I have a love/hate relationship with that ground beef helper in a box. I loved it when the kids were little because it was quick & cheap, I hated it when the kids were little because they requested it, as kids do, a lot.
I like the idea of cooking up some beef, throwing some other things in the pan, walking away, and having a fuss free meal in short order…but it’s kind of blah and some of the ingredients are rather suspect. 🙂 Therefore, I am always on the lookout for casserole/one pot deals that actually taste good, don’t take too many ingredients, and use ingredients that are easily found without too much expense. Not too much to ask!
I found this recipe a year or so ago, while hunting for something to do with pasta that wasn’t with plain old sauce & spaghetti, on Immaculate Bites.
- 2 cups uncooked pasta (I have used macaroni, shells, twisty pasta, a mix of pasta depending on what’s in the pantry)
- 2 TB unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
- 1 TB minced garlic
- 2 tsp fresh thyme (I used dried)
- 1 TB jalapeno pepper, minced (pretty sure I did this the first time, but thereafter I have used green chilis – I bought a jar from an ethnic grocery a year ago and they’re spicy without taking your head off and already chopped & deseeded – I use at least 1 TB of this, but more usually 2 TB, rounded)
- 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (I use regular paprika as I never remember to buy smoked)
- 1 cup finely diced onion (or a whole medium onion, chopped)
- 1 lb ground beef
- 2 TB flour
- 1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (I use a 28oz can because I’m wild like that)
- 1 cup evaporated milk (I use 3/4 cup of milk and 1/4 cup half & half
- 8 oz grated cheese, mozzarella & cheddar, all cheddar, or whatever you have on hand and like – I generally just use cheddar)
- salt &pepper to taste
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional) – I don’t add this because I use the green chilis which add enough spice
Cook the pasta to not quite done (this is going in the oven to finish, so will finish cooking in there).
Cook the ground beef in a frying pan or dutch oven til nearly done. Add the onion, cook til translucent and softened. Add the spices, garlic and chilis/jalapenos. Cook til fragrant.
Add the olive oil, then sprinkle the flour over everything. Cook for a minute or two, until the flour is coating everything.
Add in the tomatoes and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the drained pasta and milk/cream. Cook another minute or two until everything is happy together.
Stir in more than half the cheese (the rest is to top with) and transfer to a 9×13 baking dish or even out in your dutch oven.
Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese and bake, uncovered, at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is melty. Let it rest a couple minutes so it can cool a little.
It takes a little more work than the mix from a box and it costs a bit more, but it tastes a million times better and you know what’s in it.
You can adjust the amount of cheese, you can adjust the heat, change the spices, add in more vegetables (bell peppers, zucchini, black beans), use chicken or even fish.
You could do this in an instant pot: saute everything. Do not add the flour! Drain the tomatoes but keep the liquid. Add the tomatoes to the mix and combine. Pour the uncooked pasta on top and spread it evenly across the top – don’t mix in. Add the tomato juice and enough milk to cover the pasta – DO NOT STIR! Put the cover on, close the valve & set for 6 minutes. When done, quick release, add more than half the cheese, mix. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the cheese and close the top for a couple minutes. Residual heat should melt it nicely. Serve.