Baked Ziti With Meatballs is a quick and easy pasta bake perfect as a convenient weeknight dinner recipe. With juicy meatballs, al dente pasta, a homestyle sauce and cheese topping the whole family will love this comfort food. The meatball baked ziti can be on the table from start to finish in less than 30 minutes!
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the meatball baked ziti recipe in the points below:
- Everyday ingredients: you will be able to get everything you need to make the recipe from your local grocery store. You will also likely already have some of the ingredients needed to make the recipe in your pantry or cupboard 😉👍.
- Budget friendly: the great thing about using beef mince (ground beef) and pasta is that they are cost effective ingredients that won't set you back too far. The products have a range in prices and you can purchase the beef mince when it is on special and then freeze it till a time comes when you are ready to make the recipe.
- Family friendly: there is no too intense, hot or spicy flavors in the recipe making it a family-friendly meal that can be enjoyed by everyone at the table without needing to make 2 meals to satisfy everyone's tastes.
- Freezer friendly: this is a freezer friendly dish that works being prepared and frozen or cooked and portioned with the intent to freeze the leftovers.
- Back to basics: all we are really doing with this dish is making some meatballs, cooking some pasta, stirring together a simple sauce and then combining the whole lot. It needs us only taking easy steps one after the other, to create a flavoursome and satisfying meal.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the baked ziti and meatballs recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Olive oil: we use a little bit of olive oil to brown and cook the meatballs.
- Salt and pepper: we use salt and black pepper to season the meat mixture when making the meatballs.
- Egg: the egg acts as the binding agent for the meatballs. In other words, the glue to stick them together. Free range is always best when it comes to using eggs.
- Garlic powder: this dried form of garlic is super convenient and excellent to have in the pantry. It can, however, dry out if not used for a while (even when the lid is tightly closed). So it is a good idea to check your bottle before you head to the shops.
- Onion powder: saving time, energy and tears, this is a complimentary flavor to the garlic powder above.
- Dried parsley: we want to use dried parsley in the meatballs to create an Italian style flavor and theme combination.
- Worcestershire sauce: this adds a little oomph to recipes and it has an amazing smell about it. You know when you are cooking with it simply when you have opened the lid. It has an unmistakable and welcome presence. Give the bottle a shake before using it.
- Tomato paste: thick and rich, the tomato paste helps us get a depth of flavor in the pasta sauce.
- Panko breadcrumbs: these bright white and crisp breadcrumbs are popular in Japanese cooking. You are more likely to find them in the Asian foods section of the supermarket than the cooking aisle. They are excellent to use for a meatball recipe as they work to ensure the meatballs are moist and juicy.
- Mozzarella: this is how we make a cheesy baked ziti. The soft mozzarella cheese is the perfect melt worthy cheese to top the pasta bake with. That being said it doesn't have a very strong cheese flavor. It is more mild than it is bold or strong. So we combine it with a second type of cheese to tick all of the cheese boxes.
- Colby cheese: I am using colby cheese as the 2nd type of cheese. It has great flavor and melts well also. Each of them are best freshly grated if you can.
- Diced tomatoes: these give the pasta sauce a little chunky texture. All we need to do is open the tin and then add them to the pan when making the sauce.
- Passata: smooth and rich in tomato flavor. This is an excellent ingredient to use for pizza and pasta recipes. It is known as 'tomato puree' in some countries.
- Beef mince (ground beef): this is an excellent cut of meat, is highly economical and can be used for a wide variety of recipes.
Tasty Tip: I like to provide you with a number of substitutions and variations giving you an array of options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section (further below) before jumping into the instructions on how to make the recipe which are coming next 😉👌.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the easy baked ziti with meatballs recipe. We start by making the meatballs. You can also use this time to preheat oven so that it is hot and ready to go once the dish has come together.
- Gather the meatball ingredients (Photo 1)
- Use clean hands to combine (Photo 2)
- Portion the meat mixture (Photo 3)
- Roll into meatballs (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Baked Ziti With Meatballs
To make the recipe start by gathering the ingredients to make the meatballs. Then add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and egg to a large bowl.
Next, use clean hands to combine the meat mixture.
Once done, use a mini cookie scoop (allows for 2 bite-size meatballs) and portion the mixture out onto a chopping board like you see me having done in the photos above.
Next use the palms of your hands to roll the portions into meatballs.
- Cook the meatballs (Photo 5)
- Absorb the excess oil (Photo 6)
- Add the sauce ingredients to the pan (Photo 7)
- Stir to combine (Photo 8)
Next we want to cook the meatballs. To do so place a large saute pan (or frying pan) onto the stove top, turn the heat to high and add the olive oil.
Working in batches, cook the meatballs using tongs to rotate them until they are all cooked and their edges are golden brown with crispy bits. Once done, use a slotted spoon to lift them up and out of the pan and place them into a paper towel lined bowl.
Next use a couple of sheets of paper towel and the tongs to absorb the excess oil in the pan. Then discard these sheets.
Once done, get started on the sauce, using low to medium heat add the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Then use a wooden spoon to stir to stir until the sauce is consistently combined.
Next read and follow the instructions on the ziti packet to cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.
When it is al dente (a little bit chewy) use a colander over the sink to drain the pasta and discard the water.
Then add the hot cooked pasta to the tomato sauce.
- Add the cooked pasta (Photo 9)
- Stir to combine (Photo 10)
- Add the cooked meatballs (Photo 11)
- Transfer the meatball pasta into the baking dish (Photo 12)
Next use a wooden spoon to gently stir combining the ziti and the pasta sauce.
Once done add the cooked meatballs back to the pan as you see me having done in the photo above.
Gently stir these to fold the meatballs into the pasta and then use the wooden spoon to transfer the combined pasta, sauce and meatballs into the greased baking dish.
- Top with cheese (Photo 13)
Next, top the meatballs and pasta with a layer of both types of cheeses. You can do this by sprinkling one of the top followed by the other 😉👍 or form a cheese mixture and sprinkle that over in one go.
Once that is done place the baking dish into the oven on the middle shelf and let it bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Bake the 10 to 15 minutes (Photo 14)
Once the cheese has melted and the cook time is up, you can use oven mitts to remove the baking dish from the oven, place it onto a heatproof surface and get your garnish on 😉👌.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
If cheesy garlic bread and pasta are your thing you might like to try the Tortilla Garlic Bread, Garlic Ciabatta or the Garlic Pizza Bread. Or simply serve with some crusty bread that you tear and pop on the side of the plate.
Otherwise, this is a filling and satisfying meal and you might simply want a bowl of it with a chilled glass of white wine like a pinot gris or smooth red like a pinot noir.
If you are a meatball lover and can't go a day without them then the Meatball Pesto Pasta, Pork Meatballs In Tomato Sauce, Meatball Bolognese, Baked Meatball Subs and the Ikea Swedish Meatballs are some more recipes that will be right up your alley!
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the pasta in a sealed, airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. They are best reheated before being consumed.
How to Freeze
Allow cooked portions of the dish to fully cool. Then portion them into airtight containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
Or you can make the dish, including topping it with cheese and then cover it with plastic wrap and freeze as such. Then you only need to remove it from the freezer, place it onto the bench to let the baking dish adjust to the temperature difference before oven baking it till heated through with the cheese melted on top.
How to Reheat
You can use the microwave to reheat portions of the baked ziti. Simply transfer them into a bowl and cover them with cling wrap. Then heat on high in 1 minutes intervals until the pasta and meatballs are heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- For a different protein, you can use lamb, pork, chicken or turkey.
- Of if you want to use a combination of 2 proteins, ie beef and pork you can (to the equivalent amount of beef minced listed in the recipe card).
- If you want even more convenience you can use store-bought meatballs and a jar of marinara sauce.
- You can use 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped if you want to in place of the dried parsley.
- Or you can use dried oregano, dried basil or Italian seasoning in place of the dried parsley to the equivalent amount.
- When it comes to the breadcrumbs, you can use regular breadcrumbs in place of the panko breadcrumbs (equivalent amount).
- For other pasta types, you can use penne, rigatoni or macaroni.
- For the cheese, in place of the colby you can use cheddar, parmesan cheese, tasty cheese, pecorino romano cheese or a store bought cheese pizza blend.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- Ziti is a tubular type of pasta, very similar looking to penne, without the ribbing around the sides of the tubes. It is also sometimes called 'zita'. Or there are 'penne zita' versions.
- If you like the idea of freshly grated cheese but don't want to make the effort to grate it yourself, you can use the shredder blade on the food processor to do this. Sure, you might have a little bit more to wash up, but sometimes it is the least energy intensive option.
- Greasing the baking dish with cooking oil before filling it with the pasta and sauce allows easier clean up and no sticking of ingredients to the pan.
- We don't want to pasta to sit in the colander in the sink for too long as it will start to stick together. So try and time it so that you can add it straight to the sauce after draining it 😉👌.
- Fresh basil leaves are a great easy way to garnish the dish, simply scatter them over the top when ready to serve.
- If you love meatball recipes you might also like to try the Swedish Meatballs, Air Fryer Chicken Meatballs, Pork Meatballs In Tomato Sauce, Mini Meatballs, Wagyu Meatballs or the Honey Sriracha Meatballs.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What is easier Baked Ziti or lasagna?
Baked ziti is easier to make than lasagna. This is because lasagna has a number of steps involved, usually used 2 sauces and takes longer to make than baked ziti.
What is a substitute for ricotta cheese in baked ziti?
You can use mozzarella cheese, cheddar, colby or tasty cheese in place of the ricotta when making baked ziti.
What cheese goes stringy when cooked?
Mozzarella cheese goes stringy when cooked and is a popular choice for both pizza and pasta recipes.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
Dinner time folks! Be it pasta, pork, chicken, fish or more, I have lots of suggestions to offer you to keep it interesting and never 'same, same' on your table. Here they are:
- Prawn Skewers
- Chicken Pesto Linguine
- Prawn Pizza
- Prawn Chorizo Risotto
- Prawn Tagliatelle (Shrimp)
- Thai Minced Pork
- Chicken Ribs (Baked then Grilled)
- Mexican Prawns
- Chorizo and Prawn Linguine
- Spinach and Feta Pizza
Baked Ziti With Meatballs
- 500 grams/ 16 oz beef mince (ground beef)
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 tsp dried parsley Note 1
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 medium egg free range
- 700 grams/24.5 oz passata Note 2
- 400 grams/14 oz diced tomatoes Note 3
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste Note 4
- 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce Note 5
- 4 cups dried ziti
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese freshly grated using a hand held or box grater
- ½ cup colby cheese freshly grated using a hand held or box grater
- black pepper
- basil leaves
- Preheat your oven: to 180°C / 350-375°F / Gas Mark 4-5.
- Meatballs: add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, salt, pepper and egg to a medium sized mixing bowl. Then use clean hands to combine. Next take a mini cookie scoop and portion out a small amount of the mixture. Place the portion onto a chopping board and repeat this process until all of the mixture is portioned. Then working 1 by 1 using the palms of your hand to roll the portions into meatballs.
- Cook the meatballs: place a large sauté pan on the stove, turn the heat to high and add the olive oil. Working in batches use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the pan. Cook them, using a wooden spoon to move them around in the pan and kitchen tongs to flip to the other side. The meatballs will take 8 to 10 minutes to cook. Once cooked use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and place them into a paper towel lined bowl.
- Ziti: read and follow the instructions on the packet to cook the ziti in a large saucepan of boiling salted water. Test a piece when almost done and if it is a little bit chewy still that will be perfect. Next use a colander to drain the ziti and discard the pasta water.
- Pasta sauce: turn the heat down and use some paper towel and tongs to absorb the excess oil from the saute pan. Then without rinsing or cleaning the pan add the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Use a wooden spoon to give these a stir to gently combine. Note 6
- Combine: add the drained hot ziti to the pasta sauce and gently stir to fold together. Then drop the meatballs into the pan and again stir to combine.
- Baking dish: next transfer the combined pasta, sauce and meatballs into the greased baking dish. Use a wooden spoon to push to mix into the corners and down slightly so that it is settled in the dish.
- Oven bake: place the baking dish into the oven on the middle shelf and allow it to cook for 10 to 15 minutes. During this time the cheese will melt and the dish heat through.
- To serve: once the cheese has melted use oven mitts to remove the pasta bake from the oven and rest it on a heat proof surface.
- Garnish: season the melted cheese layer with black pepper and then sprinkle some basil leaves over the top. Grab some bowls, forks and spoons and get ready to dive in!
- Note 1 -Dried parsley: you can use dried basil, oregano or Italian seasoning in place of the dried parsley to the equivalent amount. Or you can use 2 teaspoon of fresh parsley in its place.
- Note 2 - Tomato passata: thick and smooth with a robust tomato flavor. This is the key ingredient to the sauce. It is known as tomato puree in some countries.
- Note 3 - Diced tomatoes: these give both a lovely flavor and texture in the recipe. Go for a plain tin with no additional herbs or spices. An alternative to these is using a tin of crushed tomatoes.
- Note 4 - Tomato paste: thick and rich, this adds a lovely depth of flavor in the simple combination of ingredients used to make the ziti pasta sauce.
- Note 5 - Worcestershire sauce: this dark coloured aromatic sauce is known for adding a little oomph to recipes. Give the bottle a shake before you use it as sometimes the gritty bits can sit at the base of the bottle.
- Note 6 - Excess olive oil: we don't need to clean or rinse the pan after cooking the meatballs. However, as there is oil in there from cooking the meatballs we want to get this out so that it doesn't go into the sauce. So grab some paper towel and tongs and absorb the oil from the base of the pan and once done you can discard the paper towel.