Just look at that cheese. All melted and stringy just waiting for you to stick a fork in. My meatball pasta bake combines two of my favourite comfort foods: meatballs in a rich tomato sauce and cheesy pasta. It’s almost like pizza meets meatballs meets pasta bake; and it’s all the better for it if you ask me.
Frying the meatballs off first and then making the sauce in the same pan gives the tomato sauce a brilliant depth of flavour. I love the herb flecked meatballs, the richness and fragrance of the tomato sauce (thanks to the fresh basil) and the soft creaminess of the mozzarella. The family agreed; this meatball pasta bake was devoured in minutes.
You can make the meatballs before you need to cook the rest of the dish, just keep them in the fridge until required. This dish also freezes really well; I froze half of the recipe below (without mozzarella) then defrosted it overnight in the fridge and added some mozzarella before baking.
Using different herbs in the meatballs and sauce is a great way to play around with the flavours; a little rosemary or sage would be lovely additions.
I used long macaroni pasta for this but you can use any pasta you prefer.
I like to use mozzarella for this as it’s got a mild flavour and goes wonderfully stringy when baked. You could try combining cheddar, Parmesan and mozzarella too.
If you can get hold of some lardo, I think it would be fantastic added to the meatballs and make this really indulgent.
Meatball Pasta Bake
For the meatballs
- 250 g beef mince
- 250 g pork mince
- 1/2 small onion finely chopped
- 70 g dried breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- olive oil for frying
- salt and pepper
For the tomato sauce
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small handful basil roughly chopped
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and pepper
- 150 g grated mozzarella
- 300 g pasta
- Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs together well. Squash and squeeze it through your hands to ensure it's well mixed.
- Form the meatball mixture into 20 balls then refrigerate them for 30 minutes.
- Get a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a little oil. Fry the meatballs until they are golden on the outside. Remove from the pan and put to one side.
- Add a little more oil to the frying pan to make the tomato sauce.
- Add the onion and fry for five minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more.
- Stir in all the remaining ingredients for the tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for another 15 minutes.
- While the meatballs are simmering cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain when done.
- Preheat an oven to 180C.
- Mix the meatballs, tomato sauce and pasta together then tip into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.
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