Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

So easy! Penne pasta tossed with a simple tomato sauce with ground beef, onions, Italian seasoning, garlic, and basil. This penne pasta dish is a perfect, budget-friendly, midweek meal that everyone will love.

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce
Elise Bauer

My mother made a penne pasta dish the other night that took everyone by surprise.

My skinny-as-a-spatula 10-year old nephew who won't eat anything ate this penne pasta with gusto and asked for more. My carb-avoiding sister couldn't resist it. My father declared it a triumph!

Later that night, Dad had my mom recount to him exactly what she did to make this particular penne pasta dish. Thank goodness, because experience has shown that my mother's memory for recipes has a half-life of only a few hours.

Sure enough, when we asked her to make it again a few days later (so we could get a good photo for this post) she had a hard time recalling the details. Diligent Dad supplied a few notes and it all came back to her.

add penne pasta to meat sauce for penne pasta recipe
Elise Bauer

Tip for the Meat Sauce

The main trick to this penne pasta recipe? Sufficiently browning the meat for the meat sauce! Which means using a cast iron frying pan on high heat, letting the ground beef cook in its own fat, and not stirring it, so that the meat has a chance to brown well.

How to Store and Freeze

Leftovers of this penne pasta will keep for about five days and reheat well in the microwave. If the mixture seems dry, stir in a splash of water or milk to loosen it up again.

The meat sauce also freezes quite well, though not with the pasta. If you want to freeze some or all of the meat sauce for future meals, just skip adding the pasta.

To freeze the sauce by itself, cook the sauce completely, then let it cool completely. Transfer to freezer containers or bags, and freeze for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating, or reheat directly from the freezer over low heat in a sauce pan. Add a splash or two of water or milk to loosen up the sauce if it seems dry.

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce
Elise Bauer

Try These Other Great Pasta Dinners

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Servings 4 servings


  • 8 ounces penne pasta

  • Salt

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large onion)

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (blend of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and savory)

  • Dash red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme ,or a pinch of dried

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound ground beef (16% fat)

  • 3 fresh basil leaves, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil

  • 2 1/2 cups canned chunky tomato sauce (almost one 28-ounce can, Muir Glen brand if you can get it)

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


  1. Cook the penne pasta:

    Heat to boiling a large pot with 4 quarts of water in it. Once the water is boiling, salt it with 2 Tbsp of salt. Once the water returns to a boil add the pasta to the pot.

    Leave uncovered, let cook on high heat with a vigorous boil. Put the timer on for 8-10 minutes, or whatever your pasta package says is appropriate for al dente (cooked but still a little firm). Drain.

  2. Sauté onions, garlic, with seasonings:

    Once you've started to heat the water, start working on the sauce. Heat olive oil in a very large skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes.

    Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened. Add the garlic, fresh thyme, season with salt and pepper. Cook for an additional minute, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

    saute onions for the sauce for the penne pasta
    Elise Bauer
  3. Brown the ground beef:

    Heat a large cast iron pan on high heat. Salt the bottom of the pan generously. Once the pan is hot, break up small chunks of ground beef and add them to the pan, without stirring. (You may need to work in batches; do not crowd the pan.) You want the meat to get well browned.

    add salt to hot cast iron pan to make sauce for penne pasta
    Elise Bauer
    sear ground meat for penne pasta recipe
    Elise Bauer

    If the pan is too hot and the meat is burning, not browning, take the pan off the heat for a little, and reduce the heat to medium high. On our coil electric stove, it takes the high heat setting for the meat to brown sufficiently, but your stove may be different.

    Once the meat is browned on one side (a couple of minutes), use a metal spatula to flip the meat over to brown on the other side. At this point, assuming you are using a cast iron pan, you can remove the pan from the heat. The residual heat in the pan will finish cooking the meat.

    brown the meat for the penne pasta
    Elise Bauer
  4. Add beef and tomato sauce to onions:

    Use a slotted spoon to lift the meat from the cast iron pan and add it to the pan with the seasoned onions.

    Add tomato sauce. Use the edge of your metal spatula to break up the bigger chunks of meat into smaller pieces.

    Add basil. Add a teaspoon of sugar. Bring to a simmer on low heat, let cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

    add tomatoes to the ground meat and onions for the penne pasta sauce
    Elise Bauer
    simmer penne pasta meat sauce
    Elise Bauer
  5. Adjust seasonings and add the pasta:

    Once the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, adjust seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add a little more sugar if the sauce is too acidic. Add more tomato sauce if the sauce is a little dry. Stir in the cooked penne pasta. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

    add penne pasta to meat sauce for penne pasta recipe
    Elise Bauer
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
516 Calories
28g Fat
31g Carbs
36g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 516
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 28g 35%
Saturated Fat 9g 43%
Cholesterol 101mg 34%
Sodium 1051mg 46%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 11%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 36g
Vitamin C 14mg 72%
Calcium 73mg 6%
Iron 6mg 32%
Potassium 982mg 21%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.