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This easy Italian ground beef casserole with noodles, marinara sauce, cheese, and crispy, flavorful seasoned breadcrumbs is pure comfort food! Pair the hearty, satisfying pasta bake with a Caesar salad and garlic bread for the ultimate family meal. It’s also a simple make-ahead dinner for busy days!

Serving spoon in an Italian ground beef casserole

Ground Beef Casserole with Noodles

Simple ground beef casseroles are always weeknight winners! This version gets an Italian spin, thanks to pasta, marinara, and plenty of Italian seasoning. It’s one of those great meals that you can assemble in advance, if necessary, and that both kids and adults will enjoy. Make it your own, too — try ground turkey instead of ground beef, or swap out the penne pasta and use other noodles that you have on hand. The ground beef casserole is hearty, wholesome, and always satisfying.

What can I bake with ground beef?

Ground beef is one of those great versatile ingredients (kind of like boneless skinless chicken breasts) that I always keep stashed in my kitchen. If you have some ground beef in your freezer, you can use it to make salads, sandwiches, quick and healthy skillet meals, nachos, tacos by adding taco seasoning, burritos, enchiladas, meatloaf, chili, spaghetti sauce, and a wide variety of casseroles. It’s quick-cooking, and very kid-friendly!

What to Add to Ground Beef to Make it Taste Better

If there’s any complaint about ground beef, it might be that it has a bland flavor when prepared on its own. That’s why it’s important to always season the meat with salt and pepper, herbs, sauces, and spices! In this case, you’ll jazz up the ground beef by pairing it with Italian-inspired flavors — like marinara sauce, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, and fresh herbs like basil or parsley.

Can you bake raw ground beef?

While it’s possible to cook a casserole with raw ground beef, you’ll need  to pre-cook the ground beef in a skillet for this particular recipe. Adding raw ground beef to a casserole can be tricky because you need to use extra-lean meat (or the dish will be greasy), and you need to break it up so that it’s dispersed evenly throughout the casserole. By browning the ground beef in a skillet first, you can drain off the excess fat, and therefore any type of ground beef will work here — including ground round, ground sirloin, or ground chuck.

How to Cook Ground Beef without Drying it Out

Ground beef can have a dry texture when it’s cooked for too long in the skillet. To avoid that issue, just cook the meat over medium heat until it’s no longer pink. As soon as it’s done, add the garlic, cook for 1 more minute, and then turn off the heat and drain off the fat. Adding the tomatoes with their juices and the marinara sauce will also help to keep the meat tender and moist.

Ingredients for an Italian Ground Beef Casserole

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for this old fashioned hamburger casserole. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Noodles: I used mini penne pasta here, but regular penne or any other similar short pasta shape will work. For instance, try elbows, bowties, ziti, fusilli, or even egg noodles, too.
  • Ground beef: feel free to substitute with ground turkey, Italian sausage, ground chicken, or ground pork if you like.
  • Onion and garlic: add savory flavor to the dish.
  • Marinara sauce: you’ll need about 12 ounces, or half of a 24-ounce jar. This is about 1 ⅓ cups total.
  • Diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano: if necessary, you can use a can of regular diced tomatoes. In that case, I would add extra Italian seasoning or other herbs for extra flavor.
  • Italian seasoning: adds savory, zesty flavor to the sauce. This is typically a blend of ground herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, sage, and coriander.
  • Grated cheese: I like this shredded Italian 5-cheese blend, but shredded mozzarella cheese or even cheddar cheese is also fine.
  • Salted butter, seasoned panko breadcrumbs, and grated Parmesan cheese: create the flavorful, crispy bread crumb topping for the casserole.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.

How to Make Ground Beef Casserole

Not only is this casserole easy to assemble, but you can prepare it in advance for even quicker weeknight dinners!

  1. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain.
  2. While the pasta cooks, brown the ground beef with onion and garlic in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Drain off the excess fat.
  3. Stir in the marinara, diced tomatoes with their juices, and Italian seasoning.
  4. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the beef mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer the ground beef and tomato sauce mixture to a greased 2-quart baking dish.
  6. Top with a layer of cheese, and then sprinkle on buttered breadcrumbs and Parmesan.
  7. Bake the casserole, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until the topping is golden brown and the inside is hot and bubbly.
  8. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, and serve!

What to Serve with Ground Beef Casserole Recipes

Cozy ground beef casseroles pair nicely with any of the following sides:

Make Ahead

Assemble the casserole up to 2 days in advance. Keep it covered with plastic wrap or foil in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, allow the dish to sit on the counter and come to room temperature for at least 30-60 minutes before baking according to the recipe instructions. If the dish is cold when it goes into the oven, you will likely need to add some extra baking time. Keep a close eye on the pan and cover the pasta loosely with foil if it starts to get too brown on top before it’s heated through.

To Freeze

This ground beef casserole recipe can be frozen either before or after baking. The quality is best if you assemble the casserole in advance (in a freezer-safe dish) and freeze before baking. Wrapped tightly, the pasta bake will last in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the Make Ahead instructions above.

Storage

Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Cover and reheat in a 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until warmed through. You can also reheat individual portions in a microwave for 1-2 minutes on high power.

Recipe Variations

  • Just about any short pasta shape will work, such as penne, mini penne, ziti, fusilli, bowties (farfalle), or elbows.
  • I like the extra flavor that you get with the Italian 5 cheese blend, but you can substitute with shredded mozzarella.
  • Omit the breadcrumb topping if you don’t want to fuss with it (although it does add great flavor and texture).
  • Swap out the ground beef and use ground turkey or Italian sausage.
  • If using regular diced tomatoes rather than the diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, I recommend seasoning the sauce with additional Italian seasoning, garlic powder, or herbs.
  • Make it spicy by adding a dash of cayenne or finishing the dish with crushed red pepper flakes.

Tips for the Best Ground Beef Casseroles

  • Salt the pasta cooking water liberally, since this is your chance to season the noodles.
  • Cook the pasta for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. They will continue cooking in the oven, and you don’t want to end up with mushy, gummy, overdone noodles in your dish.
  • Taste the pasta mixture and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper before baking the dish.
  • Add fresh flavor and bright color to the finished casserole by sprinkling fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, or oregano over the top just before serving.

More Casseroles with Ground Beef that You Might Enjoy

Overhead shot of hands holding a bowl of Italian ground beef casserole

Italian Ground Beef Casserole

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings 4 – 5 people
Calories 628 kcal
This easy Italian ground beef casserole with noodles, marinara sauce, cheese, and crispy, flavorful seasoned breadcrumbs is pure comfort food!

Ingredients
  

  • 8 ounces (about 1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups) uncooked penne pasta (or other short pasta shape, such as mini penne, elbows, bowties, or fusilli)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 12 ounces marinara sauce (about half of a 24-ounce jar, about 1 ⅓ cups)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, not drained
  • ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ¾ cup shredded Italian 5-cheese blend
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or basil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish; set aside.
  • In a large pot of well-salted water, cook the pasta according to the package directions for 1 minute less than al dente. Drain.
  • While the pasta cooks, brown the beef and onion in a large skillet over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic; cook for 1 more minute. Drain off excess fat.
  • Stir in marinara, diced tomatoes, and Italian seasoning.
  • Add the cooked, drained pasta to the beef mixture. Taste and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.
  • Microwave the butter in a medium microwaveable bowl on high until melted, about 25 seconds. Stir in panko and Parmesan until fully coated; sprinkle evenly over the casserole.
  • Bake, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the inside of the casserole is heated through.

Notes

  • Just about any short pasta shape will work, such as penne, mini penne, ziti, fusilli, bowties (farfalle), or elbows.
  • I like the extra flavor that you get with the Italian 5 cheese blend, but you can substitute with shredded mozzarella.
  • Omit the breadcrumb topping if you don’t want to fuss with it (although it does add great flavor and texture).
  • Swap out the ground beef and use ground turkey or Italian sausage.
  • If using regular diced tomatoes rather than the diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, I recommend seasoning the sauce with additional Italian seasoning, garlic powder, or herbs.
  • Make it spicy by adding a dash of cayenne or finishing the dish with crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Salt the pasta cooking water liberally, since this is your chance to season the noodles.
  • Cook the pasta for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. They will continue cooking in the oven, and you don’t want to end up with mushy, gummy, overdone noodles in your dish.
  • Taste the pasta mixture and season with kosher salt and ground black pepper before baking the dish.
  • Add fresh flavor and bright color to the finished casserole by sprinkling fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, or oregano over the top just before serving.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/4 of the casseroleCalories: 628kcalCarbohydrates: 60gProtein: 37gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 881mgPotassium: 1011mgFiber: 5gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 731IUVitamin C: 19mgCalcium: 266mgIron: 5mg
Keyword: ground beef casserole, ground beef casserole with noodles, Pasta Bake
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, 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!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Made this last night & I must say it was absolutely yummy. The crust on top added such an awesome deliciousness to this dish and made it so much more different than any other pasta casseroles I have ever had or made. I ended with 2 1/2 cup of rigatoni as wanted to stretch the dish a bit more. Also used Romano instead of parmesan for health reasons. Served it with oven broiled Romaine lettuce salad & bread. Not only yummy but easy and not heavy like the other pasta casseroles that are filled with Ricotta cheese. This is a true keeper.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  2. Hi Blair,
    I’m looking forward to making one of your casserole recipes tonight, I’ll let you know how it turns out. : )
    Cynthia