Baked Spaghetti Casserole is the easiest (not to mention the neatest) way to serve spaghetti to the table! It’s made up of spaghetti noodles coated in parmesan and butter, an easy marinara meat sauce, savory cottage cheese, and a topping of stretchy mozzarella.
Once all of the ingredients come together, the casserole is baked until bubbly, and hot out of the oven, you’ll be presenting a new dinnertime favorite. It’s a tried-and-true, comforting casserole you can count on for both family meals and feeding a crowd.
In addition to a dinner idea even the pickiest of eaters will adore, we’ll also discuss Baked Spaghetti basics like why the pasta in casseroles should only ever be cooked to al dente, the purpose of cottage cheese in this recipe and why it makes this casserole extra special, just why those spaghetti noodles need a little extra love when it comes to Baked Spaghetti, plus, how to make the casserole ahead of time, along with freezing instructions.
HOW TO MAKE BAKED SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE
Making Baked Spaghetti Casserole is very similar to making a lasagna — pasta, sauce, and cheese are layered together to create one glorious casserole that’s easy to serve and loved by all.
- Cook the pasta to al dente.
- Add ground beef, onion, and seasoning to pan and cook until beef is browned and cooked through.
- Transfer to mixing bowl, along with crushed tomatoes and cottage cheese.
- In another mixing bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, and eggs. Then, stir in spaghetti.
- Add half of the spaghetti to the casserole dish, followed by half of the meat sauce, and repeat the layers.
- Top with cheese and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.
WHY COOK THE PASTA TO AL DENTE?
Because the pasta will continue to cook in the oven, you want to be sure it’s not overcooked before it goes into the oven. Cooking the pasta to point of al dente will ensure it’s not mushy and overcooked come dinnertime. Al dente pasta still has a little bit of chew to it, but it should not be hard to chew by any means.
ABOUT THE MEAT SAUCE
Homemade marinara meat sauce is eons better than anything you would find from a jar, and in the case of Baked Spaghetti Casserole, it’s actually even easier. There’s no stovetop simmering or wasted time. Because the casserole will bake in the oven, the ground beef, crushed tomatoes, and the seasoning have plenty of time to build flavor throughout the duration of the bake.
After the ground beef is browned and the onion is softened, the two will go into a mixing bowl, along with crushed tomatoes and the cottage cheese.
However, if you’d rather use storebought marinara in your Baked Spaghetti, this is completely fine. Just omit the seasoning ingredients called for in this recipe, and rather season the ground beef to taste. Then, omit the crushed tomatoes as well, and sub in a 15-ounce jar of storebought marinara sauce
WHY USE COTTAGE CHEESE?
Cottage cheese is a miracle ingredient for Baked Spaghetti Casserole. If you don’t care for it on its own, don’t worry — it takes on the flavors of spaghetti, not the other way around. Cottage cheese in Baked Spaghetti Casserole helps to keep the casserole moist, and the cheese curds that pervade throughout turn into delicious little cheesy morsels.
However, if you’d like you can substitute cottage cheese for ricotta cheese, but note, the casserole will be thicker and slightly drier.
NOODLES AND EGGS | MAKES MORE SENSE THAN YOU THINK
Every part of this recipe is loaded with flavor and the noodles are no exception! After they come out of the boiling water, they go into a mixture of Parmesan cheese, butter, and eggs. The eggs in this recipe serve multiple purposes, one of which is helping the Parmesan to stay put, while the butter adds flavor and helps the mixture to easily coat the noodles.
Normally, when noodles are baked in a casserole they absorb a fair amount of the water content in the sauce. This can result in a dry casserole. Coating the noodles with egg and cheese will help prevent them from sucking up too much moisture from the sauce. The egg will also help to bind the ingredients together, making it easier to cut the Baked Spaghetti Casserole into individual portions.
MORE CHEESE, PLEASE.
Once your meat mixture has been prepared, as well as your noodles, it’s time to layer the two in the casserole dish and top with one last layer of cheese. For this layer, you can use either fresh mozzarella (my personal favorite) or low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese.
If using fresh mozzarella, be sure to pat out the excess moisture with paper towels before topping off your casserole.
Once you’ve got a substantial layer of mozzarella going, you’ll end the whole shebang with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and bake until beautiful and bubbly.
MAKE-AHEAD BAKED SPAGHETTI CASSEROLE
Starting from the time you make your meat sauce, your Baked Spaghetti Casserole will stay good in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. This means you can assemble it all at once, bake it, and eat on it for 4 days.
The meat and onion mixture can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. However, reserve cooking the noodles until you are ready to assemble the casserole.
You can also assemble the entire casserole as indicated in the recipe (up to the point of baking) as far as 3 days in advance. For this preparation, be sure to seal and cover tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and keep refrigerated until the day you intend to serve it. Note, you’ll want to take the casserole out of the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes before baking to remove the chill. Then, bake as directed.
HOW TO FREEZE IT
Once your Baked Spaghetti Casserole has cooled, you can transfer it to a large, freezer-safe zip top bag, taking care to press out any excess air. Store it in the freezer for 2-3 months. For quicker thawing, lay the sealed zip-top a flat surface and freeze it this way.
You could also freeze the contents of the casserole in a freezer-safe, airtight storage container, just be sure there is not a ton of room for air to circulate at the top as this will increase the chances of freezer burn.
5 MORE DINNER RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- Easy Spaghetti and Meatballs features easy homemade meatballs baked in the oven, and a simple marinara sauce recipe perfect for family dinners!
- Cheesy Chicken Spaghetti is a creamy, chicken pasta casserole with peppers, mushrooms, and a Cheddar cheese sauce.
- Weeknight Marinara is made easy with a quick simmer of canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and more!
- Four-Cheese Lasagna Bolognese features layers of homemade tomato sauce, flavorful Italian sausage, creamy ricotta, parmesan cheese, melty Mozzarella, and Fontina.
- Ground Turkey Casserole with Pasta is a delicious Mexican-inspired casserole with taco-seasoned ground turkey, a quick-fix tomato sauce, pasta, and Monterrey Jack cheese.
Delicious and comforting, Baked Spaghetti Casserole with a marinara meat sauce, cottage cheese and a topping of melty mozzarella is the perfect family meal!
- 1 (16 ounce) package spaghetti noodles
- 1 pound ground beef (80/20)
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups cottage cheese
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly minced basil, optional (plus extra for topping, if desired)
- 1 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, separated
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 large (12 ounce) package fresh mozzarella medallions, patted dry (or 1 1/2 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese)
Preheat the oven to 350° and have ready a greased 9x13" casserole dish or lasagna pan.
Bring a large, salted pot of water to a roaring boil and cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Strain and set aside until ready to use.
Place a large pan over medium-high heat and bring to temperature. Add ground beef, onion, Kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Break apart the ground beef, and cook 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally until the beef is cooked through. The beef will taste salty.
Remove from the heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the ground beef to a medium-sized mixing bowl, along with crushed tomatoes, cottage cheese, sugar, and basil and stir. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add 1 cup grated Parmesan, melted butter, and beaten eggs and stir to combine. Add the cooked spaghetti noodles and stir once more.
Add half of the spaghetti to the casserole dish, followed by half of the meat sauce. Repeat with the layers with the remaining spaghetti and sauce, and top with the mozzarella and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before cutting, serve and enjoy!