Best Mexican Pasta Casserole (Crowd Pleaser)

This Mexican pasta casserole is baked with ground beef, picante sauce, and pasta for a delicious easy dinner. It makes the most of pantry ingredients with classic southwestern flavors. Add this recipe to your casual dinner party menu ideas.

Mexican pasta casserole

Easy Beef Taco Pasta Bake

I love sharing old recipes that I’ve been making ‘forever.’ Especially since it means I get to eat it after photographing it!

Today I’m sharing a Mexican pasta bake casserole that I first had at a girl friend’s dinner party, over 20 years ago. It was so good I knew I had to get the recipe, and I’ve been making it ever since – with a few tweaks to make it “mine.”

This is a great casserole for a dinner party because it makes enough to feed a crowd. It also combines two of our favorite flavors: Mexican taco and Italian pasta. 

You could call this a beef taco pasta bake and serve it for Cinco de Mayo or weekend gatherings. The pantry staples used in this recipe make is super simple to prepare ahead and bake it when you’re ready.

dinner party casserole

When to serve this Mexican casserole

This is a terrific dish to make during the holidays when you have overnight guests. It’s fantastic for family dinner. And it’s ideal as a make-ahead main dish for a potluck party.

What to serve with Mexican Pasta Bake

We love one-dish dinners but I always round them out with a side salad or vegetable, and bread.

For dessert serve something chocolate like our slow cooker brownie cake or chocolate chess pie.

penne pasta casserole recipe

An Easy Pantry Meal 

Between the refrigerator and the pantry you may just have everything you need to make this for dinner. Here’s all you need.

  • Two pounds of ground beef – use ground turkey, chicken, or sausage if you have it.
  • Monterey jack cheese – you can always substitute with cheddar, or pepper jack for a spicier flavor.
  • Onion – if you don’t have one you can add more of the fried onions into the mixture before baking.
  • Pasta – we use penne but any small pasta will work. Try elbows, spirals, or shells.
  • Picante sauce – this gives you that yummy southwestern flavor.
  • Tomato sauce – tomato sauce is a pantry staple we always have on hand.
  • French’s fried onions – use a large can for plenty of that tasty crunchy goodness. If you only have the small can you can either mix it all into the casserole or save most of it for the topping.
ground beef and pasta casserole

How to Make Mexican Pasta Bake

You can prepare the casserole ahead of time, cover and refrigerate. Do not bake it beforehand. When you’re ready to cook, take it out of the fridge and place it in a cold oven. You don’t want to shock the glass or ceramic dish by going from cold to hot. Turn the oven on and bake as directed, adding about 5 minutes for the preheating time.

  1. Cook pasta in a large sauce pan until it is al dente. Drain it and set aside.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, use a large skillet and cook the ground beef and onion together until the meat is no longer pink. Make sure you drain any excess fat that is rendered and pat dry with a paper towel if you want.
  3. Grab a large mixing bowl and combine the pasta, meat mixture, the sauces, and 1/2 cup of water until well combined.
  4. Once those are combined, add the cheese and fried onions and mix those in. Pour everything into a 4-quart glass or ceramic baking dish.
  5. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Remove the cover and top the pasta bake with remaining cheese and onions and cook for 5 more minutes so the cheese can melt and the fried onions will get golden and crisp.

Can I freeze it?

Yes, this is a fantastic meal to freeze for the future. The easiest way to freeze casserole is to line the baking dish with foil before you add the combined ingredients. 

Then freeze it (don’t bake it first) in the dish just until it’s all firm. Then remove the casserole from the freezer and lift it out of the dish. Wrap it tightly with more aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and put it back into the freezer until ready to bake. This way you can still have your baking dish available, and you can unwrap the casserole and easily pop it back into the dish when ready. It will look much nicer on the table than serving a meal from a disposable baking pan.

When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees and cover the pasta bake loosely with the foil. Cook for about an hour or until heated through.

Easy dinner casserole recipe

Best Casserole for Entertaining

The story behind this dish is that it was served by one of my oldest girl friends when we were all young and single. It was one of the first dinner parties we went to as “grown ups” and I’ll never forget it. I love that food and dinner parties can create memories like that!

When she served it, she stuffed extra large pasta shells with the meat mixture so it was a little bit “fancy.” I like making it with penne pasta so there’s much less work involved. The end result either way, is a fantastic blend of southwestern flavor with the comfort of pasta. I’m sure you’ll like it as much as we do!

More dinner casserole recipes

Here are some more dinner casserole recipes to make.

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large spoon lifting baked pasta out of white baking dish.

Mexican Pasta Bake Casserole recipe

Yield: about 8 servings

This easy Mexican pasta bake casserole makes the most of pantry ingredients by combining two classic flavors - Italian and Mexican. A delicious one dish dinner recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (16 oz) Tomato Sauce
  • 1 jar (15 oz) Picante Sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Large can French’s Fried Onions
  • 16 oz box Penne Pasta – cooked al dente

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Crumble and cook the ground beef and chopped onion together in a large skillet over medium-low heat, until meat is no longer pink.
  3. Drain excess fat.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine beef mixture with the tomato sauce, picante sauce, and 1/2 cup of water.
  5. Add pasta, 1/2 of the fried onions, and 3/4 of the cheese; mix well.
  6. Pour into a large baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove foil and top with remaining cheese and fried onions and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes or until melting & browning occurs.
  8. Serve with a salad and enjoy!

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10 Comments

  1. Mmmmmm– sounds kind of blah with no onions, celery, bellpepper, no seasoning or anything just tomatoe sauches

    1. Ruby, the onions are fried and placed on top, and there’s plenty of seasoning from them and the picante/tomato sauce blend.

      1. This looks very good. There are 2 sizes of tomato sauce, 8 oz. which I regularly get . It is 3″ high and a larger 15 or 16 oz. size that is about 5″ or more high. Is the can you get definitely the 16 oz. taller one? I just want to be sure before I make it next week. Thank you!

        1. Hi Joan,
          Yes, the larger size. I was like you though – couldn’t recall if they come in 15 or 16 oz.
          Enjoy!

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