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You don’t even have to boil the pasta or sauté the vegetables for this dump-and-bake cheesy meatball casserole. The whole family loves the flavorful combination of meatballs and pasta in marinara sauce with mushrooms, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and plenty of gooey, melty cheese!

Overhead shot of a serving spoon in a dish of dump and bake cheesy meatball casserole with veggies

Simple casseroles are always weeknight winners! This dump and bake meatball casserole gets an Italian spin, thanks to pasta, marinara, Italian-style meatballs, and plenty of Italian seasoning. It’s one of those great meals that you can assemble with almost no prep work, and that’s a big hit with both kids and adults. Plus, it’s loaded with tons of bonus vegetables, which your kids probably won’t even detect!

Do you have to cook pasta before putting in casserole?

While many casserole recipes call for cooking pasta before mixing it into the dish, this particular recipe is designed specifically for uncooked pasta. That means that you do not boil the noodles on the stovetop before adding them to the casserole dish. Instead, the noodles cook right in the oven with the rest of the ingredients. This requires extra liquid in the pan (since the pasta absorbs a lot of water as it cooks), and extra cooking time to make sure that the noodles are tender.

Can I bake meatballs without browning them first?

Yes! Fully-cooked frozen meatballs are another wonderful shortcut ingredient in this recipe. Simply thaw them in your fridge overnight before adding them to the casserole. There’s no need to brown the meatballs before they go in the oven!

Process shot showing how to make dump and bake meatball casserole

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a cheesy meatball casserole with plenty of fresh veggies. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Mezzi rigatoni pasta: this is the brand that I use, which has a suggested cook time of 9 minutes on the package. If you can’t find mezzi rigatoni, then substitute with another short pasta shape, such as penne, rigatoni, or rotini with a similar cooking time. You may need to increase the total baking time for your casserole if you choose a different pasta.
  • Marinara sauce: use a jar of high-quality store-bought marinara sauce with great flavor, since this will impact the taste of your finished dish.
  • Water: extra liquid for the pasta to absorb as it cooks in the oven.
  • Red wine: adds rich flavor to the sauce, which pairs really nicely with the beef and tomatoes. For an alcohol-free version, substitute with extra water.
  • Italian seasoning: a convenient blend of marjoram, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and other herbs.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: for a spicy kick. If you don’t want a spicy casserole, use less red pepper or omit this ingredient altogether.
  • Garlic powder and onion powder: for savory flavor.
  • Italian-style mini meatballs: look for meatballs labeled “mini,” “cocktail-size,” or “bite-size,” since these are better suited for a casserole.
  • Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes: add rich tomato flavor to the casserole.
  • Zucchini: coarsely grated so that it’s practically undetectable in the pasta, and it’s nice and soft by the end of the baking time.
  • Mushrooms: I buy a container of pre-sliced baby bella mushrooms.
  • Mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese: add great flavor and delicious ooey, gooey cheesy texture to the top of the casserole.
Sprinkling cheese on top of meatball casserole

How to Make a Meatball Casserole

Weeknight dinners don’t get much easier than a dump and bake meatball casserole! I’ve included complete cooking instructions in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Stir together all of the ingredients directly in your greased casserole dish, or in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Cover and bake for 45 minutes.
  3. Stir the pasta, top with cheese, and bake for 5-10 more minutes.
Overhead shot of a white dish with meatball casserole and veggies in it

What can I serve with meatballs besides pasta?

A cozy meatball casserole pairs nicely with any of the following sides:

Dump and bake meatball casserole with veggies on a white plate with a side of bread and salad

Preparation and Storage

  • 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.
Square overhead shot of dump and bake meatball casserole with veggies

Recipe Variations

  • Don’t have mezzi rigatoni? You can substitute with other similar short pasta shapes such as penne, rotini, or elbows. Just pick a pasta that has a similar cooking time as the mezzi rigatoni (about 8-10 minutes recommended on the package) — otherwise you’ll need to adjust the casserole’s baking time in the oven.
  • For an alcohol-free dish, omit the red wine and replace it with extra water or some beef broth.
  • Turkey meatballs, Italian meatballs, beef, chicken, or pork meatballs will all work. Pick your favorite! Just look for smaller meatballs labeled “mini,” “bite-size,” or “cocktail-size,” which are better suited for a casserole.
  • I use frozen meatballs for convenience, but fresh, fully-cooked meatballs will also work in this recipe. Alternatively, you can cook 1 lb. of ground beef or Italian sausage and stir that into the casserole instead of meatballs.
  • For a vegetarian casserole, omit the meatballs and add an extra container of mushrooms instead.
  • Add buttered breadcrumbs on top for a crunchy texture.
  • 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 35-40 minutes, as it may be done slightly sooner than the larger pan.
Square overhead image of a plate of dump and bake meatball casserole

Tips for the Best Meatball Casserole Recipe

  • Use a deep 13 x 9-inch dish with a capacity of at least 3 ½ – 4 quarts so that it can accommodate all of the raw ingredients without bubbling over. This is the dish that I’ve shown here.
  • Pick a dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Shiraz, or Merlot. Use something that you enjoy drinking!
  • Thaw frozen meatballs in the refrigerator before adding them to the casserole.
  • Pick a high-quality, flavorful marinara sauce. 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, your brand of pasta, 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 much of the liquid should be absorbed.
  • Be careful not to overbake the casserole or the pasta will become mushy.
  • Garnish the casserole with herbs like fresh basil or fresh parsley for a bright, colorful touch.
Cheesy meatball casserole on a dinner table with bread and salad

More Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole Recipes to Try

Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole

55 minutes mins

Dump and Bake Italian Meatball and Rice Casserole

1 hour hr 20 minutes mins

Dump and Bake Meatball Ravioli Casserole

55 minutes mins

Square overhead shot of dump and bake meatball casserole with veggies

Dump-and-Bake Meatball Casserole with Veggies

5 from 3 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Total: 1 hour
Servings 8 people
Calories 463 kcal
You don’t even have to boil the pasta or sauté the vegetables for this easy, cheesy, dump-and-bake meatball casserole with veggies!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (16 ounce) package uncooked mezzi rigatoni pasta (or other similar short pasta shape such as rotini or penne)
  • 1 (24 or 25 ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use less, or omit entirely if you don’t like it spicy)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 lb. (16 ounces) fully-cooked Italian-style miniature meatballs (if using frozen meatballs, make sure that they are completely thawed before using)
  • ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, coarsely grated
  • 1 (8 ounce) container sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, or parsley

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  • In the prepared baking dish or in a separate large bowl, stir together uncooked pasta, marinara sauce, water, red wine, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, meatballs, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, and mushrooms. Season with a good amount of salt to taste (I use at least 1 teaspoon of kosher salt); stir. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.
    Process shot showing how to make dump and bake meatball casserole
  • 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 and Parmesan over the top and bake uncovered for 5-10 more minutes (or until cheese is melted and pasta is tender).
    Sprinkling cheese on top of meatball casserole

Notes

  • Use a deep 13 x 9-inch dish with a capacity of at least 3 ½ – 4 quarts so that it can accommodate all of the raw ingredients without bubbling over. This is the dish that I’ve shown here.
  • Pick a dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Shiraz, or Merlot. Use something that you enjoy drinking!
  • Thaw frozen meatballs in the refrigerator before adding them to the casserole.
  • Pick a high-quality, flavorful marinara sauce. 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, your brand of pasta, 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 much 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.
  • Don’t have mezzi rigatoni? You can substitute with other similar short pasta shapes such as penne, rotini, or elbows. Just pick a pasta that has a similar cooking time as the mezzi rigatoni (about 8-10 minutes recommended on the package) — otherwise you’ll need to adjust the casserole’s baking time in the oven.
  • For an alcohol-free dish, omit the red wine and replace it with extra water or some beef broth.
  • Turkey meatballs, Italian meatballs, beef, chicken, or pork meatballs will all work. Pick your favorite! Just look for smaller meatballs labeled “mini,” “bite-size,” or “cocktail-size,” which are better suited for a casserole.
  • I use frozen meatballs for convenience, but fresh, fully-cooked meatballs will also work in this recipe. Alternatively, you can cook 1 lb. of ground beef or Italian sausage and stir that into the casserole instead of meatballs.
  • For a vegetarian casserole, omit the meatballs and add an extra container of mushrooms instead.
  • Add buttered breadcrumbs on top for a crunchy texture.
  • 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 35-40 minutes, as it may be done slightly sooner than the larger pan.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the casseroleCalories: 463kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 23gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 660mgPotassium: 826mgFiber: 4gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 704IUVitamin C: 18mgCalcium: 177mgIron: 3mg
Keyword: dump and bake meatball casserole, Meatball Casserole
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!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Couple of questions, Blair. If I just can find the standard frozen meatballs, can I substitute regular ones if I cut them in half? Also, how big is a small zucchini? Half a pound? This looks good!

  2. 5 stars
    I have a silly question. I always read use a wine you would drink. I don’t drink. I know nothing about wine. How do I pick a good wine to cook with?
    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Kathy!
      Not a silly question at all. There are several factors to consider when picking a wine to cook with like the sweetness, acidity, and alcohol content. For this recipe, we recommend a dry red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Shiraz, or Merlot. However, if you’re looking for more information on choosing wine for a variety of recipes, this article has great information!

  3. Maybe you missed my initial question. I wanted to know if regular sized meatballs, halved, would work if that’s all I can find. What is a small zucchini? Maybe half a pound? And also I have trouble finding a pasta sauce I like. So many seem either all salt/sugar or way expensive. Do you recommend any sauce recipes on this site, in particular, as a substitute? Just a plain marinara is what I had in mind. Would 1x the recipe be enough? Thanks, Blair!

    1. Hi Marion!
      So sorry we missed your first comment. If you can’t find mini meatballs, we recommend using 1 pound of ground beef or Italian sausage instead. The size of the zucchini isn’t hugely important. A small one would be roughly 6-8 ounces. We love this sauce, but any 24-25 ounce jar can be used!

  4. 5 stars
    Tried this for supper tonight. Oh my goodness was this good and so easy!! My husband said you can make this recipe again! Followed the recipe exactly except for the zucchini. Neither of us are fond of zucchini. Thanks so much for the recipe! I just love your website, your blog. I think I’m obsessed! lol! Tried a couple of recipes of yours now and we really liked them all except for one of them.

  5. 5 stars
    This was a great “hidden veggies” meal that my very discerning son really liked. I used fresh onion instead of powder and chopped all veggies really fine in a food processor and he was none the wiser 🙂 The veggies give it a lovely well-rounded flavor that is much tastier (and healthier!) than plain pasta with meat sauce. This was also a very forgiving recipe- my favorite kind! I subbed red wine vinegar for the red wine and spaghetti squash for the zucchini just due to having those on hand, and it was still delicious. Thanks Blair, this is a keeper for sure!