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.

The Recipe

Southwestern Pasta Casserole
Serves 8
A savory, versatile recipe including meat or chicken, pasta, spinach, cream cheese, tomato sauce, spices and topped with shredded cheese.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
35 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
35 min
Total Time
50 min
  1. 8 ounces uncooked penne
  2. 1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, cubed
  3. 1/2 cup milk
  4. 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  5. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  6. 1 lb. ground beef or turkey OR 3 cups chopped cooked chicken
  7. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  8. 1 16-oz. jar picante sauce
  9. 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  10. 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
  11. 2 teaspoons chili powder
  12. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  13. 1 small can green chilies
  14. 1/2 onion, chopped
  15. 1 bell pepper, chopped
  16. 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  3. Cook onion, bell pepper and garlic in olive oil. If using, add ground beef and cook until browned.
  4. Stir in the picante sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin. Heat thoroughly.
  5. In mixer beat cream cheese with milk, oregano and green chilies. Stir in spinach.
  6. Stir spices, sauces and pasta into meat mixture.
  7. Mix meat mixture with spinach mixture and pour into a greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish.
  8. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.
  9. Uncover; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese and bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.
  10. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.
  1. 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.)

The Methodology

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.

Parting Comments

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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Savory Southwestern Pasta Casserole with a Twist — 42 Comments

  1. This sounds so delicious! I’ll definitely have to try this one, and I’m going to go through some more of your recipes now, the pictures all make me thing they’re going to be amazing!

  2. Hi Saar, Thanks for your kind comments & I hope you find some others you like as your browse through the recipes! Come back again soon! Blessings, Janet

  3. Oh I love southwestern flavors – this looks so good and easy!! Thanks for sharing on the “What’s for Dinner” blog hop!

  4. I love casseroles! This one looks really easy. Thanks for sharing the recipe and for joining the Family Joy link party.

  5. I love casseroles and this one looks incredible! Thanks so much for sharing with #SocialButterflySunday, Janet! Hope to see you link up again this week ?

  6. Hi Samantha, Hope you enjoy the Southwestern Pasta Casseroles. Check my website for 2 other recent casseroles – Husky Delight and Unforgettable Chicken Casseroles. Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, Janet

  7. Hi Kelly, If you like casseroles, be sure to check out Unforgettable Chicken Casserole and Husky Delight Casseroles on my website. Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, Janet

  8. This sounds so good, a nice twist to the same old Italian pasta. I would love for you to share this on Sharing the Love new blog party! Have a great week.

  9. my son, the ‘pastatarian’ will love this southwestern pasta casserole! He HAS to have pasta every day….kids are crazy sometimes ? Thanks for the recipe

  10. Thank you so much for linking at #overthemoon! I look forward to seeing what you share every week. Please come back for #WonderfulWednesday. Don’t forget to comment your link #’s so I can be sure to visit. Pinned and shared.

  11. This looks super yummy! I love southwestern flavors so this would be a perfect easy weeknight dinner to make for the family. Thanks for sharing at Merry Monday this week! ?

  12. Hi Linda, Just added several recipes to your new Sharing the Love blog party. Best wishes to you on your new blog party! See you next week! Blessings, Janet

  13. Hi Millie, Never heard of “pastatarian” but I like it! Hope your son and the rest of your family enjoys this dish! Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, Janet

  14. Hi Marilyn, Thanks for your kind comments and for stopping by! Thanks for hosting Over the Moon, too! I look forward to visiting Wonderful Wednesday tomorrow. Blessings, Janet

  15. Hi Marie, I hope this recipe pleases you and your family. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments! Blessings, Janet

  16. I’d use veggies or tofu instead of the meat but otherwise it sounds good.

  17. Hi Lee, That’s the beauty of individualizing the recipe to your preferences. I hope you enjoy the recipe and thanks for stopping by! Blessings, Janet

  18. I love pasta in any form, but I also love Southwestern flavors. What a fun combination this meal is!

    I’m hosting a link party and I’d love for you stop by and link up with us!

  19. Hi Abby, Thanks for your comments and I did link up at your link party! Thanks for inviting me and for hosting! Blessing, Janet

  20. Yum! This sounds delicious! I love pasta dishes like this! Thanks for sharing! #SmallVictories

  21. This looks so good, what a perfect family dinner dish. I’ll be adding this into the rotation for a try. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Hi Mistie, Hope you like this pasta casserole! Another good one on my website is Unforgettable Chicken Casserole, which has a lot of crunchy ingredients. Thanks for stopping by! Blessings, Janet

  23. Looks great and easy! Even though I live in the southwest, I’ve yet to make any type of southwestern pasta. Go figure! Thanks for linking up with Funtastic Friday.

  24. Thank you for sharing this at Fiesta Friday. Hopefully you are mixing, mingling and having a great time! I make a similar casserole with rice as the starch (we call it mexi-mix because it is really just a bunch of tex mex leftovers with shredded cheese on top). Adding cream cheese, like you have done here, would be an awesome addition! Have a great weekend!

  25. Your Southwestern Pasta Casserole looks delicious. Thanks so much for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday. Have a great weekend and come back soon!
    Miz Helen

  26. This sounds really good! I love pasta and the spices that you added sound delish! Thanks so much for sharing with us at Share The Wealth Sunday! xoxo

  27. Hi Victoria, I hope you’ll have a chance to try the Southwestern Pasta! Thanks for visiting today! Blessings, Janet

  28. Janet, your dish sounds amazing!! I like that you weren’t afraid to substitute ingredients for what you and your family like, and have on hand. I’m a big fan of using what you have especially when it comes to cooking. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe with us at Sweet Inspiration!!

  29. Hi Keri, Thanks so much for your kind comments! I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe. Blessings, Janet

  30. This hits all the right flavor notes! Thanks for sharing at the Healthy Living Link Party!
    Blessings, Leigh

  31. This looks SO good and it’s right up my alley! I’m trying to Pin it so I can make it later, but there aren’t any images in your post large enough to pin. Just want to let you know in case anyone else is running into the same issue. Found you on the PinJunkie party.

  32. Hi Julie, Thanks so much for letting me know about the problem pinning from my site. I’ll see if I can’t get that corrected soon! I hope you enjoy the Southwestern Pasta Casserole! Blessings, Janet

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