Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taco Pasta ~ A melding of Mexican and Italian Flavors

I'm always looking for new recipes and when I came across this one on Pinterest the flavors intrigued me.  But the several similar recipes I found seemed to lack some important ingredients... namely the vegetables.  So I've modified this recipe to make it a bit more family friendly.  With the simple addition of a fresh onion, pepper and tomato, the recipe is more flavorful and more healthy at the same time.

This recipe makes a 7 x 9" baking dish of pasta that easily feeds six adults.

1 pound of dry pasta, Rigatoni or Ziti, or any large noodle
1 medium onion
1 pepper of your choosing
2 medium chopped fresh, seeded tomatoes -or- a 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 pkg (1.25 ounce) McCormick® Taco Seasoning Mix**
1 cup water
4 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used the Mexican taco blend)
1/3 cup bread crumbs, Panko style preferred

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.  In a large pot, add water, a splash of olive oil and a tablespoon of salt.  Heat to boiling and add the pasta, stirring occasionally.  Cook about 10 minutes, or until al dente (chewy and still firm).  While the pasta is cooking prepare the meat sauce.

Chop the onion and peppers.  Brown the ground beef in a large skillet.  Drain the fat from the beef and let it sit in the colander while you saute the chopped onion and pepper for 4-5 minutes, until tender in the same unwashed skillet.  Add some olive oil if the skillet is too dry.  Return the browned beef to the skillet with the cooked onion/pepper and add the tomatoes.  Stir in and then add the water and taco seasoning.  Heat to boiling and then reduce heat to medium cook for five minutes, stirring 3-4 times.

Add the cream cheese to the beef mixture and stir until melted and combined.  Remove from heat.

Drain the pasta when ready and place in a mixing bowl or the empty pot.  Mix in 1 cup of the shredded cheese.  Add the beef mixture and stir gently to combine.  Prepare a 7 x 9" baking dish by spraying with food release or oil.  Pour pasta into baking dish.  Top with remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese sprinkle with the bread crumbs.

Bake covered for 25 minutes.  Uncover and brown the top lightly for another 5-10 minutes, or more quickly with your broiler.   Bring the casserole dish to the table and serve family style.

**NOTE:  You can make your own taco seasoning using the following recipe.  Store it away and use it as you need it.  Use about 1 heaping tablespoon for each pound of ground beef.

Taco Seasoning Ingredients

2 teaspoons dry onion, minced or powdered
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon instant garlic, minced or powdered
1/2 teaspoon cumin, ground

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