Baked ziti with meatballs is a comforting dish that combines pasta and creamy ricotta, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheeses with a simple marinara and tiny meatballs. Baked until bubbly and golden on top, this baked pasta is sure to be a favorite in your home!
I’m a big believer that tiny meatballs can make any dish better.
This baked pasta with tiny meatballs was born out of my love for meatballs and baked pasta and I know you’ll love this one too.
When I make this I’ll usually split it into two casserole dishes: one to be eaten right away, and another to have for during the week when things get busy. But if you want one dish, a 9×13-inch dish works well.
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Preheat the oven to 375f, set the rack to the middle level, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mince 3 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup worth of flat-leaf parsley and add them to a large bowl along with a 1/2 pound of ground chuck, 1/2 pound of ground pork, 2 large eggs, 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, and 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Mix with your hands until incorporated, but try not to overmix since that can stiffen up the meatballs.
- Using your hands, begin to roll tiny meatballs about 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter and place them on the baking sheet. Note: Keep a small bowl of cold water next to you to moisten your hands before rolling the meatballs. This will help you roll them without the meat sticking to your hands.
- Continue rolling the meatballs until the mixture is gone and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they reach 165f internally.
- While the meatballs cook, start to prepare the sauce. Dice one medium onion and slice 4 cloves of garlic. Add the onion to a large pan or pot along with 1/4 cup of olive oil and saute over medium heat until translucent (about 5 minutes).
- Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes, or until fragrant, then add 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
- Add 2 28-ounce cans of crushed plum tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Note: if using whole plum tomatoes, you can place them in a separate bowl and crush with your hands. Blender pulsing also works.
- Taste test the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to continue to simmer on low while you bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook 1 pound of ziti (or penne, rigatoni, etc) to 2 minutes less than al dente.
- Place 4 cups of sauce into a large bowl and add the pasta. Add the meatballs, 1 pound of ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of grated Pecorino Romano, and 3/4 pound of shredded mozzarella cheese and mix well. Note: if you’d like to save meatballs on the side to add to the top, reserve about 8 on the side for use in step 10.
- Prepare a 9×13 baking dish by placing a 1/4-inch thick layer of sauce on the bottom. Note: we used two smaller baking dishes in the images below.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the baking dish and top with a thin layer of sauce and a 1/4 pound of shredded mozzarella. If you reserved meatballs for the end, add them now.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Note: placing the baking dish on top of a baking sheet will help prevent any spillage that may occur.
- Once the ziti is browned on top, remove it from the oven, or for extra color, broil for 1-2 minutes but watch carefully. Wait at least 10 minutes before serving to allow the pasta to settle. Enjoy!
Top tips for baked ziti with meatballs
- Pasta. We used ziti pasta for this recipe but you can use any tubular-shaped pasta, such as rigatoni or penne. Be sure to undercook the pasta to about 2 minutes less than al dente because the pasta will continue to cook as it’s baked in the oven. Undercooking will help prevent mushy baked ziti.
- Meatballs. We used a combination of beef and pork for these meatballs as we find the combination to be the most flavorful, but you can also use our turkey meatballs if you prefer. When making the meatballs, mix only until combined to help prevent tough meatballs.
- Baking. Be sure to place a thick layer of sauce on the bottom of your baking dish (or dishes) as this will help prevent the baked ziti from sticking to the bottom. When baking, if you’d like a more golden top, place it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes but be sure to watch carefully to prevent burning.
More comfy baked pastas
Here are some of our favorite baked pastas to get you comfy and cozy!
- Riso al forno – not pasta, but just as good, baked rice with peas and cheese in a tomato-meat sauce.
- Baked penne with Italian sausage – ricotta, mozzarella, sausage and tomato sauce.
- Creamy mushroom pasta bake – rigatoni, roasted mushrooms, thyme, spinach, ricotta, and fontina.
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Baked Ziti with Meatballs
For the tiny meatballs
- 1/2 pound ground chuck
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup flat leaf Italian parsley minced
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano grated
For the sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 2 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound ziti or penne, rigatoni, etc
- 1 pound mozzarella shredded, divided
- 1 pound ricotta
- 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano grated
For the meatballs
- Preheat oven to 375f and set rack to middle level.
- In a large bowl mix together all of the meatball ingredients. Form tiny meatballs about a 1/2 to 3/4-inch in diameter.
- Place the tiny meatballs on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake until they reach 165f internal temp (about 15-20 minutes). While the meatballs are baking start the sauce.
For the sauce
- In a large pan or pot saute the onion in olive oil for 4 minutes over medium heat or until translucent. Next, add the garlic and cook for about 2 more minutes or until fragrant. Add the hot red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add the plum tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Taste test the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce simmer on low and move to the next step.
Assembling the baked ziti with meatballs
- While the sauce is simmering bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti pasta until 2 minutes less than al dente.
- Prepare a 9 by 13 baking dish by placing a 1/4 inch thick layer of sauce on the bottom.
- Place 4 cups of sauce into a large bowl and add the pasta. Also, add the meatballs, ricotta, Pecorino Romano, and 3/4 of the shredded mozzarella. Mix well.
- Pour the pasta into the baking dish. Top with a thin layer of sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned on top. For extra color broil for 1-2 more minutes but watch carefully! Wait at least 10 minutes before eating so that the pasta settles. Enjoy!
- Makes 6 large or 8 moderate-sized portions.
- Undercook the pasta! Fully boiled pasta will become mushy after baking for another 30 minutes, so shoot for a bit firmer than al dente or about 2 minutes less than the box instructions.
- Put a hefty layer of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish to avoid sticking.
- Bake the pasta until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned on top. For extra color, broil for 1-2 minutes, but watch very carefully to avoid burning.
- Leftover sauce can be saved or served on the side or used for bread dipping.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.