Southwestern Pasta Casserole
Southwestern Pasta Casserole is a creamy mixture of pasta, spinach, cream cheese, meat or poultry, tomato sauce, onions and cheese. The “twist” is the ability to transform this recipe into various modifications of the original recipe to suit your particular ingredient preferences and/or to use the ingredients you happen to have available at the time.
Southwestern Pasta Casserole is equally delicious when made with ground beef, ground turkey or chopped cooked chicken. If you want to make this a meatless meal, don’t add meat at all. The pasta can be whatever pasta you like even though the original recipe specifies penne. (I used rigatoni in my version.) If your family doesn’t like spinach you could leave it out or substitute a vegetable acceptable to them in its place.
The original recipe called for green onions but my preference was to sauté some chopped onions and bell pepper together in olive oil and add them to the casserole. I like mild green chilies in anything “southwestern” or “Tex-Mex” so I added a can of green chilies to this casserole and left out the olives that were in the original recipe, although I’m sure the olives would add another layer of flavor. The original recipe called for picante sauce but I just used a larger can of tomato sauce, which worked fine with the mild green chilies, to give a similar flavor profile.
- 8 ounces uncooked penne
- 1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, cubed
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 lb. ground beef or turkey OR 3 cups chopped cooked chicken
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 16-oz. jar picante sauce
- 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small can green chilies
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- Cook onion, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil. If using, add ground beef and cook until browned.
- Stir in the picante sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin. Heat thoroughly.
- In mixer beat cream cheese with milk, oregano and green chilies. Stir in spinach.
- Stir spices, sauces and pasta into meat mixture.
- Mix meat mixture with spinach mixture and pour into a greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.
- Uncover; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese and bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.
- Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Variations: Add 1 can sliced ripe olives (2.24 oz. can), use 1 lb. ground beef or turkey OR 3 cups chopped cooked chicken, use your preferred grated cheese (Mexican blend, Monterey Jack, etc.)
While the pasta is cooking, cook the onion, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil until vegetables are tender.
Add ground beef or ground turkey, if using, and cook until browned. In a mixer beat cream cheese with milk and green chilies. Stir in spinach. I had leftover fresh spinach that I steamed until it wilted then added it to this mixture, instead of using frozen spinach. Add spices, sauces and pasta into the meat mixture. If using chicken, mix it in at this time. Combine mixtures and pour into a greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree F. oven. Uncover the casserole and top with grated cheese. Return the casserole to the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Allow the casserole to stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
In addition to sharing a tasty recipe with you, my intention in this post is to encourage you to be adventuresome in your cooking. Don’t be afraid to change up the ingredients in a particular recipe based on what ingredients you have available and/or your family’s food preferences. Even the spices can be changed. I have a recipe that calls for Jerk Seasoning, which I didn’t have, so I used Garam Masala, an Indian spice that I did have, and the dish turned out so delicious that I’ve never yet made it with Jerk Seasoning. It was serendipitous! (If you’re unfamiliar with that word, it means making a fortunate discovery accidentally!)
I hope you’ll try making this recipe soon as it is or give it a twist and make it YOUR way!
Remember to Savor the Flavor!
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