Macaroni Pasta Bake


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This Macaroni Pasta Bake is easy to make with ground beef, marinara sauce, pasta and cheese. Use elbow macaroni or any short pasta shape in this comforting baked pasta casserole.

Close up of cheesy pasta bake on a wooden spoon.

Growing up, this macaroni pasta bake was one of my favorite dinners that my mom made for us. She called it Macaroni Meat Casserole, and as soon as I was old enough, she taught me how to make the recipe.

I’ve been making this macaroni casserole ever since. Cheesy, saucy pasta baked together with ground beef is a crowd-pleasing, no fuss dinner. Get more dinner ideas.

When life is feeling a bit overwhelming, cheesy baked pasta can be a perfect way to nourish both your body and soul. This macaroni pasta casserole is easy to make using just a few ingredients. The steps to prepare it are simple, and you won’t need to spend all day in the kitchen. This recipe is a great one to prepare early in the day and then bake in the evening right before dinner time.

One thing that I love about this recipe is that it makes enough to feed a crowd. Which means that my family can get a few meals out of this pasta bake. The best part? This baked pasta tastes even better on the second and third day after the flavors have had time to come together. Delicious leftovers are the best because it means you get a night off from cooking. 😉

When we’re craving some cheesy pasta comfort food, this easy pasta bake is one of our favorites. For more easy pasta recipes, try my Macaroni and Cheese, Penne Pasta Bake and this One Pot Baked Ziti.

The finished dish in a white baking dish.

How to make this Pasta Bake

I usually make this recipe with lean ground beef, but ground turkey or sausage would also work well. You can boost the nutrition of this pasta dinner by using whole wheat pasta and adding extra vegetables to the sauce.

The first step to making this is to boil the pasta. Adding a little salt to the pasta cooking water helps to flavor the pasta as it cooks. When the pasta is done, take a mug or measuring cup and scoop out some of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. The water has starches from the pasta and you’ll add about 1/2 cup of it to the marinara sauce.

While the pasta boils, sauté chopped onion and bell pepper in a skillet. If you want to add more veggies to your pasta bake, add them to the skillet now. Next you’ll add minced garlic and ground beef to the pan and cook until the beef is browned.

Cooking onion, bell pepper and ground beef in a skillet.

Stir in marinara sauce and the reserved pasta cooking water. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer everything together for about 10 minutes to develop the flavors.

Now it’s time to put everything together. After draining the pasta, return it to the empty pot. Pour in the beef and sauce mixture and stir to combine. Then stir in some shredded cheddar cheese. Transfer everything to a baking dish and sprinkle on some shredded mozzarella cheese.

Bake the casserole until it is hot and the cheese begins to brown, about 20 minutes. (Find the full recipe directions, including a list of ingredients and amounts, in the recipe box below.)

Freezer and Reheating Instructions

The easiest way to reheat leftover baked pasta is to heat it in the microwave. You can also put it in a 350° F oven, covered, and heat until hot. You can store baked pasta for up to four days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

This pasta bake freezes well. To freeze after baking, let it cool completely and then freeze in an airtight container. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat as directed above.

You can also freeze the casserole before baking. Be sure to freeze it in an oven-safe baking dish. Thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and then bake it in your oven until it’s hot and bubbly.

Macaroni pasta casserole with cheese in a white bowl.

Cooking Tips for Baked Pasta

  • Be careful to not overcook the pasta when you boil it on the stove. You want the pasta to hold its shape in the casserole.
  • Remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. The starches in the water help the sauce to come together, but if you forget to reserve the pasta water you can use regular water.
  • I like to use one 32 ounce jar of Costco marinara sauce in this recipe and find it to be the perfect amount of sauce. You can use any marinara sauce (store bought or homemade).
  • If you don’t have elbow macaroni, any short pasta shape, such as rigatoni, penne or rotini will work in this recipe.

 

Macaroni Pasta Bake

Close up of cheesy pasta bake on a wooden spoon.
Print Pin
5 from 1 vote
This Macaroni Pasta Bake is easy to make with ground beef, marinara sauce, pasta and cheese. Use elbow macaroni or any short pasta shape in this comforting baked pasta casserole.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword baked pasta, easy pasta recipes, pasta bake
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time55 mins
Servings 10 servings
Calories 401kcal

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces elbow pasta or other short pasta shape
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 bell pepper chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 32 ounces marinara sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish or other large rectangular baking dish.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. Be careful to not overcook the pasta. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the pot.
  • Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the ground beef to the pan. Crumble the beef and cook until it is browned.
  • Pour the marinara sauce and reserved ½ cup of pasta cooking water into the skillet. Stir in the salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Pour the meat and sauce mixture from the skillet into the pot with the pasta. Stir. Stir in the shredded cheddar cheese. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Top with the mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the casserole is hot and the cheese is lightly browned on top. Let stand for 5 minutes and then serve.

Notes

  • If you forget to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta, you can use regular water.
  • You can substitute the ground beef with ground turkey or sausage.
  • If you don't have elbow macaroni, any short pasta shape, such as rigatoni, penne or rotini will work in this recipe. You can use whole wheat pasta if you prefer.
  • I like to use one 32 ounce jar of Costco marinara sauce in this recipe and find it to be the perfect amount of sauce. You can use any marinara sauce (store bought or homemade).

Nutrition

Calories: 401kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 61mg | Sodium: 836mg | Potassium: 641mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1068IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 250mg | Iron: 3mg
Nutrition information is an estimate.
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