Bubbly Cheesy Mostaccioli Recipe

If you're from Chicago, it's likely you went to a number of parties with an impressive (or maybe tiring) potluck of Italian beef, garden salad, and mostaccioli. It's the holy trinity of Chicago graduation parties, no celebration complete without it; and until now you thought this was the standard everywhere. This particular combination of treats is specific to Chicagoland, and while salad is worldwide, Italian beef is a windy city specialty and mostaccioli rarely as popular anywhere else. Makes you miss it a little bit, doesn't it?

Mostaccioli is commonly served as a casserole in tomato sauce, similar to baked ziti or penne pasta. However, it's different from both shapes, more closely related to penne but ridgeless. Like the other tube shapes, it's perfect for saucy, meaty, cheesy casseroles like this one written by developer and Chicago native Michelle McGlinn. Whether it's peak Communion party season or you're just craving a good casserole, give this homemade and veggie-packed version a try.

What you need for bubbly, cheesy mostaccioli

First and foremost, you'll need mostaccioli. It's located in the pasta aisle next to the penne, but if you can't find it, swap with penne or ziti. To make the meat sauce, you'll need oil, Italian sausage, ground beef, carrots, bell pepper, shallot, garlic, white wine, whole San Marzano tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. The tomatoes will be in large cans near the diced tomatoes; try to find San Marzano style for the best flavor. If you don't have all the individual spices, any Italian spice blend will work.

For the cheesy topping, you'll need fresh parmesan and mozzarella. We used torn pieces of mozzarella here, but pre-shredded will work perfectly, too. Then, to top it all off, grab some fresh basil.

Brown the meats

To begin the sauce, brown the meat first. For a little bit of spice, use hot Italian sausage, and for mild, use sweet or mild sausage. Remove from the casings and crumble with the beef, browning until mostly cooked through. The meat will continue to cook in the oven, so don't worry about every piece cooking through just yet. Remove all the meat from the skillet before continuing the sauce.

Soften the veggies and simmer in wine

White wine adds a unique and bright flavor to tomato sauces, and we love it in baked mostaccioli. Soften the veggies first, then add the wine and simmer until mostly reduced. If you'd rather not use alcohol in the dish, just skip this step and soften the vegetables completely.

Bring it all together

Crush the tomatoes by hand, then stir in the spices and return the meat to the skillet. Crushing the tomatoes by hand is messy but effective in getting the tomatoes totally smooth and saucy. You can crush the tomatoes with a spoon to save your hands the trouble or use a potato masher to get them completely smooth. Stir everything together and remove from the heat, then mix into the pasta. You can either put the pasta into a casserole and pour the sauce on top, or add the noodles to the skillet and coat before adding to the casserole dish — either method works. For saucier noodles, add a small can of tomato sauce or purée to the mixture before adding the pasta.

Add the cheese, bake, and serve

Sprinkle or grate the cheese on top of the pasta, distributing it evenly across the top, then add to the oven to melt the cheese into the pasta. Once the cheese is gooey and melted, remove the mostaccioli from the oven and serve immediately topped with basil.

You can store the leftovers directly in the casserole dish or transfer them to an airtight container. The pasta will keep for a week in the refrigerator and freezes well, but should be frozen before adding cheese or baking. To reheat, add the cheese and bake until heated through and melty.

Besides garden salad and Italian beef, mostaccioli pairs well with crusty bread and roasted vegetables. Nothing really beats the classic saucy mostaccioli from your local Italian grocer (or Portillo's), but this healthier homemade version still hits the spot; give it a try for your next Sunday supper.

Bubbly Cheesy Mostaccioli Recipe
5 from 50 ratings
Make this cheesy mostaccioli whenever you're missing Chicago potlucks and enjoy the meat-filled, saucy pasta casserole with salad, crusty bread, and vegetables.
Prep Time
Cook Time
baked mostaccioli in a baking dish
Total time: 50 minutes
  • 1 pound mostaccioli, cooked to al dente
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ½ pound hot Italian sausage
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • ½ tablespoon dried rosemary
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 sprig Basil, for topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet. Brown the Italian sausage and the beef, crumbling as they cook. Once browned, remove from the skillet.
  3. Add the carrots, bell pepper, shallot, and garlic and cook until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and reduce until almost no liquid is left in the skillet, about 5 minutes.
  4. Crush the tomatoes using your hands and add to the skillet. Stir to combine, then season with oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Add the meat back to the skillet, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add the cooked and drained mostaccioli noodles to a 9x13 baking dish, then pour the sauce on top and combine.
  6. Top the mixture with parmesan, then tear the mozzarella into pieces and sprinkle on top. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and gooey.
  7. To serve, top with basil.
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