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Baked Spaghetti Casserole starts with an amazing, meaty homemade sauce and emerges hot and bubbly from the oven with a layer of crusty cheddar cheese.
Comfort food at its best, there’s no better way to describe this delicious baked spaghetti other than absolutely terrific!
Although you *could* save yourself some time and make this recipe with a jar of marinara sauce, trust me when I say making this spaghetti sauce from scratch is very much worth the effort.
As the sauce simmers, the flavors meld into a rich, hearty sauce that has depth of flavor that you won’t get from a jarred marinara sauce.
That’s why this Baked Spaghetti Casserole is so popular with my family and gets rave reviews at pot luck dinners, too!
Pop the casserole in the oven, add a tossed green salad — like my copycat Bravo’s Insalata Della Casa or my hubby’s favorite Wedge Salad with Crispy Fried Shallots — and a loaf of this amazing cheesy bread to complete the meal.
Then serve it up and sit back as you watch everyone swoon!
NOTE: The original recipe also included “sliced olives” in the sauce, which I did not include in my rendition.
- ground chuck — the higher fat percentage in ground chuck means more flavor, but you can use a leaner ground beef
- extra-virgin olive oil — for cooking the onions and peppers
- butter — adds flavor when cooking the ground beef
- onions — I like using sweet onions as opposed to white or red onions
- green bell peppers — sautéed with the onions first, almost like sofrito
- San Marzano Peeled Whole Tomatoes — plum tomatoes known for their sweetness, intensity and just the right amount of acidity
- ketchup — I thought ketchup instead of tomato sauce seemed unusual, but it may be in place of the sugar you find in some traditional marinara recipes.
- tomato paste — for added flavor and to thicken the sauce
- Worcestershire sauce — again, an unexpected ingredient
- paprika — I used sweet paprika, but smoked paprika is fine, too
- dried oregano — may substitute dried basil or Italian seasoning
- garlic cloves — Can you make any Italian dish without garlic?!
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper — flavor enhancers
- spaghetti noodles — angel hair, bucatini, rigatoni, or penne pasta also work
- sharp cheddar cheese — for a cheesy crust!
The secret is in the sauce
Sauté the aromatics. Some Italian chefs make sofrito — a mixture of slow-cooked, caramelized onions, carrots, and celery — as a flavor base when making sauces. In the same vein, for this spaghetti sauce recipe, onions and green peppers are slow cooked in extra-virgin olive oil until soft and flavorful.
Brown the meat in a hot pan… and butter. In order for ground beef to brown, rather than steam, start with a hot pan. After cooking the onions and peppers, remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon. Melting a pat of butter with any remaining oil in the pan aids in better browning of the meat.
Use the right tomatoes. Don’t pick up just any can of whole tomatoes at the grocery. Make sure the label indicates San Marzano tomatoes, even if you use the store’s private label brand, for the very best flavor. It will make a difference, I promise!
Simmer, simmer, simmer. Combine the caramelized onions and peppers with the ground beef, tomatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pot, stirring occasionally, and simmer for an hour, preferably two.
The tomatoes will break down and the sauce will turn into a rich, meaty, delicious sauce that you won’t be able to resist!
Assemble the casserole
Make this recipe your own by experimenting with your favorite pasta noodles. I had a package of bucatini in my pantry and used those in place of the spaghetti noodles in the original recipe.
- Cook spaghetti noodles just until they are al dente (they will continue cooking in the oven). Drain the noodles and layer in a lightly greased baking dish.
- Spoon the sauce on top, completely covering the noodles.
- Add a generous layer of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes at 375 degrees until the casserole is hot and bubbly and the cheese has melted.
Frequently asked questions
Instead of simmering the sauce on top of the stove for two hours, you may add the cooked onions, peppers, and ground beef to a slow cooker and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook on LOW for 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours.
Absolutely! Assemble the casserole (cooked noodles, sauce, and cheese) before baking and wrap in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
To reheat from frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake as directed in the recipe instructions.
Store tightly wrapped leftovers in the refrigerator up to 4 to 5 days.
To reheat from refrigerated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and heat until bubbly, about 25 minutes.
- Making the spaghetti sauce for this baked spaghetti casserole is a commitment of time, so you may wish to make it ahead beforehand and refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake.
- Cool cooked spaghetti sauce completely before storing or freezing.
- Thaw frozen spaghetti sauce overnight in the refrigerator.
Baked Spaghetti Casserole: behind the recipe
Last year, after my Easy Chicken Cookbook launch, a dear neighbor who was recently widowed invited me over to peruse his wife’s cookbook collection.
He generously offered that I should take any that appealed to me and one treasure I came home with was the anniversary edition of Starr Recipes from Greystone.
Mary Starr, the beloved host of the local Homemakers Show at WATE-TV’s Greystone Studio in Knoxville, Tennessee, shared thousands of recipes on the show from 1955 until 1970-ish.
Many of the recipes included in her cookbook were submitted by her faithful viewers. Mary tested each one in her Homemakers kitchen and gave them a STAR rating: *CHOICE! **GREAT! ***TERRIFIC!
Today’s recipe, originally titled Ann’s Spaghetti in the book, was appropriately labeled with 3 stars and it is indeed TERRIFIC!
Baked Spaghetti Casserole
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cups diced onion about 3 medium
- 2 cups diced green bell peppers 2 large
- 1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
- 1 28-oz. can San Marzano Peeled Whole Tomatoes
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 pound spaghetti cooked
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the diced onions, green peppers, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the veggies to a plate.
- Melt the butter in the same pan and crumble in the beef. Cook and stir until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess grease, leaving some for flavor.
- Return the onions and peppers to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, ketchup, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic. Season with the salt, pepper, paprika, and oregano.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (See below for slow cooker sauce instructions).
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Cook the spaghetti noodles in a pot of boiling salted water as directed on the package until al dente. Drain and layer in the casserole dish.
- Pour the sauce over the noodles, then sprinkle the top with the cheese.
- Bake uncovered until the cheese has melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- You may cook the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze to use later.
- Store leftovers tightly wrapped in the refrigerator up to 4 to 5 days.
- To reheat from refrigerated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and heat until bubbly, about 25 minutes.
Slow Cooker Sauce InstructionsInstead of simmering the sauce on top of the stove for two hours, you may add the cooked onions, peppers, and ground beef to a slow cooker and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook on LOW for 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours.
- Assemble the casserole (cooked noodles, sauce, and cheese) before baking and wrap in plastic wrap and a layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- To reheat from frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake as directed in the recipe instructions.