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You don’t even have to boil the pasta for this easy Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole! With only 5 simple ingredients, family-friendly weeknight dinners don’t get much better than this!

Overhead image of dump and bake meatball casserole on a wooden table

How to Make Meatball Casserole | 1-Minute Video

Cheesy Meatball Casserole

I’m constantly trying to figure out how to serve my family a variety of dinners that:

  • are relatively nutritious;
  • don’t require expensive/weird ingredients;
  • can be prepared in a matter of minutes;
  • and that everyone actually loves.

This dump-and-bake supper is absolutely one of those meals! Italian cuisine (and pasta specifically) is always a big hit in my house. The best part of this comfort food casserole, however, is that YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO BOIL THE PASTA!! Awesome, right?

You literally toss together some dry pasta, some frozen (fully cooked) meatballs, marinara sauce, and water in a big baking dish. Cover it and bake it in the oven while you deal with laundry, homework, feeding the dog, and all of the 18909809832429508 other items on your “To Do” list. Sprinkle plenty of mozzarella cheese on top to melt at the end and get nice and ooey gooey…and dinner is DONE!

Side shot of meatball casserole with pasta in two serving bowls with cheese

How to Make Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole

This simple recipe requires just 5 ingredients that you can keep in your kitchen for those last-minute meals when you really don’t feel like cooking.

Ingredients

  • Rotini pasta
  • Marinara sauce
  • Water
  • Frozen meatballs (thawed)
  • Shredded mozzarella

Step 1: Combine Ingredients

In a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, stir together uncooked pasta, marinara sauce, water and thawed meatballs.

Process shot showing how to make dump and bake meatball casserole

Step 2: Bake

Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake in a 425 degree F oven for 35 minutes.

Step 3: Add Cheese

Remove the cover, give the pasta a stir, and sprinkle cheese over top.

Adding cheese to the top of a meatball casserole

Return the dish to the oven for about 5-10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the pasta is tender.

Close up side shot of a wooden spoon in a dish of dump and bake meatball casserole

What to Serve with Meatball Pasta Casserole

Pair this cozy pasta dish with a side of homemade garlic bread (a family favorite) or focaccia bread! Here are a few more easy ideas that go well with the casserole:

Make Ahead

You can assemble the casserole a few hours in advance, or even leave it covered in the refrigerator overnight before baking. The pasta will start to soften and absorb some of the liquid as it sits, so you may need to decrease the baking time slightly. You don’t want to overcook the casserole or you’ll end up with gummy, mushy pasta.

Storage

This casserole is best enjoyed immediately from the oven. Leftovers will  keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The pasta will dry out a bit as it sits, so you may need to stir in some additional marinara sauce when you reheat the dish.

I do not recommend freezing this casserole because pasta has a tendency to get gummy and mushy when thawed. That said, I know that other readers have frozen leftovers without issue.

Close overhead shot of two bowls of meatball casserole

Recipe Variations

  • I like to use smaller cocktail-size meatballs in the casserole because they’re easier for the kids to eat. That said, you can substitute with larger regular meatballs if that’s what you have available.
  • Turkey meatballs, Italian meatballs, beef, chicken or pork meatballs will all work. Pick your favorite!
  • I use frozen meatballs for convenience, but fresh, fully-cooked meatballs will also work in this recipe.
  • Don’t have rotini? You can substitute with other similar short pasta shapes such as penne or elbows. Just pick a pasta that has a similar cooking time as rotini (about 7-8 minutes recommended on the package) — otherwise you’ll need to adjust the casserole’s baking time in the oven.
  • Cooking for a Smaller Family: Cut all of the ingredients in half and bake the casserole in an 8-inch square pan. Check the pasta after 30 minutes, as it may be done slightly sooner than the larger pan.

Tips for the Best Meatball Casserole Recipe

  • Make sure to thaw frozen meatballs in the refrigerator before adding them to the casserole.
  • Pick a high-quality, flavorful marinara sauce. With only 5 ingredients in the casserole, each individual ingredient is very important! A delicious sauce will yield a delicious meal. I like Rao’s brand, but any similar variety will work.
  • Total cooking time will vary depending on the type of pan that you use and your individual oven. Glass or ceramic baking dishes will take longer than metal pans, for instance. To know when your casserole is done, taste a bite of the pasta. The noodles should be tender and most of the liquid should be absorbed.
  • Be careful not to overbake the casserole or the pasta will become mushy.
  • Garnish the casserole with fresh herbs like basil or parsley for a bright,  fresh touch. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese is also delicious!
Close overhead image of an easy meatball casserole recipe

More Dump-and-Bake Casserole Recipes to Try

Overhead shot of a pan of dump and bake meatball casserole

Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole

4.83 from 74 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 55 minutes
Servings 6 – 8 servings
Calories 461.4 kcal
​​​​​​​You don’t even have to boil the pasta for this easy Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole! With only 5 simple ingredients, family-friendly weeknight dinners don’t get much better than this!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (16 ounce) package uncooked rotini pasta
  • 1 (24 or 25 ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 (14 ounce) package fully-cooked miniature (cocktail-size) meatballs (if using frozen meatballs, make sure that they are completely thawed before using)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped herbs (such as basil, oregano, and parsley for garnish)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • In a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, stir together uncooked pasta, marinara sauce, water, and meatballs. Season with salt to taste; stir. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.
  • Uncover; stir. At this point you should check the pasta to make sure that it is al dente (firm but just about finished cooking). If it’s still too hard, cover the dish and return to the oven until pasta is al dente. Then move on to the next step.
  • Sprinkle mozzarella over the top and bake uncovered for 5-10 more minutes (or until cheese is melted and pasta is tender).

Video

Notes

  • Make sure to thaw frozen meatballs in the refrigerator before adding them to the casserole.
  • Pick a high-quality, flavorful marinara sauce. With only 5 ingredients in the casserole, each individual ingredient is very important! A delicious sauce will yield a delicious meal. I like Rao’s brand, but any similar variety will work.
  • Total cooking time will vary depending on the type of pan that you use and your individual oven. Glass or ceramic baking dishes will take longer than metal pans, for instance. To know when your casserole is done, taste a bite of the pasta. The noodles should be tender and most of the liquid should be absorbed.
  • Be careful not to overbake the casserole or the pasta will become mushy.
  • Garnish the casserole with fresh herbs like basil or parsley for a bright,  fresh touch. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese is also delicious!

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the casseroleCalories: 461.4kcalFat: 21.3gSaturated Fat: 8.5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 2.7gCholesterol: 64.9mgSodium: 1106.6mgPotassium: 379.9mgFiber: 3.2gSugar: 8.3g
Keyword: casserole, dinner, Meatball Casserole, Meatballs
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

    1. Hi, Jeanie! I’ve never actually tried freezing this casserole before baking it. I think it would probably work fine, though. You’ll need to either thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before baking, or bake for almost twice as long if you’re putting it into the oven still frozen. As the pasta sits in the liquid before baking, it will absorb some of the liquid and soften a bit…so it might have a slightly different texture. Again, it should work okay — it just might not be quite the same. 🙂

          1. Hi, Vera! I don’t. I bet it would work fine in the slow cooker, but you just have to be careful with the pasta. I find that noodles are tricky in the Crock Pot because they can go from hard and undercooked to mushy and overdone quite quickly. Until you get the exact cooking time down for your specific slow cooker and your specific shape of pasta, it can be a guessing game where you just have to keep a close eye on the dish and turn it off as soon as the pasta is finished.

  1. 5 stars
    I just want to thank you for this recipe. I have had a few surgeries & complications from surgeries the past few months, & I have been leaning on this meal at least once a week while I am not up to much physically. I have even taught my seven year old to make it (I put it in the oven for her), & she is so proud she can make a real meal without help. It has been a lifesaver!

    1. That’s amazing! I’m so glad to know that it’s been helpful and easy to prepare with your family. Hopefully you can try some of my other dump-and-bake dinners on the blog to get you through the rough days when it’s not easy to spend a lot of time cooking. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  2. 5 stars
    Easy Peasy and tasty too! I added some seasonings that my family likes and used a good flavorful sauce. Followed the recipe as stated otherwise. The family really liked it. Came together quick and effortless. Will definitely go into the dinner rotation. Thanks for sharing!

  3. 5 stars
    This is a very easy and good recipe! However the next time I make it I will use the next size bigger in the marinara sauce and add fresh mushrooms. Definitely a keeper!

      1. 5 stars
        Can I use regular pasta sauce for this? I’m also wondering if there are any veggies or other fillers you would suggest adding to this dish. Thank you for the recipe it’s perfect for a busy week!

        1. Hi, Tanya! Yes, any tomato-based pasta sauce that you like will work fine. As far as the veggies go, I think you could really add almost anything that your family enjoys. If it’s something like broccoli or carrots that requires a longer cooking time, you might want to parboil or quickly steam the veggies before adding them to the casserole so that they’re soft by the end of the baking time. If you want to use a softer vegetable like frozen peas or frozen corn, I’d wait to stir that into the dish towards the end because they don’t need more than a couple of minutes in the hot casserole to soften up and warm through. Hope that helps, and enjoy!

  4. 5 stars
    I’m so glad I came across your recipe! It was easy & effortless to make, and I used casserole elbows and shredded taco cheese which came out DELICIOUSLY! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi, besides defrosting the meatballs for almost a whole day, do you think you could partially cook them to prepare them for the casserole? Thanks for you help,
    Christine

      1. 5 stars
        Amazing!!!! Used my own homemade spaghetti sauce, with onions and mushrooms in it. Used Italian meatballs “Walmart brand” cooked for an extra 20 minutes. Amazing! Kids and husband loved it.

  6. 5 stars
    This is great! I loved the comment that said get your grand daughter to put it all together. My little helper will really enjoy preparing this recipe. I’ll make enough for her to take home for mom and dad. thanks so much for the inspiration…..I’m going to subscribe. LIKE! Thanks bay.

  7. 5 stars
    I just made this, so fast and simple, I cooked my for 45 minutes and 5 extra for cheese. It was so good and filling. The 3 cups of water was perfect
    Thank so much for this great recipe
    Sandy

        1. Hi, Kristy! I think it would work in the slow cooker, but I don’t know the exact timing because I haven’t tested it myself. The tricky part about the slow cooker is making sure that the pasta cooks through until it’s tender, and then you turn it off right away. If you let the pasta cook for too long in the Crock Pot, it will get overdone, mushy, and gummy — which is obviously not ideal. As long as you’re home to keep a close eye on the pasta, the slow cooker would probably be okay.

  8. Is this something that I can put in a casserole dish and let it sit in the fridge all day and then my husband can throw in the over when he gets home? If so… do I add the water and let it sit all day? I’m trying to figure out more meals for him to make while I’m working.

    1. Hi, Elyssa! I haven’t prepped the dish that way, but I know other folks have done so. It should work fine! The pasta will soften a little as it sits in the liquid, so you may need to reduce the overall cooking time by a few minutes. You just don’t want to end up with mushy, overdone pasta at the end. Remind your husband to check it towards the end and pull the dish out of the oven as soon as the noodles are tender. 🙂

  9. Excited to try this subbing the meatballs for veggie meatballs! Going to add fresh mushrooms too per another commenters suggestion.

  10. 5 stars
    YUM! I work full time so time is tight at dinnertime and I’m always looking for a quick easy recipe, and this one definetly fit the bill. I couldn’t find mini meatballs but regular size worked just fine, I just didn’t add as many. 3 cups of water was the perfect amount. I used Rao’s marinara sauce and added a bit of Italian Seasoning and garlic before stirring and baking. Since I used a ceramic dish, the bake time was about 43-45 minutes, then I combined parmesan and mozzarella cheeses on top and baked uncovered another 10 minutes. Topped it off with basil. I think next time I might use Italian Cheeses instead of Mozzarella to give it more of a kick. We had leftovers the next day and all it needed was a bit more sauce tossed in and it was just as good. Doesn’t get any easier than this recipe, low prep time and quick bake time. definetly a keeper. Thanks for sharing!

  11. 5 stars
    We loved this recipe! I used regular size meatballs and penne pasta. Toward the end of cooking time I stirred the casserole and felt it needed a second jade of sauce. I cooked it a few more minutes before adding the mozzarella.

  12. Hello Blair. I was wondering if I could use some tomato paste with this? Thanks so much for the great recipe!
    Juls

    1. Hi, Juls! Yes, ma’am! You can definitely stir in some tomato paste (maybe start with 1-2 T) for a sauce with a more rich tomato flavor. 🙂

  13. Just made this, it was so good! Added a lot of extra seasonings (crushed garlic, Italian seasoning, onion powder & a bit of red pepper flakes) Glad I did otherwise i think it would have a bit bland for my test. Will definitely be making this again!