If you’re looking for a meal that the whole family will demolish, this Smoky Meatball Pasta Bake from Ciara at My Fussy Eater is just the thing! I’m reviewing her new cookbook today (spoiler alert, it’s awesome) and sharing the full recipe below!
If there’s one thing I can guarantee in life, it’s that my kids will never turn down a plate of meatballs, pasta and cheese.

Overhead image of a dish of meatball and pasta bake on a blue background
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I’m pretty fortunate that my two aren’t too fussy when it comes to food. They do have their moments every now and then though:

“Mushrooms?? eugh that’s just fungus” nice.

“I don’t like ham sandwiches, can I have hummus and crudites for lunch with those mini cucumbers I like and the rainbow coloured tomatoes?” sometimes I find those fussy comments the worst, because the swap they’re asking for is actually healthier, but takes a lot more effort to make (and remember to shop for!).

“Mum has this got onions in? I don’t like onions” pushing them to the side of his plate, despite the fact he’s eaten thousands of meals with onions in, and this time I just didn’t chop them quite as small.

Overhead of My Fussy Eater cookbook with a recipe from the book (meatball pasta bake). Garlic cloves and thyme scattered on blue background.

It’s so disheartening when you’ve cooked a lovely meal and the kids don’t appreciate it. Which is why I think it’s useful to have some advice in your back pocket about how to deal with these situations. Not only that, but also to understand why your little one might be having a fussy moment, and to have the tools to prevent it altogether – WITHOUT cooking separate meals for the kids, catering to their whims or tastes on that particular day.

My friend Ciara from My Fussy Eater is definitely an expert in the area of fussy eating. Having two little ones of her own, she’s describes in her new book My Fussy Eater (<– affiliate link) lots of strategies for dealing with fussy eaters.

She starts off explaining some of the normal behaviour that any parent can expect to see regarding food (toddlers exerting their independence through making food choices, children’s perfectly normal wariness around new foods – which is different from adults excitement and anticipation around trying something new).

She then continues with actionable steps, including taking things slowly, using positive language, getting the children involved in meal preparation and breaking routines. Also touching on the sometimes controversial subject of hidden veggies, and deeper seated food difficulties of children with sensory issues (Ciara’s youngest is on the autism spectrum).

The book is packed with lots of delicious, family-friendly recipes covering meals, snacks, desserts and sauces. It really does have a positive vibe to it and a supportive message, with healthy swaps and nutritous meals, bursting with colours and flavour.

Plus there are meals plans too! (Love a good meal plan 😁)

Some of my favourites from the book that I’m looking forward to trying are:

  • Healthy strawberry lemonade
  • Finn’s sweet potato chocolate cake
  • Kiddie ketchup
  • One-pot salmon linguine

and of course we loved this Smoky Meatball Pasta Bake!!

A spoonful of meatball and pasta bake behind lifted from the dish. Cheese is stretching.

Juicy meatballs made with garlic, breadcrumbs, herbs, egg and shallots:

Mixture for meatballs in a bowl on a blue background

All mixed together, rolled into balls (the kids love helping with that bit) and baked in the oven.

Meatballs lined up in a dish, ready for the oven.
Close up overhead of meatball and pasta bake

Once baked, they’re topped with cooked pasta, an easy smoky sauce and a big pile of cheese, before being baked in the oven until bubbling and melty.

Plenty enough for a family of four (even five or six at a push, but we’re a bit of a greedy family!!).

My Fussy Eater cookbook showing meatball pasta bake recipe. Dish of meatball pasta bake next to book.

I served it up with some homemade garlic bread and it went down a storm, and I’ve already been asked to make it again!

Note – I was not paid for this review, but I was gifted a copy of Ciara’s book. All opinions are my own.

If you like this and are craving over pasta recipes that aren’t spag bol then why not take a look at this roundup of some of my favourites.  Or why not try some of my other meatball recipes:

4.17 from 6 votes

Smoky Meatball Pasta Bake

If you’re looking for a meal that the whole family will demolish, this Smoky Meatball Pasta Bake is just the thing! Smoky Meatballs in a tangy tomato sauce, baked together with rigatoni pasta and topped with lots of bubbling melted cheese.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian



  • 500 g (17.5 oz) minced beef
  • 1 shallot finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove peeled and minced
  • 60 g (1 cup + 1 tbsp) breadcrumbs I used half fresh and half dried
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tsp Italian dried herbs I used a mixture of oregano and thyme
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil


  • 250 g (8.8 oz) dried pasta I used rigatoni

Smoky Sauce:

  • 400 g (14 oz) tinned chopped tomatoes or passata Ciara uses passata, but I used chopped tomatoes in mine as that’s what I had in
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup minus 1 tsp) beef stock Ciara gives the option of using red wine or beef stock
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika


  • 80 g (3/4 cup) grated Cheddar cheese Ciara uses 40g, but we like lots of cheese
  • 30 g (1/4 cup + 1 tsp) grated mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley to garnish
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  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F (fan).
  • Start by making the meatballs. Place the minced beef, shallot, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, dried herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl and mix together to combine.
    500 g (17.5 oz) minced beef, 1 shallot, 1 garlic clove, 60 g (1 cup + 1 tbsp) breadcrumbs, 1 medium egg, 1 tsp Italian dried herbs, salt and pepper to taste
  • Lightly grease a large baking dish with the vegetable oil, then form the mince mixture into 12 meatballs (about the size of a golf ball). Place in the prepared baking dish.
    1 tsp vegetable oil
  • Place the meatballs in the oven and cook for 15 minutes until browned.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the pack instructions (usually boil in plenty of water for approx 12-14 minutes). Drain the pasta once cooked.
    250 g (8.8 oz) dried pasta
  • Make the smoky sauce by mixing the tinned tomatoes/passata, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and a pinch of salt and pepper together in a jug or bowl.
    400 g (14 oz) tinned chopped tomatoes or passata, 75 ml (1/3 cup minus 1 tsp) beef stock, 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste
  • Remove the meatballs from the oven. Nestle the cooked pasta in between the meatballs (I like to leave some bits of pasta sticking up to get a few crunchy bits) and pour over the sauce.
  • Sprinkle on the cheddar and mozzarella and place bake in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and started bubbling.
    80 g (3/4 cup) grated Cheddar cheese, 30 g (1/4 cup + 1 tsp) grated mozzarella
  • Top with a little freshly chopped parsley and serve with green veggies or salad.
    chopped parsley to garnish



Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. Cool completely before placing in the fridge.


Reheat by covering with foil and placing in the oven at 180C/350F for 15-20 minutes until piping hot throughout.


You can also cover and freeze this dish for up to 3 months. Defrost thoroughly before reheating as per above.

Gluten free modifications:

You can make the dish gluten free by swapping the breadcrumbs and pasta for gluten free versions. If using stock, use a gluten free stock cube or bouillon. Worcestershire sauce and passata/tinned tomatoes are usually gluten free, but check your brand.
Nutritional Information is per serving.


Calories: 635kcal | Carbohydrates: 68g | Protein: 47g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 145mg | Sodium: 797mg | Potassium: 995mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 770IU | Vitamin C: 10.5mg | Calcium: 286mg | Iron: 6.7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.


In order to make this Smoky Meatball Pasta Bake recipe you will need:

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links – which means if you buy the product I get a small commission (at no extra cost to you). If you do buy, then thank you! That’s what helps us to keep Kitchen Sanctuary running. The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary depending on several factors. For more information please see our Terms & Conditions.

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Hi, I'm Nicky and I love to cook! I want to share with you my favourite, delicious family friendly recipes. I want to inspire you to create fantastic food for your family every day.

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  1. Lauren says:

    5 stars
    I was sceptical to use this recipe due to having so few ingredients and such a simple method however I can safely say it is the tastiest, most simple dish and it will become my weekly staple and go to. I didn’t make the meatballs as I already had some in the fridge, so it was just a case of making up the sauce, cooking the pasta, throwing it all together and topping with cheese. It did not disappoint, 11/10.

  2. Stacey says:

    Just made this tonight, I thought the sauce was too runny, but actually the dish needed that to soak into the meatballs, which were a bit dry as I used 5% fat minced beef. All the family liked it, will def do again,, thank you for the recipe!!

    1. Ciara says:

      1 star
      Cooking times were inaccurate, I had to cook everything nearly double time.
      I couldn’t find ‘chopped/ passada’ canned tomatoes at jewel osco So I picked up picked tomatoes and the sauce was super runny.

      The sauce didn’t stick to pasta and, I didn’t see anything bubbling. The only thing that looked remotely close to your photo was the cheese topping.

      This recipe also could’ve used more instruction and tips and less blog talk.
      Very disappointed with this recipe.

  3. Liliac says:

    5 stars
    This was 100% fantastic. I omitted worstishire sauce and added some fresh garlic instead. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a smokey flavor!

  4. Annie B. says:

    Do you have measurements in cups and or ounces?

    1. Chris Corbishley says:

      Hi Annie,

      If you click the button above the ingredients that says **Convert To US Measures** then it will change the amounts to cups and oz.


      Chris & Nicky

  5. Teresa says:

    Very good dish. I put fresh spinach in mine. I used frozen turkey meatballs although homemade meatballs sounds wonderful. My grandson loved it.

  6. BJones says:

    Very good dish!
    I followed it fairly accurately, except the meatballs could’ve used a bit more salt. I also put finely chopped onion (instead of shallot) in the meatballs and the same onion, plus finely chopped carrot (both softened in olive oil over heat), and fresh rosemary in the sauce, which I use canned crushed tomatoes for. Used more cheddar and mozzarella blended together too. Used crushed gluten-free seasoned matzo crackers for bread crumbs and boxed GF penne pasta. The smoked paprika and Worcestershire really makes it good! Thanks!! I will make again!
    (P.S. I had three extra meatballs, so I cooked those in a skillet and then crumbled them into the sauce also)

  7. Hannah says:

    I used store bought meatballs and a tin of chopped tomatoes. It was alright but too runny and bland. Next time I will make it with red pesto rather than chopped tomatoes.

  8. Cliff Hobson says:

    My grandchildren loved this recipe.

  9. Amanda renshaw says:

    Used pre-made meatballs that were on offer at my supermarket. All the other ingredients I had, so it was a very economical meal for the family. And I have to say – it was Delish!! Xx

  10. 2pots2cook says:

    5 stars
    Oh boy ! Looks great !