Baked spaghetti cooks right in the baking dish with no boiling of the pasta required! Loaded with fresh vegetables and light ground turkey, this healthy family dinner is a hit on a busy night.
Spaghetti night is a popular go-to family dinner for such good reason:
The kids love it, it is easy to prepare, and you practically don't even need a recipe to cook it.
This baked spaghetti recipe takes all of those benefits and adds an even bigger bonus: You don't even need to boil the pasta!
Use my strategic prep tips and you can even have a second baked spaghetti casserole ready to pop in the oven in under 5 minutes on another night.
- Why This is the Best Recipe
- Brown the Ground Turkey
- Prep the Veggies
- Assemble the Spaghetti Casserole
- Baking Instructions
- Freezer Meal Kit Tips
- Serving Suggestions
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- 📖 Recipe
- 💬 Comments
Why This is the Best Recipe
Pasta is practically its own food group in our family and it is featured heavily in our dinner rotation. After all the many recipes I've tried, I think this is the best baked spaghetti recipe because:
- No Boil Spaghetti: YES! The pasta bakes right in the baking dish and comes out perfectly al dente--not mushy, not underdone, it is just right. This means you don't have to pre-boil and drain the pasta, dirtying another pan to wash.
- SO Much Flavor: Since the pasta cooks directly in the tomato sauce with raw veggies on top, it absorbs all the flavor from the liquid of the veggies as they cook down and the flavor from the tomato sauce you choose. The final serving doesn't appear to be very saucy but it is packed with more flavor than any spaghetti I've ever had before.
- Easy Prep and Freezer Meal Ready: It took a few minutes on the front end to prepare the first baked spaghetti but by using my meal kit prep tips, I had a second baked spaghetti ready to go in the oven in less than 5 minutes a couple weeks later.
This easy pasta casserole only takes a few simple ingredients to make it:
- Dried Spaghetti: For this recipe, you must use a classic spaghetti noodle. I used Barilla brand pasta. Do not try to substitute any other shape (thin spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, angel hair, etc.) or the pasta-to-water ratio will be off and your casserole may end up either undercooked or mushy.
- Jarred Tomato Sauce: I love to buy Rao's tomato sauce at Costco but the jars are 28 ounces which is more than needed for the recipe. You can either use a 16 oz jar of your favorite brand or use 1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce which is roughly half of a jar of Costco-sized Rao's.
- Ground Turkey: For a bit of protein and even more flavor, I used ground turkey. You could swap in ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken, or bulk sausage if you prefer. You could also omit the turkey altogether to make this a vegetarian dish.
- Shredded Mozzarella Cheese: Try to avoid "fancy shredded" mozzarella, it doesn't melt as well as regular mozzarella. But you could also use shredded Italian cheese blend which includes provolone and parmesan if you prefer.
- Bell Peppers: I used a red bell pepper, you could use red, green, yellow, orange or a mix.
- Italian Herb Blend: You can use any Italian seasoning you love or just substitute oregano.
- Minced Garlic
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
Brown the Ground Turkey
Ground turkey comes in 1-pound packages but you'll only need 1/2 a pound for this recipe.
I recommend browning and seasoning the entire package of ground turkey because you can freeze half of it to make a meal kit for an even easier dinner another night. (Be sure to see my Make Your Own Meal Kit suggestions below.)
In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the ground turkey and break it up with a cooking spoon as it browns.
Season the turkey with 1 teaspoon of Italian blend seasoning as it cooks. Continue to cook it until no longer pink.
You can do this step up to 2 days in advance and keep the browned turkey in the fridge in an airtight container or up to 6 months in advance if you freeze it.
Prep the Veggies
Fresh bell peppers and an onion add so much flavor to this spaghetti recipe.
I used all red bell peppers but you could do a mix of green, yellow, orange, red, whatever your family likes or you have on hand in the fridge.
Simply dice the peppers into a medium-to-small dice size so they cook nice and tender.
For the fresh onion, peel it and slice it in half. Then slice the halves into very thin strips. I also cut the strips in half so they weren't too long.
I added the entire onion to the recipe. It will feel like a lot of onion, but if you slice them thinly enough, they will practically melt right into the tomato sauce and they add so much flavor!
As with the ground turkey mentioned above, while you've already got your cutting board and knife out, why not chop twice the amount of peppers and onions needed so you can create your own meal kit for another time? See my notes below.
Assemble the Spaghetti Casserole
Assembling the baked spaghetti casserole couldn't be any easier than this:
Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place the uncooked spaghetti pasta in the bottom of the dish and drizzle it with the olive oil and sprinkle it with the Italian herb seasoning and minced garlic.
Use a pair of tongs to gently toss the pasta to coat in the oil and distribute the garlic and seasonings. Spread the pasta into an even layer.
Top the spaghetti with the diced peppers and sliced onion.
Sprinkled half of the batch of ground turkey over the vegetables.
Pour the spaghetti sauce over the turkey.
Then pour the water over everything. Use the back of a spoon or your spatula to gently nudge the water and the tomato sauce together.
Don't disturb the layers of pasta, veggies, and turkey. Just try to combine the water and sauce so it is evenly spread throughout the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
IMPORTANT: Wrap the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. You want to trap all the steam from the water into the dish so that the pasta will absorb it while it bakes.
Bake the spaghetti casserole for 25 minutes.
Gently remove the foil and use your tongs to gently stir the spaghetti.
You will immediately notice that there are spots inside the dish that have not properly absorbed the water. Some spaghetti will still feel firm and crunchy while other spots will be tender.
Don't worry, that's why we're stirring it now.
Use the back of the tongs or a spatula to submerge all the bits of pasta into the cooking liquid as much as you can and then place the aluminum foil back over the top.
Bake the spaghetti for another 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and spread the shredded cheddar cheese over the top.
Bake for a final 5 - 8 minutes or until the cheese has completely melted.
The final spaghetti will have a perfect tender texture but is not mushy or overcooked.
Freezer Meal Kit Tips
My very favorite part about this easy dinner recipe is how you can prep the elements in advance to do a "Make Your Own Meal Kit" for the freezer or the fridge.
One package of browned ground turkey will make two casseroles. Then just double the number of veggies you chop and use half for your first dinner and half to build your meal kit.
To Assemble a Meal Kit:
- 1/2 Pound Browned Ground Turkey: Place in an airtight container for the fridge or a plastic freezer bag for the freezer. When freezing, smooth the turkey out so the bag lies flat like a pancake. This makes it easy to use directly from the freezer, simply crumble it and sprinkle over the casserole before baking.
- Diced Peppers: Pre-chop the peppers and store them in an airtight container for the fridge or a plastic bag for the freezer. These can be used directly from frozen.
- Sliced Onion: Pre-slice the onion and store it in an airtight container for the fridge or a plastic bag for the freezer. These can be used directly from frozen.
- Shredded Mozzarella: I almost always have this in my fridge so I haven't needed to freeze it, but you could measure out the mozzarella and freeze it in a freezer bag to add to your meal kit.
Then as long as you have a box of spaghetti, minced garlic, seasonings, and a jar of tomato sauce in your pantry, you're ready to make a baked spaghetti in no time!
This basic baked spaghetti could be easily tweaked to make several delicious variations:
Vegetarian Baked Spaghetti: Simply omit the ground turkey.
Vegan Baked Spaghetti: Skip the ground turkey and the mozzarella cheese on top or use vegan-friendly alternatives.
Beefy Baked Spaghetti: Substitute browned ground beef for the browned turkey.
Spicy Baked Spaghetti: Use a spicy arrabbiata tomato sauce and/or add crushed red pepper flakes to the ground turkey.
Pulling this baked spaghetti out of the oven felt like magic to me on a busy night.
You could make warm rosemary dinner rolls to make it even cozier.
The spaghetti itself is not overly tomato-saucy, so a batch of marinated tomatoes as an appetizer or side would be delicious, too.
- 1 pound spaghetti do not substitute with another shape or it will affect the water-to-pasta ratio and not cook well
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- Pinch of salt and black pepper
- 1 cup diced bell peppers red, green, or a mix
- 1 onion very thinly sliced
- 1/2 pound ground turkey browned
- 1 (16 oz) jar of tomato sauce or 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven 375°F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. If you have not already browned your ground turkey, do it now before you begin assembling the spaghetti.
- Place the uncooked spaghetti in the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and add the minced garlic. Sprinkle with the Italian herb blend, salt, and pepper. Use a pair of tongs to toss the pasta and seasonings together until well coated with the olive oil.
- Sprinkle the chopped bell peppers and sliced onion over the top. Spoon the ground turkey over the vegetables and spread it out evenly. Pour the tomato sauce over the top.
- Pour the water into the dish, use a spoon to gently nudge the tomato sauce and water together to combine without disturbing the position of the noodles below.
- Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- Use the tongs to gently turn and stir the spaghetti. You'll find it has cooked unevenly in the water at this point and some noodles will still be quite stiff. Use the back of a spatula to submerge the pasta in the cooking liquid as much as possible. Cover the dish tightly with the foil and bake for 20 minutes more.
- Give the pasta one last gentle stir to ensure all the noodles have cooked through. Spread into an even layer and top with the shredded mozzarella. Bake the pasta uncovered for 5 - 8 more minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Make Ahead Freezer Meal Kit Tips:Ground turkey comes in 1-pound packages, if you brown the entire pound once you can use half in one baked spaghetti and freeze the second half for using to make a meal kit for your freezer. Chop enough peppers and onions to make two baked spaghetti casseroles. Freeze half of them with the remaining half of ground turkey. Thaw the frozen ground turkey, bell peppers, and onions in the fridge over night and use them to quickly assemble the recipe on a busy night.
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