This Rigatoni Pasta Bake is a hearty and comforting casserole made up meat sauce, rigatoni pasta and cheese! Meal prep and freezer friendly ground beef casserole.
I know we’ve all been there.
It’s 4:59pm, you have a 1 year old on one hip and you’re wondering what to make with the ground beef you took out that can be done with your one remaining hand.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.
The answer? This Rigatoni Pasta Bake.
A pasta bake can really be made of any pasta, and pretty much any sauce, and pretty much any protein or veggies or none at all.
This pasta bake is your new favorite ground beef casserole — made up of rigatoni, cooked just until al dente, a hearty tomato-based meat sauce, and loads of cheese.
If you ask me, casseroles have gotten a bad rep, but in reality they’re a busy mom’s best friend.
You can get all the food groups in one simple dish: protein, veggies, dairy, carbs. You can load it up with all kinds of flavor and sneak in all kinds of things your kids wouldn’t normally want to eat.
You can make it when you have time, stash it in the fridge or freezer, and then pop it in the oven to be ready whenever you need it. So simple, so flavorful.
How to freeze this Rigatoni Pasta Bake:
Like pretty much all ground beef casserole recipes, this Rigatoni Pasta Bake freezes wonderfully.
Simply cover in plastic wrap and then tin foil (to prevent freezer burn), label with the name and date, and pop it in the freezer.
When you’re ready to cook, place in the oven at 350 degrees F, covered only with foil, and bake until heated through, about 50-60 minutes (this can take up to 90 minutes, but you will need to keep an eye on it to be sure). If your baking dish is not freezer-to-oven safe, leave the dish out on the counter for at least 1-2 hours before placing in the oven.
How to prep it ahead:
To make this Rigatoni Pasta Bake ahead, simply prepare up to the point of baking. Cover in plastic wrap or foil, or a lid if your baking dish has one that fits tightly.
Stick it in the fridge up to 3 days, then pour 1/2 cup water over the pasta (trust me on this one!) and bake as per the instructions.
The reason I pour the water over is because as the pasta sits in the refrigerator, it soaks up more of the moisture. Adding water to the dish and then covering will help the pasta and sauce stay moist, and will result in delicious, saucy pasta and not watery pasta as you might think.
Variations of this Rigatoni Pasta Bake:
- To make this pasta bake dairy-free: simply swap the cheese for dairy free cheese or leave it out, and be sure to double check the rest of your ingredients.
- To make this pasta bake gluten-free: swap the regular rigatoni for gluten-free rigatoni or penne, and double check all of your ingredients.
- To bump up the veggie content in this casserole: add extra vegetables to the meat sauce while cooking. Mushrooms, zucchini, peppers or even shredded carrots go well in here!
- To lighten it up: opt for ground turkey or Italian turkey sausage in place of the ground beef, and use low fat cheese. Also be sure to look for a pasta sauce with no added sugar and recognizable ingredients.
Rigatoni Pasta Bake
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 5 cups tomato pasta sauce roughly 2 jars
- 500 grams Rigatoni pasta about 1 lb
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a large saucepan, stir and cook ground beef and onion over medium heat until browned and onions have softened. Drain any juices released.
- Add the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper and cook 1 minute.
- Add the pasta sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, for 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add rigatoni, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook just until al dente (it will continue to cook slightly in the oven).
- Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain pasta. Stir reserved pasta water into meat sauce.
- Combine pasta and pasta sauce in saucepan. Pour into a lightly greased 9x13" or similar baking dish.
- Cover with a lightly greased piece of foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until heated through.
- **Optionally, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Bake at 350 degrees F until heated through, about 30-40 minutes.
- Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Bake an additional 10 minutes, until cheese has started to brown.