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This ground beef casserole recipe is super easy to throw together and feeds a crowd! It’s comforting and uses simple ingredients.
Why you’ll love it
This cheesy beef and pasta casserole is sure to be a hit with the kiddos. It’s also really easily adaptable based on what you’ve got in the fridge/pantry/etc. You could even throw in some extra veggies if you want. It’s a favorite around here, and that’s because it’s very tasty for how few ingredients are involved in this budget-friendly meal.
I wasn’t sure whether to call this a casserole or ground beef pasta bake or what. Basically, you just boil up some penne, and while that’s cooking, you make a quick tomato and meat sauce. You then toss it together in a casserole dish, top it with cheese, and bake. It couldn’t be easier, and I think that’s what we’re all looking for on busy weeknights!
What you’ll need
- Penne – I like this shape because it’s sturdy and holds up great in casseroles with the sauce and cheese
- Onion and garlic – our tasty base aromatics. Sweet (Vidalia) onion is my go-to, but yellow works as well.
- Ground beef – I used extra lean hamburger meat here. Aim for 90% or more.
- Olive oil – for sautéing
- Marinara sauce – just grab a jar of your favorite brand that you enjoy the taste of since it’s a key ingredient
- Cheddar cheese – I grate my own from a block of cheddar for best taste and freshness
- The ingredient quantities don’t have to be exact. A bit more or less beef will be totally fine. Want to add more sauce? Go ahead. Same with the cheese. Many readers like to use the entire jar of marinara sauce. It’s all good! 🙂 This recipe definitely can be adapted based on what’s in your pantry.
- I recommend slightly undercooking any pasta/noodles so it doesn’t go mushy in the oven.
- This recipe can easily be halved if you need a smaller quantity and made in an 8×8 dish instead.
How to make this ground beef casserole
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Preheat your oven to 400F, and grease a baking dish. Boil the pasta for a minute less than package directions. Meanwhile, add the oil, onion, and beef to a skillet. Sauté until cooked, adding the garlic once it gets going. Spoon out any excess fat, then pour in the marinara and warm through. Taste and season with salt & pepper as needed.
Drain the pasta, and add it to the baking dish. Pour the beef mixture over top, and toss to combine. Spread everything in an even layer. Top with the cheddar cheese, and bake uncovered until melty. Broil if desired to brown the cheese, and enjoy right away.
Tools for this recipe
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Substitutions and variations
- Any jarred tomato-based pasta sauce will work, or use a similar amount of tomato sauce or even a combo of tomato products such as diced tomatoes and tomato paste or crushed tomatoes. I’d then add in a bit of Italian seasoning or other herbs for more flavor.
- You can substitute the penne with whatever pasta you have on hand or (even use egg noodles like some casseroles do).
- Ground turkey or Italian sausage are other protein options instead of the beef, or you could do a mixture.
- If you want to put a Tex-Mex spin on this hamburger pasta casserole, add in some beans, Taco Seasoning, and use a Mexican cheese blend.
- For some veggie content, stir in some frozen mixed vegetables until thawed. Simply add to the skillet and cook for a couple minutes once the beef is browned.
Make ahead tips
- Up to 1 day ahead: assemble it, cover and refrigerate, and then bake as directed below, possibly adding a few more minutes onto the time to ensure it’s cooked all the way through if it’s cold from the fridge.
- Freezer instructions: assemble it, and then cover it tightly and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw for 24 hours in the refrigerator, then bake it as indicated. I would definitely recommend using more sauce for make-ahead methods.
- Baking from frozen: warm it up on the counter for a bit so that the casserole dish doesn’t crack. It will take a little longer, so bake covered with foil until the middle is hot, and then broil the cheese at the end, watching carefully.
What to serve with this ground beef casserole
- It’s pretty hearty, so I like to enjoy it with a side salad. Mixed greens with my Homemade Italian Dressing round out the meal, or go all out and make a Caesar salad with my popular 10 Minute Caesar Dressing.
- Breadsticks, a dinner roll, or a slice of hot and bubbly Cheesy Garlic Bread are all good ideas as well.
Leftovers and storage
- Keep any leftovers of this beef casserole in a covered container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
- Reheat in a saucepan over a low heat until warmed through, or microwave in short intervals. Since the pasta will absorb sauce over time, feel free to add a splash more marinara when reheating.
- I generally don’t suggest freezing leftover pasta, but if you typically do that with success, go for it!
Let me know if you’ll give this easy ground beef pasta casserole recipe a try! Questions? Leave me a comment below. You can also find me on Instagram.
Simple Ground Beef Casserole
- 1 pound uncooked penne
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1/2 medium onion chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1.5 cups marinara sauce
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Preheat your oven to 400F and move the rack to the middle position. Grease a 9×13 baking dish (I use Pam spray).
- Boil a large, salted pot of water for the penne. Cook it for 10 minutes (it should be slightly underdone so it doesn't get mushy).
- Add the oil, beef, and onion to a skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat, breaking the meat up as you go along, for 10 minutes. Once it gets going, stir in the garlic. Spoon out excess fat if needed.
- Stir in the marinara sauce and warm through. Give it a taste and season with salt & pepper as needed.
- Drain the pasta and pour it into the baking dish. Pour the beef mixture over top and then toss until it's combined with the pasta. Top with an even layer of the cheese. If you want it extra cheesy, you can stir in an additional half cup of cheese prior to topping it with the rest of the cheese.
- Bake for 10 minutes, uncovered, until the cheese is nicely melted. I then broil it for a few minutes (optional) to brown the cheese up a bit. Serve immediately.
- This is a very flexible recipe where additions/substitutions/etc. are fine. I have some tips within the blog post.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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This recipe was originally published on April 17, 2020. It’s been updated with new photos and better instructions but is the same great recipe!