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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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