One Pan Baked Cavatappi and Meatballs

This easy recipe is a family favorite that presents a pretty balanced meal that has something for everyone in it.
40 mins prep to plate


1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large red onion, diced

1-2 Tablespoons minced garlic

1 Tablespoon dried parsley

1 Tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (25 ounce package) meatballs, frozen

12 ounces spinach, frozen chopped

2 (14.5 ounce cans) fire roasted tomatoes, diced

16 ounces dried cavatappi pasta

8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, shredded

1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated

1 ounce romano cheese, grated

Like most of my recipes, most measurements are approximate. Feel free to adjust to your own tastes. If you haven’t already read my One Pan Method page, please do so now. This will be a lot easier if you understand the methodology well before beginning.

Put the appropriate amount of water and some salt in a pot to boil for the pasta, and get it started on a back burner. It’ll be boiling about the right time to drop the pasta in while the sauce is still cooking.

In a 5 quart saute pan, add olive oil and diced red onion and begin to caramelize over medium heat. As onions become less opaque, add minced garlic to the center of the pan. When garlic starts to sizzle, sprinkle dried parsley, oregano, basil and salt evenly around the pan to toast. When herbs become aromatic (smell good), add frozen meatballs evenly around the pan and toss (or stir) to coat. Put the lid on the pan while you prepare the spinach.

If you are working with frozen spinach, you can speed its thawing by slicing the “brick” with a sharp chef’s knife into 0.25 inch slices. This is a fast way to cut the spinach into smaller pieces that incorporate better into the sauce, and you don’t have to heat it before putting it in the pan. You also don’t have to deal with hot spinach juice. Simply place the frozen slices evenly around the dish right on top of the rest that’s already steaming nicely. We’re on the home-stretch for the cooktop…

Pre-heat your oven to convection bake at 400 F (or regular bake at 450 F if you don’t have a convection oven). If your oven is like mine, it might take longer than 10 minutes to pre-heat, so you may want to turn it on earlier in the process. The sauce can hold a while longer, but you don’t want the pasta to hold for long! Speaking of pasta… It’s time to drop it in that water that should be boiling rapidly by now. Cook it for the minimum amount of time on the box for “al dente” firmness. It’s going to get cooked some more after you boil it, so don’t overcook it.

Stir in 2 cans of diced fire-roasted tomatoes juice and all, and let it simmer uncovered  while you wait for the pasta to finish. When the pasta is done, before you drain it, pour some of the starchy pasta water in the sauce. It acts as a slight thickener and flavor booster. Drain the pasta and immediately incorporate it into the sauce letting it cook a few minutes and soak up some liquid.

If you have an oven safe pan like I do, top the sauce evenly with all of the cheeses, and put it uncovered on the center rack of the hot oven. Bake for 10 minutes or until the top begins to brown to your liking.

Serve it hot, right out of the oven, and take in all of the applause… Success!

There are plenty of optional ingredients in a recipe like this. Make your own meatballs? Great! Want to fire roast your own tomatoes or like regular diced tomatoes better? Go for it! Prefer fresh spinach to frozen? You guessed it… use it! 

My ingredient list is designed to be quick and easy from start to finish, but feel free to modify it however you like. Let your creative juices flow… just try to keep them off the floor… that makes for quite a mess!

Follow Chef Dave on Instagram

See what recipes are coming before they arrive on the site as they happen in my kitchen. Tell me what you'd like to see a recipe for directly. Maybe your idea will inspire the next recipe!

Affiliate Links

This site uses affiliate links to and other sites. If you make a purchase from any of these links, you will only pay the regular price (nothing added on), and we will get a small commission. It’s a win, win! Thanks for helping us keep our spice cabinet full so we can keep bringing you new recipes! -Chef Dave Palmer