This 5-ingredient, cheesy taco pasta casserole is one of those quick and easy recipes perfect for when you're looking for an easy weeknight dinner. This pasta bake is made with ground beef, cheese, taco seasoning and salsa!
★ Why You'll Love this Recipe ★
This 5-ingredient, cheesy taco pasta casserole is one of those tried and true recipes you can doctor up according to what you have on hand or enjoy it as an easy weeknight dinner without all the extras.
It's great in it's basic form, but it's also really versatile. I'm going to show you how to make this taco pasta casserole in it's most basic form and then give you some ideas for ways to change it up — make it healthier, fancier, and even yummier.
★ Ingredients You'll Need ★
This dish is so simple using just 5 ingredients (plus water for boiling the pasta)!
Here's everything you need to make this Taco Pasta Casserole:
- Pasta shells. Or any type of pasta you'd like! I like the shells because little bits of seasoned ground beef and sauce get tucked up inside the shells creating a really nice texture.
- Ground beef. You can also use ground chicken or turkey).
- Taco seasoning. You can buy 1oz packets of seasoning or buy taco seasoning in bulk.
- Salsa. Choose your favorite brand and style!
All salsa is certainly not created equal so depending on what salsa you choose, this can really change the flavor and texture of the whole dish.
A thicker salsa will make more of a chunky, less saucy casserole. Whereas a thinner, more liquidy, restaurant-style salsa will give you more sauce.
My favorite is Tostito's Restaurant style salsa. Or sometimes I'll go with fresh made salsa. You could even use pico de gallo or salsa verde if you really want to mix things up. Have some fun experimenting to see what you and your family like best.
- Mexican cheese blend. You can usually find a few different packaged blends of Mexican, "Fiesta" blend or Taco style cheeses already shredded and ready to go. Any blend works! Some have added spices. Go with whatever floats your boat!
Optional Ingredients for Creamy Sauce
You can add in 4oz of sour cream or a half a block (4oz) of cream cheese to make the sauce creamy.
You can make the sauce just lightly creamy by replacing the water with milk. Or use milk and also add in cream cheese or sour cream. Taste test and see which way you like best!
★ How to Make this Recipe ★
This taco pasta casserole is so easy to make! You just need to toss 5 ingredients together and heat essentially.
This an easy pasta recipe that's also delicious and continually receives excellent reviews on Pinterest. I think you'll love it too!
- First, cook the pasta shells al dente (1 minute less than the recommended boil time on the package) and drain.
- In the same pot, cook the ground beef.
- Add taco seasoning, water and salsa.
- If you want a creamier sauce, add sour cream or cream cheese.
- At this point you can either stir in the cheddar cheese and serve! OR you can sprinkle cheese on top and pop it in the oven to melt the cheese.
To bake or not to bake. To save time, you can make this entirely on the stovetop, just stir in the cheese at the end. I have included an option to sprinkle cheese on top and bake this whole casserole just for a prettier presentation. Say, if you're having people over for dinner. So, your choice how much effort you want to put into this. 😉
Check out the video beneath the recipe (below) to watch step-by-step how to make this pasta casserole.
★ Optional Toppings ★
Adding toppings is a great way to change up this taco casserole and make it into almost a brand new dish. There are a lot of extras you can add that go well with this Taco Pasta Bake!
Try these yummy extras:
- shredded lettuce or other leafy greens
- diced tomatoes
- sour cream
- black olives
- onion (red or white)
- fresh salsa
- salsa verde
- pico de gallo
- guacamole or avocado
- black or refried beans
- sauteed peppers
- lime juice, cilantro
- pickled jalapeños.
Anything you'd put on a taco works!!
★ Substitutions ★
Try different types of meat. Try using shredded rotisserie chicken, ground turkey, steak, or cauliflower-walnut "taco meat" instead of ground beef.
Want to make this vegetarian? Try adding in refried beans or quinoa in addition to or instead of some of the meat for a vegetarian option.
Use any type of pasta. Try using different shaped pasta to change the texture. Experiment and find what you like best. I used shells but you could use elbow macaroni, rotini or even spaghetti noodles! Heck, you could even try using rice.
Change up the cheese. Try different cheeses. You could use a blend of cheese, Cotija (a crumbly Mexican cheese), melty queso, etc.
Try different salsas. I really love fresh or restaurant style salsa but you may love chunky or salsa verde. Any salsa works! You could even make your own salsa.
Like a little heat? Spice it up some with a few dashes of hot sauce, chili powder and/or some cayenne pepper.
Add some extras into the bake itself. For example, corn, beans, peppers, green chilies, etc. would all mix into the sauce pretty well vs. using them as toppings.
★ FAQs ★
Do you have to serve this taco pasta casserole with toppings?
Nope! It's good just by itself. That's really the beauty of this time-saving dish. It's delicious on its own as an easy Hamburger Helper style dish. Or you can really jazz it up if you have time to run to the store and get extras... or maybe you happen to have a few things on hand that would work well as toppings. Great! Throw in what you have and don't worry about it.
This is one of those really easy back-pocket dinner ideas you can keep in your back pocket. So when you've had a long day and you don't want to stress about dinner. Pull this out of your bag of tricks.
How many people will this taco pasta casserole feed?
This is a BIG casserole. It will feed about 8 people good-sized portions. So this is a great recipe for feeding a crowd say, if you're hosting a party or a large family dinner.
However if you have an average sized family, then you could split this recipe in half. Or go ahead and make this recipe but divide it into two casserole dishes and freeze one for later.
How do you make this all in one pot?
This can be made using just one pot if you have a dutch oven. Use it to cook the pasta then after you drain the pasta, use it as your casserole dish. You could also use a large cast iron skillet. It's just a little harder and potentially messier to boil pasta in a cast iron skillet since the sides are low.
Does this have to be baked or can it be made entirely on the stovetop?
Don't want to fire up the oven? No problem. Try making it in a skillet on the stovetop and just stir the cheese in while everything is still hot.
Topping with cheese and popping this casserole into the oven is optional if you want that melted cheesy layer on top.
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Taco Pasta Casserole (5 Ingredients)
- 2 lbs ground meat beef, chicken and/or turkey *See post for other ideas
- 16 oz pasta shells
- 15.5 oz salsa
- ½ cup shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese
- 2 (1oz) packets taco seasoning (¼ cup if using bulk taco seasoning)
- 1 ½ cups water or milk
- Optional: Add ½ cup cream cheese, sour cream, or half and half for creamier sauce
- Cook pasta according to package, drain and set aside. To make this using just one pot, use a dutch oven!
- Using your dutch oven or a cast iron skillet, brown meat. When done, drain any fat.
- Add your cooked pasta to the drained meat. (If you don't have a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, you can move everything to a casserole dish.) Then layer with meat.
- Next sprinkle the seasoning packet over the meat then pour water over top. Next add salsa.
- Give everything a stir to mix ingredients together then top with shredded cheese.
- Bake in the oven at 400˚ for about 18-22 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.
- Serve with any taco-style toppings you'd like. See above post for ideas!
Teri B says
My kids thought it was too spicy but otherwise really liked it. I used milk and added sour cream to make it creamier. But also added a can each of black beans & sweet corn (drained and rinsed).
Delicious recipe that's easy to manipulate. Thanks!
So good and it was a hit with my children. I added the cream cheese and sour cream and it was so saucy and creamy. My only suggestion would be to up the seasoning of the meat. I used garlic, chicken buillion, and sofrito to cook the meat and I feel that it made it even better. Thank you so much for the awesome recipe.
Absolutely delicious & so easy to make! My entire family loved it! This will definitely be a meal we will have again in the future!
Angela G. says
So glad you and your family liked it, Amber!
I don’t have any salsa, what can I use instead?
Angela G. says
You could use ideally fresh tomatoes, onions, and peppers and extra taco seasoning or add chili powder, garlic powder and cumin.
I had to make quite a few adjustments due to the fact that it was not saucy whatsoever. I added a lot more taco seasoning, milk and a jar of queso. Turned out great and it was a big hit
Angela G. says
Thanks for the feedback and good suggestions for making this more saucy.
@Sara, did you add queso with the salsa or replace the salsa? And how much did you use? And what brand?
I’m a big queso fan!
Can you make this recipe, cool and then freeze?
If yes, how long do you thaw once out of the freezer and how long do you reheat... assume reheat covered?
Trying to make college son some meals for his freezer 😊
Angela G. says
Yes, you can freeze and reheat from frozen without having to thaw. I'd recommend portioning this in small sizes before freezing and using microwave safe containers like these on amazon if making this for your college son as this recipe makes a BIG batch, enough for a family. So I'd divide this into 6 portions. Then he can remove the lid, replace with a paper towel and heat for 5-8 minutes stopping midway to stir.
@Terry, I divided mine into 2 pans, froze 1, ate 1. We ate the second one about 2-3 months later and it was just as good as the first.
@Robin, did you thaw it before cooking it or did you adjust cooking times to accommodate it being frozen.
Very delish! Great recipe.
Angela G. says
Hi Cathy, Glad you enjoyed this casserole recipe!
any suggestions for reheating(making for someone due to a death in the family)
Angela G. says
Hi Jen, Go ahead and prepare this according to the directions except don't bake it. Just cover with foil. The person receiving this can finish cooking it right before they're ready to eat. You can give them the instructions: "Bake at 350 for 30-35 mins" I'm assuming they will be baking it from fridge temperature. If baking from frozen, cook time will be 55-60 minutes and you'll want to leave it covered with foil for about half the cook time so the cheese doesn't burn.
The family loved it! Next time I’ll add jalapeños! What would you recommend for freezing?
Angela G. says
Glad you enjoyed this dish! Jalapeños would be a great addition. For freezing just make sure the casserole is in an air tight container.
Mike Rager says
Kids loved it! Ate it again for lunch the next day!
Angela G. says
Mike, so glad you and the kids enjoyed it!