This Mexican-themed taco pasta is made of pasta shells coated in a savory, cheesy sauce loaded with ground beef, mild salsa, cheddar, and pepper jack.
Quick & Easy Taco Pasta Recipe
Ever get bored of traditional Italian pasta dishes? Marinara, bolognese, pesto, carbonara. I know that I sometimes feel a need to mix it up. That’s why I’m bringing you this Mexican taco pasta.
Perfectly al dente pasta shells are coated in a rich, cheesy sauce loaded with savory ground beef and flavors that will transport you to your favorite taqueria. Add the sharpness of cheddar cheese and the slight hint of spice from pepper jack to pull it all together. Now that’s a tasty dish. Take Taco Tuesday in a different direction this week and try this easy Mexican pasta.
What You’ll Need
Here’s a list of what you will need to make this cheesy Mexican pasta.
- Sea salt: This is to salt the pasta water in order to impart flavor to the pasta as it cooks.
- Olive oil
- Yellow onion
- Sea salt
- Ground beef: I like using 80/20 (protein to fat ratio) ground beef but you could also play with ground chicken, turkey, or pork instead.
- Taco seasoning: Grab a packet from your local market. They usually contain 1.3 ounces of seasoning. I like Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning Mix.
- Mild salsa: I used a mild jarred salsa from Trader Joe’s. If you want extra spice, try a medium (or even spicy) salsa.
- Canned diced green chilis
- Medium shell pasta: I love shells, but you can absolutely use another pasta shape here. I suggest going with a short pasta shape.
- Shredded cheddar cheese: Feel free to use a different cheese here. A Mexican blend would work beautifully.
- Shredded pepper jack cheese: I like the pepper jack here because it offers a little kick of spice, but if you want to use a different cheese, go for it!
How to Make Taco Pasta
This cheesy taco pasta is deliciously quick and easy to throw together. In just 25 minutes, you will have a spunky, flavorful dish that will indeed have you coming back for seconds. Here’s a quick rundown of how to make this easy pasta recipe. Scroll to the recipe below for more detailed instructions.
- Start the pasta water. Fill a large pot with water, salt it, and bring it to a boil.
- Saute the veggies. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.
- Brown the beef. Add the ground beef and the taco seasoning and cook until browned, breaking up as you go.
- Add the salsa and the diced green chilis and cook for 3 minutes before removing the sauce from the heat and setting it aside.
- Cook and drain the pasta according to the package’s instructions. Reserve some of the pasta water.
- Put it all together. In the pot, the pasta was cooked in, combine the pasta and the sauce and stir. Add the cheeses and 1 cup of reserved pasta water and stir until the cheese is melted.
The combination of pasta shells with taco-inspired flavors, like ground beef and melted cheeses, creates a dish that’s both comforting and exciting. It’s a versatile recipe that can be easily adapted to suit individual tastes, with options for adding extra vegetables or adjusting the level of spiciness to suit personal preference.
Tips for Success
Want to ace this recipe the first time around? I’ve got you covered. Use these simple tips and tricks to get a taco pasta worth writing home about.
- Salt the pasta water. It’s an easy step to miss, but you’ll be sad if you do. The salt added to the pasta water imparts valuable flavor to the pasta itself.
- Reserve some pasta water. The reserved water will take on some of the starch from the pasta. This starch, when mixed with the sauce, will help it bind to the pasta, allowing it to coat every crease and crevice of each and every shell.
- Allow the beef to come to room temperature. Throwing cold meat straight into a searing hot pan will cause it to release its juices. The ground beef will dry out, and it won’t brown properly.
- Don’t crowd the pan. The beef will not brown nicely if you try to fit too much of it in a small pan. You want to be able to spread the beef out, allowing as much surface area to come into contact with the hot pan as possible.
- Don’t burn the pasta. When adding the sauce to the pasta in the final stages of the recipe, use heat carefully. You need enough to melt the cheese but not enough to burn the pasta. Turn the stove to medium and continually stir the pasta/sauce/cheese/pasta water mixture so that none of it scorches at the bottom of the pan.
What to Serve with This Mexican Pasta
This easy pasta recipe only takes 25 minutes to whip up which leaves you plenty of time to throw together a side dish or two to accompany it. Here are some of my favorites.
- Salad. Lighten this hearty meal up by serving it with a veggie-packed salad. Toss your favorite greens with my Light and Creamy Avocado-Lime Salad Dressing or toss together this easy Tomato Avocado Corn Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette.
- Cooked veggies. I love serving this Mexican pasta with traditional Elote (Mexican Street Corn). Looking for something a little more simple? Try my Easy Oven Roasted Vegetables.
- Chips. Keep the Mexican theme going with some chips and salsa and/or guacamole. Try my Homemade Restaurant Style Salsa, this Avocado Tomatillo Salsa, or my awesome Fresh Mango Guacamole
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
- This cheesy taco pasta makes for wonderful leftovers. Allow the dish to cool completely before sealing it in an airtight container and storing it in the refrigerator. It will stay good for up to 4 days.
- To reheat: Allow the pasta to come to room temperature. Heat a large pot over medium heat and pour the pasta in. Stir continuously until the pasta is heated through. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of cream or milk and stir to incorporate.
- To freeze: Allow the pasta to cool completely. Seel it in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- When ready to enjoy, thaw the pasta in the refrigerator overnight before following the reheating instructions above, just as you would if heating from the fridge.
More Easy Pasta Recipes:
Pasta! There are so many different ways to go about it. I love veering away from typical Italian preparations and throwing in a foreign spin. Mexican-themed pasta not your thing? That’s ok. I have a bunch of other easy pasta recipes for you to try. Here are some of my favorites.
- Rasta Pasta (Caribbean Jerk Chicken Pasta)
- One Skillet BLT Pasta
- Creamy Basil-Avocado Pasta
- Garlic Pasta with Ketchup and Feta
- Creamy Garlic Butter Pasta with Spinach
- Cajun Chicken Pasta with Zoodles
- Baked Turkey Tetrazzini
Mexican Taco Pasta
- 2 teaspoons salt, to salt the pasta water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef,
- 1 packet taco seasoning
- 16 ounces mild salsa
- 4 ounces diced green chiles
- 1 pound medium pasta shells
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- ½ cup shredded pepper jack cheese
- Fill a large pot with water, add the salt, and bring it to a boil.
- While the pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the onions, season with the sea salt, and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 20 seconds.
- Add the ground beef and the taco seasoning and cook the beef for 6 to 8 minutes or until browned and cooked through, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon.
- Add the salsa and the diced green chilis and cook for 3 minutes.
- Remove the meat sauce from the heat and set aside.
- Add the pasta shells to the boiling pasta water and cook per the instructions on the package.
- Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
- Return the pasta shells to the pot it was cooked in, place the pot on the stove over medium heat, add in the meat sauce, and stir it well.
- Add the shredded cheddar cheese, shredded pepper jack cheese, and 1 cup of reserved pasta water; stir until the cheese has melted. If the sauce is still too thick, add more pasta water and stir to combine. Repeat until the desired consistency is reached.
- Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if needed. Serve warm.
- Pasta: For this recipe, you will need to use medium-sized pasta shells.
- Ground Beef: I used 80% lean ground beef, but you can use whatever you prefer. You can also swap the beef for ground chicken, turkey, or pork.
- Taco Seasoning: I use my homemade taco seasoning, but you can use your favorite store-bought taco seasoning. You will need about 2 tablespoons of it or a 1-ounce packet.
- Add salt to the pasta water: The salt added to the pasta water adds flavor to the pasta itself.
- Reserve 2 cups of pasta water. The starchy pasta water, when mixed with the sauce, will help it bind to the pasta more easily.
- Let the beef come to room temperature before cooking it. Adding cold meat straight into a hot pan will cause it to release its juices, and the result will be dry and tough meat.
- Use a large skillet because the beef will not brown correctly if you try to fit it in a small pan.
- Don’t burn the pasta. When adding the sauce to the pasta, you need enough heat to melt the cheese, but not too much because it may burn the pasta. Keep the heat at medium and continually stir the pasta mixture so that none scorches on the bottom of the pan.
Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.