinara sauce because it’s only a couple more ingredients and herbs that I already have in the pantry, so it’s not a big deal to me to tweak it to my tastes. But if you like the jarred stuff, then we can just leave it at that! So let’s begin.
Cook the pasta until it’s just before al dente and rinse it off in cold water when you drain it. We do this step because pasta bakes tend to have soggy pasta if you’re not careful and since it’ll be cooking longer in the oven, we try to avoid this by cooking it until it’s edible but still a little chewy. The oven will take it the rest of the way to al dente.
Now if you’re going with store-bought frozen Italian pre-cooked meatballs, prep it according to directions. Make sure they’re thawed so we don’t add in any excess liquid to dilute the sauce. We’ll be heating up the marinara sauce and letting the meatballs simmer in them for 5 minutes.
If you’re going the homemade meatballs route, mix all the meatball ingredients together and start forming your meatballs with an ice cream scoop and your hands. Use the ice cream scoop to size it up so they’re all the same size (and so you avoid potential arguments on who gets the bigger balls at the dinner table) and then use your fingers to seal off the creases. I had a little over one pound of ground beef and ended up with about 21 meatballs, so one pound should give you about 16 or so. We’re going to be matching the weight of the frozen meatballs pound for pound.
Line them up in a baking tray if you’re going to bake them. You don’t need to grease it because even super lean ground beef will render some fat while baking. Bake it at 425 degrees F for 10-12 minutes. It’ll cook more in the oven later with the pasta bake. This is by far the easiest way to cook the meatballs because there’s no oil splatter and draining on paper towels. But it also takes awhile.
If you’re pressed for time, you can pan-fry it instead. You’ll only need enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan because the meatballs will render some of its own fat to add to this. Roll them around on all sides until they’re browned which should take 5-8 minutes. I did it in two batches in a 10″ skillet. Drain them on paper towels to remove all that oil and remember to drain any excess oil from the skillet before starting on the marinara sauce.
Next we’ll be simmering the meatballs in the marinara sauce. Now this pasta bake is not very saucy but more like coats the pasta than anything. So if you like saucy type pastas, add another cup or so of marinara sauce to the mix. If you’re customizing your marinara sauce, do it before adding the meatballs. Make sure to be gentle when stirring to coat the meatballs fully in the sauce. You don’t want them to fall apart!
Combine the meatballs and sauce with the cooked pasta and mix well but gently. I did this in the casserole dish itself. Less washing! Top with mozzarella cheese. Feel free to blanket the pasta bake evenly with mozzarella. I chose to separate them into little puddles of cheese for the pics so you can see what’s inside the pasta bake. In fact, I encourage you to fully cover it with mozzarella so the exposed meatballs and pasta don’t harden up. That way, it’ll all stay moist. Also add more cheese if you want to upgrade your mozzarella blanket. I used about one cup, so for maximum cheese you can go with two cups worth. You can use the shredded the stuff or fresh mozzarella. Even mozzarella balls work too. Bake for about 30 minutes to marry the flavors and melt the cheese. If you want a golden cheesy top, broil it in the top shelf of the oven later at 450 degrees for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese browns.
And we’re ready to serve! Top with freshly chopped basil and sneak in some Parmesan cheese if you’re feeling indulgent. That’s it! Happy eating!
For more meatball recipes, try out this cheesy meatball skillet with epic cheese strings, some slow cooker Italian meatballs or bake a big batch of Parmesan meatballs and use them for subs, casseroles, or meatball pasta.
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