The Cozy Cook

Pasta Bake Recipe

This Pasta Bake recipe is an easy make-ahead meal that can be made with ziti, rigatoni, or penne. It’s filled with a meaty marinara sauce and topped with a cheesy ricotta mixture and mozzarella cheese.

Be sure to serve this with a side of my garlic bread with cheese.

Cheesy Pasta Bake on top of a white plate with a fork and fresh parsley.

Nothing beats a cheesy, meaty pasta bake recipe. This is my go-to recipe for feeding a crowd because it’s easy to make ahead of time, there are a variety of pasta choices, and it always leaves people feeling satisfied.

The pasta is smothered in plenty of meaty marinara sauce and topped with a cheesy ricotta mixture along with mozzarella cheese. Every bite is filled with flavor. Let’s get into everything you need to know!

How to Make a Pasta Bake

See recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

  • Cook pasta for 2 minutes less than al dente.
  • Combine the Ricotta, Parmesan, 1 whisked egg, and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and set aside.
  • Cook ground beef and onions in a large skillet. Drain grease and add seasonings. 

A bowl of Ricotta Mix next to a skillet with ground beef and onions.

  • Add marinara sauce and heat through. Combine pasta with 3/4 meat sauce and add to a 9×13 inch casserole dish.

A saucepan with meat sauce next to a casserole dish with Pasta in meat sauce.

  • Top with dollops of ricotta mixture and remaining meat sauce. Cover and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. 

Making a pasta bake by adding a ricotta cheese mixture on top of pasta with sauce.

  • Remove cover and increase to 400°. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with garlic bread with cheese.

A Pasta Bake in a casserole dish with mozzarella cheese before and after baking.

Make-Ahead Method

  • Cook the meat/onions/seasonings as outlined and then remove from heat. Add the marinara sauce and stir to combine. Let cool.
  • Boil pasta and assemble casserole as outlined.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  • Add an additional 10 minutes of covered baking time. (Bake covered at 375° for 30 minutes. Add the cheese and bake uncovered at 400° for 10-15 minutes.)
  • You can also freeze the assembled casserole. Let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours prior to baking.

Pro Tips

  • This recipe uses a lot of sauce, you can choose to use less if desired but the pasta absorbs a surprising amount of sauce while it bakes. I linked to my go-to marinara sauce in the tools section below, or you can make my homemade marinara sauce.
  • Ziti, Penne, and Rigatoni are all tubed-shaped pastas that cling on to the sauce well and are best for this recipe. I prefer to get the ‘rigati’ version which means that the outside has ridges, which help them cling on to the sauce even more.
  • Feel free to use any variety or combination of ground meat including ground pork, veal, sausage, and/or beef.
  • It’s best if you can use fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese from a block and shred/grate it yourself at home. This will make it much creamier and flavorful than using packaged cheese.

Storage

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

A spoon scooping a cheesy Pasta Bake up from a casserole dish.

 

Tools For This Recipe

(Amazon affiliate links)- Check out all of my kitchen essentials here.

  • Rao’s Marinara Sauce– Always my marinara sauce of choice, it’s restaurant worthy.
  • 9 x 13 baking dish The perfect size for almost any pasta bake/casserole recipe.
  • Silicone Spatula– Easy for gently combining cooked pasta with the sauce.
  • Box Cheese Grater– Always shred cheese from a block for creamy/melty results. Bagged shredded cheese contains cellulose and prevents it from melting as well in soups/sauces.
  • Measuring spoons I love that these are magnetic. They keep my drawer neat.

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A white plate with Cheesy Pasta Bake with meat and a fork in the background.

Pasta Bake Recipe

5 from 2 votes
This Pasta Bake recipe is an easy make-ahead meal that can be made with ziti, rigatoni, or penne. It's tossed in a meaty marinara sauce and topped with a cheesy ricotta mixture and mozzarella cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Pasta, ziti, penne, or rigatoni
  • 1 cup Ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 2 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, separated
  • 1 lb. ground beef, see notes
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon EACH: Salt/Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: Onion powder + Italian Seasoning
  • 2 (24 oz.) jars marinara sauce, I recommend Rao's brand or homemade
  • Fresh Parsley, to garnish

Instructions

  • Note: This recipe uses a lot of sauce, but the pasta absorbs a lot of it when it bakes. We don’t want dry pasta.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Begin boiling the pasta water while you cook the meat for the sauce. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than al dente, then drain. (Be sure to time it exactly so that you don’t end up with mushy pasta.)
  • Combine the Ricotta, Parmesan, egg, and 1 cup (not all) mozzarella cheese and set aside.
  • Cook and crumble the ground beef and diced onions over medium-high heat. Drain grease. Add garlic, salt/pepper, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. Cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the marinara sauce. Stir to combine and heat through. Remove from heat.
  • Combine the drained pasta with about ¾ of the sauce mixture and transfer it to a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add dollops of the ricotta mixture over the top, then the rest of the meat sauce.
  • Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and top with remaining 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese. Increase oven temp to 400 and bake uncovered for 10-15 more minutes, until the top begins to bubble and brown.
  • Garnish with parsley and serve with garlic bread with cheese.

Notes

This recipe uses a lot of sauce, you can choose to use less if desired but the pasta absorbs a surprising amount of sauce while it bakes. Rao's is always my go-to marinara sauce, or you can make my homemade marinara sauce.

Ziti, Penne, and Rigatoni are all tubed-shaped pastas that cling on to the sauce well and are best for this recipe. I prefer to get the 'rigati' version which means that the outside has ridges, which help them cling on to the sauce even more.

Feel free to use any variety or combination of ground meat including ground pork, veal, sausage, and/or beef.

It's best if you can use fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese from a block and shred/grate it yourself at home. This will make it much creamier and flavorful than using packaged cheese.

Make-Ahead Method:
  • Cook the meat/onions/seasonings as outlined and then remove from heat. Add the marinara sauce and stir to combine. Let cool.
  • Boil pasta and assemble casserole as outlined.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  • Add an additional 10 minutes of covered baking time. (Bake covered at 375° for 30 minutes. Add the cheese and bake uncovered at 400° for 10-15 minutes.)
  • You can also freeze the assembled casserole. Let it defrost in the fridge for 24 hours prior to baking.

Nutrition

Calories: 523kcal, Carbohydrates: 53g, Protein: 36g, Fat: 19g, Saturated Fat: 10g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 149mg, Sodium: 1391mg, Potassium: 995mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 9g, Vitamin A: 1209IU, Vitamin C: 13mg, Calcium: 334mg, Iron: 5mg

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Recipe Rating




11 comments on “Pasta Bake Recipe”

  1. THANKS! Makes sense. I will try it!

  2. Isn’t this just Lasagna?

    • It’s more liked Baked Ziti. The ingredients are all combined and mixed together vs. having separate layers in between lasagna noodles. It’s certainly similar but I prefer to make this recipe specifically if I’m serving it to a group of people because it’s easy for people to scoop up their desired portion sizes, vs. having cuts of lasagna that are cut at a certain size and need to remain intact.

  3. Another super easy and delicious weekday meal thanks to The Cozy Cook! I made this one with Penne and a I also added in some ground sausage that I was looking to use up. My husband and daughter went back for seconds!

    • Thanks Erin, I’m so happy it was a hit with the family! You know you got a winner when everyone goes back for seconds!😉 Thanks so much for the review!

  4. This looks like a wonderful dinner. I bet the leftovers are great too.

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