There is something incredibly comforting about pasta – amiright? It comes in various shapes, flavor combos, and toppings – it’s so versatile, and that’s part of its charm.
I’ve been making this recipe for decades and, for the first time, I tried to measure out the ingredients so I could share it here. I confess that it feels like it’s going against everything that seems natural. I’m focused on the greater good of pasta lovers everywhere, though, so I’m just gonna suck it up. 😉
2-2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/2 an onion, diced
Salt and pepper
12 oz box of jumbo pasta shells
16 oz can refried beans
28 oz can red enchilada sauce (you won’t use all of it, maybe)
2 cups shredded cheese (you can use cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack, whatever you like!)
1 t seasoned pepper
1/2 t garlic salt
2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
Tad more salt and pepper (that’s my official measuring tool)
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to your liking, don’t let me boss you around in your own kitchen)
Cook noodles according to package, about 15 minutes. While noodles are cooking, in a large skillet, brown ground beef with some salt and pepper. After it begins to brown throughout, add the onion. Cook until done. Spoon off the excess grease—return pan to burner.
When noodles are done, drain (reserving 1 c of pasta water) and rinse under cold water.
Add refried beans to ground beef and mix until combined. Add seasonings. Mix in the pasta water, start with 1/2 cup, and add more as needed. The consistency should be a bit wetter than taco meat – unless you like really wet taco meat… then, I don’t know how to help you – but not runny. Mix until it’s heated through; taste to see if you need a bit more salt or garlic or pepper. If you do, add it! The best thing about cooking is making it taste exactly how we like it to taste. 😉
Let the ground beef mixture cool some – unless you’re like me and have already burned your fingertips enough to not care about burning them some more.
Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray for easier cleanup, and pour enough enchilada sauce to cover the bottom.
Now you’re going to set up a bit of an assembly system. I put the pasta on the left, the 9×13 pan in the middle, and the ground beef on my right. It makes sense for me, but adjust it however you like. Pick up a shell, open it with thumb and forefinger, and then use a spoon (I use the one just above the cereal spoon, but not quite the serving spoon sized one) to fill it with the meat and bean mixture. Don’t overstuff it, but don’t be shy either. I initially put them in rows in the pan and then just squeeze them in to use up every bit of space. Once you have a single layer, you can either grab another pan or be super classy like me and add a double-decker layer in the same pan. I’m okay with that decision.
Once they’re all stuffed, pour enchilada sauce over all of them. You’ll mostly want to make sure all the pasta has some sauce on it, so it doesn’t dry out in the baking process. You will likely not use all the sauce, but the large can allows you to be more generous with it. Someday, I’ll share the recipe for homemade enchilada sauce, but we’re just gonna do this version for now because it’s easy. Mkay…
Place in the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until the cheese is melty and lovely. You’re welcome to garnish with fresh cilantro, crema, diced tomatoes. I didn’t do any of that because I just didn’t. I have no excuses. Enjoy!