Taco Mac is a cheesy Tex-Mex pasta made in one pot with beef, peppers, and vegetables with rigatoni, a family favorite ready in 20 minutes!
Taco Mac is savory, cheesy, and incredibly easy to make in one pot in under 20 minutes. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner, made with ground beef, taco seasoning, cheddar cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta. Plus it’s full of vegetables like bell peppers, black beans, corn, and salsa. You can use store-bought salsa or freshly homemade Pico De Gallo. Flavor it with Homemade Taco Seasoning, and store leftover seasoning in the pantry for a quick meal next time!
Table of contents
Sabrina’s Easy Taco Mac Recipe
Sabrina’s Taco Mac is a delightful fusion of Mexican flavors and Italian pasta all in a one-pot meal and perfect for your next weeknight meal. Ground beef, sautéed with onions and bell peppers, is seasoned with taco spices, then simmered in a zesty mix of beef broth, tomato sauce, and salsa. Corn, black beans, cheddar cheese, and cooked rigatoni pasta are stirred in for a hearty, comforting dish. Optional toppings like extra cheese, cilantro, or crushed tortilla chips add extra flair. This dish offers a versatile Tex-Mex twist, perfect for a quick, family-friendly meal, and its blend of ingredients brings a unique, mouthwatering experience to the table.
Can This Be Made Ahead of Time?
Yes. You can make this ahead of time and freeze it for a busy night. We recommend only cooking the pasta until it’s al dente, so it can finish cooking the rest of the way when it’s reheated. Also, leave the cheese out if you’re making this to freeze.
Defrost in the refrigerator the night before, then reheat in a large skillet, adding some extra broth as needed. Stir in the cheese before serving.
- 2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil: The vegetable oil serves as the cooking medium, allowing the ground beef, onions, and bell peppers to sauté evenly. You can use other cooking oils like canola or olive oil as substitutes.
- 1 pound Ground Beef: Lean ground beef is the primary protein source, adding savory flavor and texture to the dish. Ground chicken, turkey, or plant-based alternatives can be used if desired.
- 1 cup Onion, diced: Diced onions provide a sweet and aromatic base for the dish, enhancing its overall flavor.
- ½ Red Bell Pepper, diced: The red bell pepper adds a vibrant color and a slightly sweet, smoky taste. You can use green, yellow, or orange bell peppers for variety.
- 2 tablespoons Taco Seasoning: Taco seasoning blends spices like chili powder, cumin, and paprika, infusing the dish with classic Mexican flavors. You can make your own blend of Homemade Taco Seasoning or use a store-bought mix.
- 1 cup Beef Broth: Beef broth adds depth and richness to the sauce, intensifying the savory profile. Vegetable or chicken broth can replace beef broth for dietary preferences.
- 1 cup Tomato Sauce: Tomato sauce provides a tangy and slightly sweet tomato base to the dish, balancing the flavors.
- 1 cup Salsa: Salsa contributes a zesty kick and tomato-based moisture, enhancing the overall taste. Choose mild, medium, or hot salsa based on your spice preference.
- 1 cup Corn: Sweet corn kernels offer a delightful burst of sweetness and texture. You can use frozen or canned corn.
- 1 cup Black Beans: Black beans provide a creamy texture and earthy flavor, along with a dose of protein and fiber. Kidney beans or pinto beans can be used as substitutes.
- 1 cup Cheddar Cheese: Shredded cheddar cheese adds richness and a gooey texture, making the dish creamy and indulgent. Monterey Jack, pepper jack, or a Mexican cheese blend are good alternatives.
- 8 ounces Rigatoni Pasta, cooked: Cooked rigatoni pasta is a hearty component, soaking up the flavorful sauce. You can use other pasta shapes like penne or macaroni for variety.
Kitchen Tools & Equipment
- Large Skillet: A large skillet is essential for cooking the ground beef, onions, and bell peppers. Use a non-stick skillet for easy cleanup, and ensure it has high sides to accommodate all the ingredients.
- Wooden Spoon: A wooden spoon or spatula is handy for stirring and breaking up the ground beef as it cooks. It prevents scratching in non-stick pans and is heat-resistant.
- Measuring Cups and Spoons: Accurate measurements are crucial for this recipe. Use measuring cups for liquids like broth, sauce, and salsa, and measuring spoons for spices like taco seasoning.
- Pot for Pasta: To cook the rigatoni pasta, you’ll need a large pot with a lid. Ensure it’s big enough to allow the pasta to cook without sticking together.
- Cheese Grater: A cheese grater is useful for grating cheddar cheese to achieve the perfect melt and creaminess in the dish. Grate the cheese just before adding it for the freshest taste.
How to Make
Time needed: 20 minutes.
- Step 1: Sauté Beef and Vegetables
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add 1 pound of ground beef, diced onion, and diced red bell pepper. Cook until the beef is browned and crumbled, usually taking about 5-7 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking.
- Step 2: Season and Simmer
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of your homemade seasoning or 1 packet taco seasoning over the cooked beef mixture. Stir it in, then add 1 cup of beef broth, 1 cup of tomato sauce, and 1 cup of salsa to the taco meat. Let it simmer for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly.
- Step 3: Add Corn, Beans, and Cheese
Now, add 1 cup of corn and 1 cup of black beans to the skillet. Stir everything together. Then, add 1 cup of cheddar cheese, allowing it to melt and create a creamy texture.
- Step 4: Incorporate Cooked Pasta
Finally, add 8 ounces of cooked rigatoni pasta to the skillet. Stir it in with the other ingredients until everything is well combined. Your Taco Mac is ready to serve with your favorite taco toppings!
How to Store
To keep your Taco Mac fresh, transfer any leftovers into airtight containers. Refrigerate them within two hours of cooking. Consume within 3-4 days to maintain optimal flavor and texture.
When reheating, add a splash of water or broth to maintain the sauce’s moisture. Use a microwave or stovetop at medium heat to avoid overcooking and ensure your Taco Mac tastes as delicious as when it was freshly made.
For long-term storage, freeze individual portions in airtight containers or freezer bags. It can be frozen for up to 2-3 months without compromising taste or quality.
Tips & Tricks
- Pasta Options: In this recipe, rigatoni pasta is recommended, but alternatives like penne or other noodles can be used depending on preference and availability.
- Protein Choices: Ground beef is typically used, but you have the flexibility to opt for ground chicken, turkey, or sausage. Leftover rotisserie chicken can also be diced and incorporated into the dish.
- Toppings: Consider serving the meal with extra cheese and green onion and/or fresh cilantro as colorful toppers. Sour cream is a must too!
- Garnish: For added texture, garnish the dish with crushed tortilla chips just before serving.
- Golden-Brown Cheese Topping: To achieve a golden-brown, bubbly cheese topping, utilize an oven-safe skillet and broil the dish for about 2-3 minutes. Caution is advised to prevent burning under the high heat of the broiler.
- Spice Variations: For those seeking extra spice, a pinch of cayenne pepper can be added, or a smoky flavor can be introduced with chipotle seasoning.
- Pasta Alternatives: The inclusion of pasta is optional; rice or serving the seasoned meat and vegetables with warm tortillas can provide an alternative Tex Mex burrito bowl experience.
Absolutely! You can substitute rigatoni with penne, macaroni, or any pasta of your choice without affecting the overall taste.
Ground chicken, turkey, or plant-based alternatives work well as substitutes for ground beef. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Yes, for added heat, you can sprinkle in ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper or adjust the amount of taco seasoning to suit your spice preference.
When broiling, keep a close eye on the dish. It should only take 2-3 minutes to achieve golden-brown cheese. Remove it promptly to prevent burning.
Absolutely! You can replace the pasta with rice or serve the seasoned meat and vegetables with warm tortillas for a Tex Mex burrito bowl. Enjoy the versatility of this dish!
- Add the vegetable oil, beef, onion and bell pepper to a large skillet and cook on medium-high until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add in the taco seasoning, beef broth, tomato sauce and salsa and cook until it thickens, 3-4 minutes.
- Add in the corn, black beans, cheese and pasta and stir to combine. Serve hot when ready!
- Click on the “yield” amount to slide and change the number of servings and the recipe will automatically update!
- Click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.
- To convert measurements to grams, click on the “Metric” option next to “Ingredients” in the recipe card.
Variations on Taco Mac
- Spicy Twist: For those who love heat, add a diced jalapeño or red pepper flakes to the meat mixture. You can also use a spicier salsa or sprinkle extra cayenne pepper.
- Vegetarian Delight: Skip the meat altogether and double up on beans. Add more veggies like diced zucchini, mushrooms, or spinach for a hearty vegetarian version.
- Cheese Lover’s Dream: Experiment with different cheese blends like pepper jack, Monterey Jack, or a Mexican cheese mix for a cheesier, gooier experience.
- Healthier Option: Opt for ground turkey or chicken, whole-grain pasta, and reduced-fat cheese for a lighter version. Add extra veggies to boost the nutrition.
- Gluten-Free: If you’re gluten-sensitive, substitute gluten-free pasta for the rigatoni and ensure your taco seasoning mix is gluten-free. Check all other ingredients for potential hidden gluten.
- Vegan Twist: Replace ground beef with crumbled tofu or tempeh. Use dairy-free cheese and ensure your taco seasoning is vegan-friendly. Serve with dairy-free sour cream or avocado for creaminess.
- Kid-Friendly: Make it kid-friendly by using mild salsa and reducing the spice level. You can also add diced tomatoes or even a bit of ketchup to sweeten the sauce.
Photos used in previous versions of this post.