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.

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4


  • 1/2 pound penne pasta (use rice pasta for gluten-free version)
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion (from 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 (16% fat) ground beef
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, chopped (or a 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  • 2 1/2 cups canned chunky tomato sauce (almost 1 28-ounce can, Muir Glen brand if you can get it)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tbsp 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

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 sear ground meat for penne pasta recipe

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

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 simmer penne pasta meat sauce

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

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  • Nikita

    Am 13 and i had been longing to make pasta cause i have mostly tried only deserts yet. I tried this and everyone loved it. I did take longer than i should have but i must say, the recipe is very well explained which made it easy. Thank you!


  • Joy

    The best! Husband loved it thanks for the recipe :)


  • Jemme

    Tried it first time and my wife loved it so much. I used
    grounded Australian beef which browned easily. She
    is bringing the remaining pasta back to office for
    Iunch.Excellent recipe and thank you for sharing.


  • Tyler

    Very good !! Loved it! Thank you so much


  • Tonyea

    I loved it, made this dish this evening for my family


  • Amy Livesay

    I doubled the meat and noodles, and its good i did because my 3 teenage boys abd husband All asked for for leftovers to take to lunch! BIG hit!


  • [email protected]

    Greatest and easy recipe ever!


  • Jimena

    Amazing recipe! Became a family favorite at home the first time I made it!


  • Pauline Laverie

    Quick Easy & Delicious

  • Patti

    I used 1/2 lb of ground turkey & 1/2 lb of sweet turkey sausage. I love garlic and added 1 tblsp of garlic powder to turkey meat, along with the fresh garlic.


  • Jim

    I used chopped green onions and finely chopped green pepper. I also simmered all together in a pot.

    A twist is to mix pasta and sauce in a bowl adding mozzarella cheese. Place in a casserole dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 minute or until cheese is melted.

  • Shari

    Awesome!!! Perfect quick yummy!!!

  • Ryan Sullivan

    Excellent. I threw a chopped green pepper in there as well. Great flavor.


  • Seena Basil

    This is awesome… yummm

  • Victoria

    Absolutely delicious! I doubled the recipe… Browning the meat did make a big difference! Great tip!

  • Marco

    I can’t cook, but this kicked ass.

  • Bree

    I had two pounds of ground beef thawed since yesterday so Is decided to try this recipe. I figured I would use the remaining meat to make child tomorrow. Well it was so easy and delicious I’m now making a second batch of sauce to freeze with the extra meat instead of chili!

    I used half pureed whole tomatoes (I had leftover from my lasagna earlier this week), and half regular tomato sauce. I liked the small chunks of tomatoes. And dried thyme and basil, but fresh parsley.


  • Sherry

    This is off the charts good. My whole family loved it. I could’t find Muir Glen chunky tomato sauce so I bought 2 cans Muir Glen tomato sauce and 1 can of whole Organic Central Market San Marzano tomatoes. I scooped out the whole tomatoes, crushed them up a bit and threw them into the sauce. This recipe has such wonderful flavor!!!

    • Ryan Sullivan

      Great suggestion, that worked well. Thanks!

  • Ann

    The recipe is great, quick and very tasty. Much better than classical bolognese sauce!! Thank you for this recipe. I just cooked it in the Czech republic.

  • Thatlisagirl

    my printer was not working…so i was running back and forth from the computer monitor to the kitchen lol. Anyway, I only used one 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic and decided to add the smallest can of tomato paste with basil for added texture and it turned an excellent dish into complete awesomeness that was a total hit. Thank You!

  • Marl

    Ahh yes…. a Classic…variations made many times over for hungry teenage boys at Friday night sleepovers in our loft!. Good Memories…a long time ago indeed and missed. Anyway…I am now, by no choice gluten-free…….and I just wish to convey that rice, or a combination of rice and corn….now-a-days maybe quinoa too and others….is a tasty pasta alternative especially for recipes such as this with a combination of many ingredients… goes on.

  • Adrianne

    This was wonderful. I made it just as the recipe directed and it was a phenomenal hit. Definitely going into the recipe box. Thank you, Elise and Elise’s mom!

  • Heather Ann

    Added more than a dash of red pepper flakes…now a bit spicy….oh well…love your site you have inspired me to cook…made your shephard’s pie a couple days ago…it was fab! Next I want to make the civil war Mac n cheese. Thanks again!

  • Taryn

    I’m with Sue – my grocery aisle didn’t have cans of chunky tomato sauce in any brand (Muir Glen was around, but again, only in other tomato forms.) We opted for regular sauce, and I think I have some crushed tomatoes in the pantry. I saw that someone else used one can sauce, one can diced tomatoes. But what’s more critical – the thickness of the sauce or actual tomato chunks?

    You can use whatever tomato sauce you want, chunky or smooth. I think the type my mother prefers is chunky, but it works either way. ~Elise

  • Sue

    This was very good. My family really liked it. I could not find chunky tomato sauce and used Muir Glen tomato puree instead. I think I would prefer a chunkier tomato taste. What should I substitute for chunky tomato sauce? I’ve never seen that before.

  • Laura

    Amazing recipe! Just tried it…..Simply Delicious, thanks to you and your mom ^_-!

  • Morgan

    i made this for my boyfriend and one of our housemates tonight with “italian style” ground turkey and it was delicious! to help keep the turkey from going dry, i drizzled the meat with a little olive oil and let it soak in before breaking the meat up and putting it in the pan. i also added some mushrooms. it was a hit! =)

  • "M"

    This is a great quick and easy recipe, I added a twist like most above, but the base is what matters. To keep this meal warm and a no frill simmering, I combined the pasta and meat sauce within the slow cooker and sprinkled a little basil on top. This not only made easy for clean-up, this made getting seconds a snap without drying out the meal. I followed everything else to the “t” and added cheese sauce to the meat sauce.

  • Carol

    This was GREAT and EASY too! To me the secret is browning the little chunks of ground beef in batches so the chunks all get nicely browned and salted. I don’t have cast iron so used stainless on medium high. I used 1 can tomato sauce and 1 can diced tomatoes. Topped with fresh grated parmesan. This is definitely a new favorite!

  • Julia

    Just a quick question: can you freeze the meat sauce without adding pasta to it?

    Yes. ~Elise

  • Hawaiianguy

    I liked the dish a lot. I added a full pound of beef to the mix, I found it quite pleasing and it stretched the dollar much further for lunches and later on snacks. P.P.S. The parsley is a garnish!
    Ha ha ha. Sincerely~ your friendly college bachelor~ (who ate the Parsley)

    Hmm, you definitely do want to eat the parsley. It’s a “bitter” which heightens the flavor of the dish. It’s also great for digestion, so it’s good to eat. ~Elise

  • Shar

    This recipe is awesome. Browning the meat is a must.I also cheated and used a jar sauce but it was still great. For those who said it was bland be sure to season it to your own taste by adding a little of your own special house seasoning.

  • faeriehazel

    This has become a staple for us. It’s so easy to make and so satisfying to wolf down. :) I love your tip about browning the meat – I think it does make a noticeable difference.

  • Laur

    this is the 2nd dish i’ve tried and it was wonderful!!! i even used ground turkey and the flavor was still savory. i added mushrooms and shell pasta. i love muir glen tomato products… you can tell a rich difference. thanks elise… u’ve got this single 26yr old cookin!

  • Stefani Sarah

    Why oh why? Mine turned out a bit on the bland side. Could it be the tomato sauce? If so, the herbs don’t do anything particular then. Neither do the browning and not crowding the ground meat. :(

    • Michelle

      Yes use the jar sauce made already like 3 cheese

  • Anne


    This is the first time at your site & both recipes I tried out worked perfectly! Wow! I Can Cook! I was just taught wrong originally but thanks to you Elise, there’s hope! :)

    I was craving an artichoke that I bought at the farmers market, but remembered that my mom boiled them & they were sometimes bitter. So I googled how to prepare an artichoke & there you were! I trimmed, steamed w/garlic in the water & voila! Sooo tender & yummo.

    And since I was on a roll I craved pasta to go with my artichoke & this recipe popped up. I didn’t have ground beef, so I substituted stewing beef, but the BEST TIP EVER was to have a screaming hot, salted, cast iron pan! I mean within a few seconds it didn’t smell like my normal cooking, it smelled like a restaurant cooking steak! I also added some vineripened small tomatos & portobello mushrooms. Devine!

    Merci BouCoup! Gratzi! & A Big Thank You!

    An extremely grateful invidual who’s never posted a comment on ANY recipe website EVER.

  • Jane

    Hi Elise. I’ve been in your site since last year. All the things that I’ve tried here were the best. I am a Filipino,married to an American and this is my first time to give a comment. Every time I cook something, I always ask my husband to rate them 1-10 so I would know if I’m gonna keep the recipe and do it again next time and he gladly rated this recipe,10. I also tried the Pot Roast and he rated it 10 also. Tonight I’m gonna try the Pork Medallion with Mustard-Caper Sauce and I’ll let you know soon how its gonna come out. Thanks so much for sharing all the recipes Elise, you made me cook like a pro,Godbless :)

  • Lisa

    I made this for a baby shower. I tripled the reciepe and EVERONE loved it. The sauce is so creamy too. I love the idea of chunking up the meat instead of breaking it down to nothing. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

  • Amy

    I made this last night for my husband & another couple. The other couple can be pretty picky eaters. Everyone loved it! Thank you so much for the recipe. I used 1/2 ground beef & 1/2 sausage, and added a red pepper that needed to be used up along with the onion. I’ll be making this again. :)

  • Wendy

    Very nice easy, delicious, rich meaty sauce. I didn’t have penne so I substituted with large shell pasta, it was great because the meat and sauce gets inside the shell and so every bite is yummy. Thanks Elise!

  • Kathy

    When browning the meat in a stainless steel pan, (I don’t have a cast iron one) should I still salt the bottom of the pan? TIA

    Yes. ~Elise

  • carknoll

    This is an excellent recipe. My family does not eat red meat so I made it with ground turkey. The turkey does not brown as well but still excellent. I added extra tomatoes and some red cooking wine. My 4 year old son LOVES it and so does the rest of my family.


  • Lindsay

    Made this for dinner tonight. Had a jar of Emeril’s gaaaahhhlic spaghetti sauce that I have been saving for that *special* recipe, and this was it. This was a huge hit. Thanks Elise, your recipes are, as always, amazing.

    And I loved the browning in the cast iron skillet technique. Most recipes would have you brown the meat with the onions. This was very much worth the extra time and mess. The flavors were delicious!

  • caitlyn

    Thanks for the great recipe, Elise! We made this last Sunday and it was a hit!

  • Amy

    I just made this for dinner tonight. I loved it. It has so much flavor. I am going to add this to my rotation!

    Elise, I get so much inspiration from your site. Thanks!

  • Lauren

    I cheated and used a jar of Ragu (it was all I had in the house, but wow, in combination with the spices and meat, it was the best sauce I ever had!

  • Christine

    My personal meat sauce method includes using the “meatloaf” mix ( also sometimes called “Italian” or “meatball” mix) of ground meat from the grocery store. It is a mix of ground beef, pork and veal. Delicious.

  • Suki

    Made this for dinner last night and it was delicious. Thanks for the recipe!

  • GC

    Great information; everyone cleaned their plate!

  • April

    Isn’t it bad to use tomato-based sauces in cast iron? Or is that a myth? It looks like it turned out fine for you. :)

    In this recipe you use cast iron to brown the meat. Then you transfer the meat to another skillet with the tomato sauce. Regarding cooking tomatoes in cast iron in general, tomatoes are acidic and will possibly leach some of the iron from the pan. But iron is good for you, helps prevent anemia, so I personally wouldn’t have any problem cooking tomatoes in cast iron. ~Elise

  • Lori

    Elise – This was delicious. Everyone in my family loved it (not usually the case). The combination of herbs really gave this dish a wonderful flavor. Please thank your mom and dad for another recipe that is already one of my family’s favorites.

  • merd

    I love to use a 1/2 lb hamburger and 1/2 lb ground Italian sausage mix (either sweet or spicy – you can use the link type, and just remove the casing) and to include one diced medium green pepper in with the onion. My Grandpa always grows his own tomatoes and cans them so I use the same recipe, even if I don’t use his personally canned tomatoes. Typically after they are cooked down and loosely stewed and diced up while cooking, I will have to add a 1/2-1 can of tomato paste to thicken it up slightly. I also like to add a hint of parmesan cheese into the mix while the sauce is simmering. You can wait until the end to sprinkle on top also, but I really like the way it incorporates into the sauce for aroma and flavor.

  • Stasha

    Delicious! I cooked this last night to rave reviews! Doubled the recipe, and glad I did, because I know I wouldn’t have had any leftovers after feeding three hungry men. Looking forward to having it for lunch.

  • Erin

    I made this for dinner last night, and my husband (a chef) loved it – he had two plates! I added 1 lb of mushrooms (quartered), and I used Barilla Plus Whole Wheat Penne (the only whole wheat pasta my husband will eat), and we topped it with fresh grated parmesan. I’m having the leftovers for lunch today!

    Because I added the mushrooms, the sauce was almost too chunky, so next time I may use regular marinara instead. I can’t wait to make it again!

    Elise, I LOVE your site – every recipe I’ve tried has been spot-on! It’s my first-stop-shop for food and recipe info.

  • Julie

    This turned out so well — hearty and flavorful! I added some zucchini and a splash of red wine. Many compliments from the boyfriend. There were only two of us so I cut the recipe in half, but it still made enough for four, as long as you’ve got some yummy bread alongside :-)

  • chris p

    I have made this same dish for years and love it–I usually make it with boneless skinless chiken breast cut into cubes, sometimes throw in a handful of kalamata olives and serve with Parmigiano Reggiano–so easy and delicious!

  • Ginger

    For those looking for wheat/gluten free pastas, I like the Trader Joes brown rice pasta as it is one of the few reasonably priced GF pastas ($2). For non rice GF pasta, try Mrs Leepers brand. It is usually corn based and I find it very tasty!

    Elise, thanks so much for posting when your recipes are GF or easily converted! I use your food blog search engine all the time, it is a great tool.

  • Cashew

    I just made this for dinner tonight, and everyone absolutely loved it! It’s going into the 90 day rotation. Thanks!

  • Ramona

    I just found out that one of the bonuses of cooking in that old cast iron skillet is that it can increase the iron in your diet. Elise, your mom’s browning technique not only adds flavor but added nutrition, also.

  • katy

    Priscilla: My meat-sauce method is to make the sauce a day in advance to let the flavor devlelop, and then reheat it and cook the pasta at the last minute, and mix them right before serving!

    Elise: This looks amazing! Also, I bet it’s important to use a big enough pan so that the meat doesn’t render so much liquid that it doens’t brown (which is always my mistake). Looks great!

  • priscilla

    ooh looks great…have you tried freezing it and adding some fresh basil when reheating it? wonding if I can make it ahead of time and take to my parents :)

    I know it makes great leftovers. The flavors had had even more time to blend. ~Elise

  • Lisa_S.

    Oh, try Muir Glen’s fire roasted tomatoes in this too. Hunts has a fire roasted canned tomato out too that’s just as good, IMO.

    We find Muir Glen’s fire roasted works best for Mexican dishes. ~Elise

  • Lisa_S.

    You can put a whole different spin on the sauce if you add some wine. Red, white, it doesn’t matter. I personally like Mead (honey wine) in my sauce. But what ever vino you are drinking with the meal, toss a heavy shot into the sauce and let it simmer along with everything else.

    I also love kalamata or green olives in sauce. And carrots and zucchini go into sauce just fine. You mushroom lovers can mushroom it up too – I don’t eat mushrooms.

    Ok, my puny “can of breakfast” just won’t cut it now. I am hungry!

  • Bert NC

    I use italian sausage instead of ground beef. Take it out of its casing and brown it. Hot italian if I want some heat.