Cheesy Taco Pasta Bake
Oct 16, 2016, Updated Nov 13, 2023
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Cheesy taco pasta bake is a comfort food delight, combining the zesty flavors of tacos with the creamy richness of a cheese-laden pasta bake. It’s a perfect dish for those who love the fusion of Mexican spices and Italian pasta in one hearty, satisfying meal.
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Easy Taco Pasta Dinner
Cheesy taco pasta bake is a unique fusion of Italian and Mexican cuisines, creating a dish that’s both comforting and flavor-packed. This enticing meal starts with pasta, often shells or penne, cooked to al dente perfection. The pasta is then mixed with seasoned ground beef or turkey, embodying the classic taco flavor profile. This includes ingredients like taco seasoning, onions, and garlic, which add depth and warmth to the dish. To this, a variety of ingredients like black beans, corn, and diced tomatoes are often added, contributing to the rich texture and taste. The mixture is then layered or tossed with a generous amount of cheese, typically a blend of sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack, ensuring every bite is gooey and satisfying.
The second layer of delight in this dish comes from its versatility and ease of preparation, making it a popular choice for busy weeknights or casual gatherings. Before baking, additional toppings like olives, jalapenos, or green chilies can be added for an extra kick. The bake is then cooked until bubbly and golden, allowing all the flavors to meld together beautifully. Once out of the oven, it’s commonly garnished with fresh toppings such as avocado, sour cream, cilantro, or a squeeze of lime to add a burst of freshness. This dish not only satisfies the craving for something hearty and comforting but also brings a delightful twist to traditional pasta bakes, making it a favorite among both kids and adults.
How to Make Mexican Pasta Bake
First assemble the following ingredients:
- Stew meat (1 lb) – Stew meat offers a rich, hearty flavor, with a deep meatiness that is perfect for this bake.
- Bell pepper (1) – Bell peppers bring a sweet and slightly tangy flavor with a crisp, juicy texture.
- Sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups) – Sharp cheddar cheese adds a bold, tangy, and slightly nutty taste that intensifies with age.
- Oxaca (8 oz) – Oaxaca cheese has a mild, buttery flavor and a stringy, mozzarella-like texture, ideal for melting.
- Macaroni (2 cups) – Macaroni has a subtle, slightly earthy flavor, serving primarily as a base to absorb and complement other flavors in a dish.
- Taco seasoning (2 tbsp) – Taco seasoning provides a spicy, robust blend of flavors like chili, garlic, onion, and cumin.
- Diced tomatoes (1 can) – Diced tomatoes offer a bright, acidic sweetness that adds moisture and a fresh, fruity undertone.
- Black beans (1 can) – Black beans have a mild, earthy flavor with a creamy texture, adding heartiness to dishes.
- Green chili sauce (1 cup) – Green chili sauce delivers a tangy, slightly spicy kick, with a fresh, vegetal undertone.
- Olives (1/4 cup) – Olives contribute a distinct briny, salty flavor with a hint of bitterness.
Use this method:
Prep. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix. In a well greased large baking dish, combine all ingredients but olives and 1 cup of shredded cheese and mix thoroughly. Top with 1 cup shredded cheese and olives.
Bake it. Bake for 35-40 minutes until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Serve immediately.
Tips and Tricks for Perfect Pasta Bake
Creating the perfect cheesy taco pasta bake involves a combination of ingredient selection, preparation techniques, and baking insights. Here are some tips and tricks to help you achieve the best results:
Choose the Right Pasta: Use pasta shapes that can hold onto the sauce and cheese well, like shells, penne, or rotini. Cook it al dente as it will continue to cook in the oven.
Season the Meat Well: If using ground meat, ensure it’s well-seasoned. Brown it thoroughly before combining it with other ingredients to develop a deep, rich flavor.
Drain Fat from Meat: After browning the meat, drain any excess fat to prevent the dish from becoming greasy.
Layer Flavors: Consider layering your ingredients in the baking dish. Start with a layer of pasta, then meat and vegetables, followed by cheese, and repeat. This ensures every bite is full of flavor.
Generous with Cheese: Don’t skimp on the cheese. A generous amount of cheese makes the dish creamy and delicious. Consider using a mix of cheeses for depth of flavor.
Customize Your Vegetables: Feel free to add vegetables like corn, black beans, bell peppers, or onions for added nutrition and texture.
Control the Spice Level: Adjust the amount of taco seasoning and add-ins like jalapeños or chili flakes to suit your desired level of spiciness.
Use Quality Taco Seasoning: Choose a good-quality taco seasoning or make your own blend for better flavor control.
Don’t Over Bake: Bake just until the cheese is melted and bubbly to avoid drying out the pasta.
Rest Before Serving: Let the bake rest for a few minutes after removing it from the oven. This allows it to set and makes it easier to serve.
Add Freshness: Garnish with fresh toppings like chopped cilantro, diced tomatoes, or avocado after baking to add a burst of freshness.
Experiment with Toppings: Experiment with different toppings like sour cream, salsa, or green onions for extra flavor and texture.
Check for Seasoning: Taste and adjust the seasoning of your meat and sauce mixture before combining it with the pasta.
Prep Ahead: You can prepare the bake ahead of time and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake, making it a great make-ahead meal.
Reheating: If reheating leftovers, add a splash of water or broth to keep the pasta from drying out.
Absolutely! You can substitute the ground beef or turkey with a plant-based meat alternative or increase the amount of beans and vegetables like bell peppers and zucchini.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave or oven until heated through.
Yes, you can freeze the baked dish for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
Definitely! Add diced jalapeños, chili flakes, or use a spicier taco seasoning to increase the heat.
The bake is done when the cheese is melted and bubbly, and the edges are slightly golden brown. This typically takes about 20-25 minutes in the oven.
Yes, you can assemble the dish and refrigerate it before baking. Just add a few extra minutes to the baking time if you’re starting from cold.
What to enjoy with Taco Bake
Cheesy taco pasta bake pairs well with a variety of sides and accompaniments to balance its rich and hearty flavors. Here are some options to consider:
- Green Salad: A light, fresh green salad with a tangy vinaigrette can offset the richness of the pasta bake, adding a crisp, refreshing element to the meal.
- Garlic Bread: Garlic bread, with its buttery, garlicky flavor, is a great side for scooping up extra sauce and complements the cheesy pasta perfectly.
- Roasted Vegetables: Vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, roasted with a bit of olive oil and seasoning, can add a healthy and flavorful contrast.
- Spanish Rice: A side of Spanish rice, with its tomato and garlic flavors, can complement the Mexican-inspired elements of the dish.
- Corn on the Cob: Grilled or boiled corn on the cob, especially when seasoned with a bit of butter, salt, and chili powder, pairs nicely with the dish.
- Guacamole and Chips: A side of guacamole served with tortilla chips can double down on the Mexican cuisine theme and add a creamy, crunchy texture.
- Coleslaw: A tangy coleslaw, either traditional or with a Mexican twist using lime and cilantro, can add a fresh and crunchy element.
- Fruit Salad: A light and sweet fruit salad can serve as a refreshing counterpoint to the savory, cheesy pasta bake.
- Refried Beans: A side of refried beans can enhance the Mexican flavors and add a smooth, creamy texture to the meal.
- Mexican Street Corn (Elote): Elote, or Mexican street corn, seasoned with lime, cheese, and chili powder, is a flavorful and visually appealing side.
These sides not only complement the flavors of the cheesy taco pasta bake but also add variety in texture and nutrition to the meal.
Try these other Texmex favorites:
If you love this recipe, you’ll love some of my simple one pot favorites like Cheesy One Pot Taco Skillet, Cheesy One Pot Taco and Rice Skillet, One Pot Chicken Broccoli and Alfredo , and One Pot Chicken Bruschetta Pasta.
Cheesy Taco Pasta Bake Recipe
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- 1 lb grilled diced steak or stew meat, or any other grilled meat you'd prefer
- 1 large bell pepper, diced
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 8 oz oxaca or other skim cheese, diced
- 2 cups macaroni, cooked
- 2 tbsp taco seasoning
- 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 can black or pinto beans, drained
- 1 cup green chili sauce
- 1/4 cup olives
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a well greased large baking dish, combine all ingredients but olives and 1 cup of shredded cheese and mix thoroughly.
- Top with 1 cup shredded cheese and olives.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.
- Serve immediately.
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Nutrition InformationYield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 601Total Fat 33gSaturated Fat 16gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 140mgSodium 982mgCarbohydrates 25gFiber 4gSugar 3gProtein 50g
Nutrition is automatically calculated by Nutritionix - please verify all nutrition information independently and consult with a doctor or nutritionist for any and all medical and diet advice.