This Easy Dump And Bake Meatball Casserole has only a handful of ingredients, takes 5 minutes to prep, and results in a delicious, comforting, cheesy Italian casserole that your entire family will love.
Question: Does anyone else ever just feel NOT into making dinner every night? Don't get me wrong, I love to cook. But sometimes - when we get home late from soccer, after parent teacher conferences, or when the work day has been especially long - the last thing I want to do is spend an hour making dinner. (Who's with me?)
When life gets busy, and I'm craving a delicious weeknight dinner without the fuss, this easy Dump And Bake Meatball Casserole is the answer. I often turn to pasta dinner recipes for something quick and easy (this Creamy Seafood Tetrazzini, Lazy Lasagna, Instant Pot Lasagna Soup, and Cajun Shrimp Pasta are all in rotation), but this dump meal takes first place for its easy prep. With minimal preparation and simple ingredients, this mouthwatering Italian-inspired meal is always something that takes the pressure off of making dinner and leaves me with a dish I know my whole family will devour.
Why This Recipe Works
- Easy and convenient. This dump and bake meatball casserole is the epitome of easy meal preparation. It's perfect for busy weeknights when you don't have much time to spare. You simply combine all the ingredients in a casserole dish (this literally takes 5 minutes) pop it in the oven, and let it do its magic.
- Minimal prep. With simple ingredients like pasta, meatballs, and pasta sauce, there's no need for extensive preparation. It's a simple recipe that takes almost no effort, but results in a comforting delicious meal.
- Family favorite. My family LOVES this dinner recipe. This recipe offers a complete meal in one dish, and the cheesy, saucy goodness is always a big hit.
- Versatile. You can easily customize this casserole with different types of pasta, meatball varieties, sauces or added veggies to suit your taste.
- Delicious weeknight dinner. The best part of this comfort food casserole is that it's not only easy but also incredibly delicious. It's the perfect meal to enjoy after a long day.
Before we start cooking, let's gather all the necessary ingredients for this easy meatball casserole:
- Package of pasta. You can use whatever type of short pasta you have on hand - bowtie pasta, rotini, ziti or penne pasta would all work. While you could probably even use spaghetti, a short pasta will work better with this recipe and be easier to stir and combine with the other ingredients.
- Jarred pasta or marinara sauce plus water. Since there are so few ingredients in this dish, the ingredients you use really matter. Be sure to use a really flavorful sauce for this dish - a good-tasting pasta sauce will really elevate the taste. You can use a store-bought sauce, or make your own! This easy pink pasta sauce would be a great choice.
- Frozen meatballs. You can buy frozen, precooked meatballs from the grocery store (I got mine from Costco), or you could use meatballs that you've made yourself. Just be sure to remember to thaw them in advance (I typically just transfer them from the freezer to the fridge the night before I'm going to make this dish.)
- Spices. I added just a little bit of crushed red pepper here for some extra flavor a bit, but this is totally optional.
- Shredded mozzarella cheese. You'll be mixing half the cheese into the pasta once it's mostly done cooking and adding a sprinkle of cheese to the top of the casserole for a nice cheesy topping.
- Toppings. Again, this is optional, but I like adding a bit of fresh parsley and shredded parmesan Cheese to the top of the casserole before serving.
As you can see, these are simple ingredients that you can easily find at your local grocery store. This recipe is all about simplicity and ease.
How to Make A Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole
This meatball dump casserole is such an easy recipe, and has just a few simple steps:
- Preheat the oven. Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees F.
- Combine ingredients. In a large baking dish, add the uncooked pasta, water, pasta sauce, meatballs, salt, and red pepper (if you want a little kick). Mix everything well to combine all the flavors.
- Bake covered. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. This will allow the pasta to start cooking and absorb the flavors of the sauce and meatballs.
- Check and stir. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and give the casserole a good stir. Check the pasta to ensure it's al dente (soft, but still sort of firm). If not, cover it again and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Add the shredded cheese. Once the pasta is cooked to perfection, remove the casserole from the oven and stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Make sure it's evenly distributed. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese over the top.
- Return to oven: Place the casserole back in the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown and bubbling.
- Rest and serve: Allow the casserole to sit for 5 minutes to set. Serve it up with a sprinkle of parsley and a dusting of Parmesan cheese for added flavor.
This method is simple and delivers a flavorful, cheesy top with perfectly cooked pasta and meatballs.
Variations and Substitutions
The beauty of this meatball casserole is its adaptability. You can really get creative with it! Here are some variations and substitutions you can try:
- Vary the meatballs: For a lighter option, use turkey meatballs instead of beef. Try pork meatballs, chicken, or even lamb for a richer flavor. Or, if you're looking to make this vegetarian, choose a vegetarian meatball recipe.
- Different pasta shapes: Feel free to experiment with other pasta shapes like penne, rotini, or even bowtie pasta. They all work beautifully.
- Sauce swap. Experiment with different types of sauces for this dish. A classic marinara or spaghetti sauce works great, but think about the meat (or meat substitute) you're using and change it up.
- Add some spices. Add some Italian seasoning or other spices for some good flavor.
- Add some veggies. I know this recipe is all about ease, so maybe adding in more ingredients isn't in the cards and thats ok. BUT, if you did want to add a bit more nutrients to the dish, adding in things like chopped onion, some spinach, red peppers, or even zucchini could be an option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, fresh meatballs can be used. Just make sure they're fully cooked before adding them to the casserole.
If you want to add a little heat, increase the amount of crushed red pepper or even add some diced chili peppers.
Yes! To make the dump and bake meatball casserole in the slow cooker, add everything but the cheese to the crock pot. Cook on low for 4 hours, or until the pasta is tender, then add the cheese and cook for an additional hour.
Absolutely! Feel free to experiment with your favorite cheese or a blend of cheeses for a unique flavor.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days, or freeze them for a future quick meal.
Yes, with a caveat. To make this casserole, you should thaw the meatballs in advance - I typically just do it overnight in the refrigerator. Freezing the casserole after a short thawing time for the meatballs in the refrigerator is fine. However, if the meatballs have been sitting in the fridge for a while, it's probably better to not refreeze them in the casserole.
To freeze, simply allow the casserole to come to room temperature, place it in a freezer-safe container, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Yes! This casserole reheats well. Simply heat the oven to 400 degrees and reheat for 30 minutes, covered, or until the sauce is bubbling.
Here's a trick to make this even simpler on a weeknight. Because this recipe is so simple to prepare, you can add the jar of marinara sauce, water, noodles, spices and meatballs to a casserole dish first thing in the morning, cover it, and pop it in the fridge. Then, when you're ready to cook it at night, your meatballs should be fully thawed and your casserole will be ready to put right into the oven.
The beauty of this meatball casserole recipe is that takes minimal prep time, it all comes together in one dish, and serves as a great main course (or only course!) for dinner. But you can add to this to make it a complete meal - a simple side salad and some garlic bread would compliment this casserole beautifully.
This meatball pasta casserole is the perfect embodiment of an easy, delicious weeknight dinner. With its minimal prep and simple ingredients, it's my go-to for whipping up a comforting Italian-inspired meal without the hassle.
If you try this Quick And Easy Dump And Bake Meatball Casserole, let me know what you think in the comments below. And don't forget to tag me with a pic @frontrangefed on Instagram - I love to see your creations!
More Easy Weeknight Meals
- Easy Cornbread Cowboy Casserole
- Loaded Skillet Steak Fajita Nachos
- Easy Kung Pao Tofu
- Chicken And Shrimp Stir Fry With Garlic Ginger Sauce
- Creamy Seafood Tetrazzini With Shrimp (Baked Seafood Pasta)
- Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs With Sausage And Potatoes
- Lazy Baked Lasagna With Frozen Cheese Ravioli
- Popcorn For Dinner
Quick And Easy Dump And Bake Meatball Casserole
- 16 oz uncooked pasta choose a short variety, like ziti, bowtie, or rotini pasta
- 3 cups water
- 24 oz jar of pasta sauce
- 14 oz frozen, precooked meatballs (thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using)
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- parsley optional, for serving
- shredded Parmesan cheese optional, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Add the uncooked pasta, water, jar of sauce, meatballs, salt and red pepper to a large 9x13 inch baking dish and mix well to combine. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the aluminum foil and give the dish a good stir. Check the pasta to make sure it’s cooked al dente (soft, but still sort of firm). If not, cover again and bake for 5-10 minutes more.
- Remove the casserole dish from the oven and add 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Stir well to combine, and using the remaining cheese, sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top of the casserole. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
- Allow the casserole to sit for 5 minutes prior to serving. Top with parsley and Parmesan cheese if desired.
- Choose the best tasting pasta sauce you can find for the best flavor.
- Thaw meatballs before making.
- Freeze in a freezer-safe container for up to three months.
- Add in veggies or spices for some added nutrition.