If you’re looking for a true family-style meal that everyone will love, baked ziti with meatballs is always a hit. Made with layers of saucy pasta, juicy meatballs, and creamy burrata cheese then baked until bubbly, this hearty pasta dish is craveable comfort food!
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Meatball Baked Ziti
This baked ziti with meatballs is is a fun twist on easy baked ziti with similarities to baked mostaccioli but with store-bought meatballs! Although convenience is great, I do have a leg up on the homemade front because I always keep a frozen batch of my homemade meatball recipe.
They get simmered in a creamy spaghetti sauce, tossed in a casserole dish with tender pasta and and then layered with burrata cheese! Once baked and bubbly, this is one of those rich and cheesy family-friendly casseroles that everyone loves!
Why This Recipe Works
- Feeds a crowd. This baked meatball pasta casserole can feed up to 8 people! If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, it would make a great hot lunch for school the next day.
- Make ahead and freezer-friendly. What I love about easy pasta recipes that are both of these things is that you can make it when you have the extra time. Then all you have to do is pop it in the oven to bake when you’re ready to serve it.
- Customizable. Add some spice, use a different cheese, or go ahead and use homemade marinara sauce and meatballs if you can.
- Comfort food. Whether it’s a weeknight dinner or Sunday supper, the sight of bubbly and golden cheesy baked pasta is always good for the soul!
Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.
- Ziti noodles: I like to use traditional ziti noodles in baked ziti with meatballs (go figure!) but you can certainly use your favorite medium pasta noodles. Penne noodles are a great alternative.
- Olive oil: The classic choice for any Italian-inspired dish! It’s used to sauté the aromatics for the base of the sauce.
- Garlic & onion: The beautiful combination of flavors that give the sauce its base layer of flavor.
- Diced tomatoes & spaghetti sauce: Use just 1-15-ounce can of tomatoes to give the spaghetti sauce a textural component. Chunks of juicy tomato are great in this recipe. You can swap your favorite jar of store-bought tomato sauce with a homemade marinara sauce.
- Frozen meatballs: No need to thaw them first, just toss them in as is. They’ll thaw quickly while they simmer and heat through as they bake.
- Seasoning: Chopped fresh basil, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Sour cream: This adds a rich creamy consistency to the sauce and mellows out the acidity.
- Burrata: This is a beautiful, extremely delicate, and soft cheese made from cow’s milk cheese and cream. It has a thin outer shell made of just the cheese and once broken, it exposes a runny soft interior made of cheese and cream.
You know your family best. This baked ziti with meatballs is completely flexible and has plenty of ways to make it your own.
- Try using Italian sausage instead of meatballs for something a little different.
- If you can’t find burrata (or you don’t anticipate your family veering from a more traditional cheese), replace it with 1/2 cup of freshly grated mozzarella cheese (not the pre-shredded cheese in a bag).
- Sprinkle some Parmesan on top!
- For spice, add some red pepper flakes to the sauce.
- Use ricotta cheese or heavy cream instead of sour cream.
- There are no right and wrong meatballs to use. Go ahead and use ground beef meatballs, ground pork meatballs, or even chicken meatballs if you want!
- For a little extra seasoning, sprinkle some Italian seasoning in the sauce.
How to Make Baked Ziti with Meatballs
- Make the sauce. In a large pot or large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onion until the onions are tender. Stir in the tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Stir in sour cream. Add the sour cream to the sauce along with the cooked ziti and give it a good stir.
- Assemble the casserole. Spoon 1/2 of the pasta and sauce mixture into the baking dish. Top it with 1/2 of the burrata cheese broken into pieces. Spread it out evenly across the first layer. Then, spoon the remaining ziti mixture overtop and top that with the remaining broken burrata pieces.
- Bake and serve. Bake in a 350°F preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is nice and bubbly!
- Only cook the pasta to al dente. By the time it’s baked in the sauce and then finished baking, it’ll be mushy if it’s overcooked to begin with. Here are a few tips on how to cook pasta.
- For easy cleanup. Use a cast-iron skillet or another oven-safe skillet to make the sauce, and then use it to layer the casserole. Place it directly into the oven to avoid messing up one extra casserole dish.
- If using homemade meatballs, they shouldn’t be raw. They don’t need to be completely cooked through but at least browned on all sides. They will finish cooking as they bake.
- Making a freezer meal for a friend? Bake the pasta in a disposable aluminum foil pan. That way you don’t have to worry about getting it back! Plus, it can go directly into the freezer without having to transfer it.
It doesn’t need to be. I might suggest placing aluminum foil on it if you notice the cheese is browning too quickly, but otherwise you want to give it a chance to turn golden brown.
If you do cover it while it bakes, place it under the broiler uncovered for a couple of minutes at the end.
Baked ziti can be made with or without meat! It doesn’t even need to be baked at all. There are plenty of ways to make it, including Instant Pot baked ziti.
If you want to make it vegetarian, replace the meatballs with loads of veggies!
Ziti pasta is a medium pasta noodle that has a tubular shape with smooth edges and clean straight cuts at the end. No diagonal ends as you’d see in penne and no ridges like penne rigate. Just smooth tubes!
Storing, Freezing and Make-Ahead
Make Ahead. To make ahead, assemble the entire casserole up to 2 days in advance. Cover it with foil and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to bake it. Since it’s coming straight from the fridge, the bake time will be 35-45 minutes.
Store: Store leftovers of baked ziti with meatballs, and keep them stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge. You can also freeze it for up to 1 month. Reheat it in the microwave.
Reheat: If you’re reheating the entire casserole (or most of it) still in the dish, reheat it in the oven at 350°F for 15 minutes, covered loosely with foil. This helps to prevent it from drying out.
Freezing before baking: If you know you’re going to be freezing some of it, to begin with, place half of the ziti with meatballs in an 8×8 baking dish and cover it with foil. Place it in a freezer bag to keep frozen. Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake for 35-45 minutes.
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Baked Ziti with Meatballs
- 1 pound ziti noodles , or penne noodles
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (26-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
- 24 frozen meatballs
- 2-4 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano , or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup sour cream
- 8 ounces burrata torn into large pieces, divided (can substitute with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese)
For serving (optional): Fresh basil or Parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Boil ziti according to package instructions. Drain.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, or until onions are tender. Stir in tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in sour cream and cooked ziti. Spoon 1/2 of the mixture into the baking dish. Top with 1/2 burrata cheese. Spoon the remaining ziti mixture over the cheese. Top with the remaining burrata cheese. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
- Top with fresh basil or parsley, if desired, to serve.
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
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