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Leftovers: This cheesy taco pasta includes a sweet secret ingredient

The recipe for this cheesy taco pasta includes a surprising sweet and candied ingredient. (Julia Ditto / For The Spokesman-Review)
The recipe for this cheesy taco pasta includes a surprising sweet and candied ingredient. (Julia Ditto / For The Spokesman-Review)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

My daughter begs me on a weekly basis to make homemade macaroni and cheese. She thinks of it as the ultimate comfort food, and with the state of the world as of late, comfort is what we’re all really looking for right now.

Sometimes, I’ll give in and make a big pot of straight-up mac and cheese for dinner. But on occasion, I have other ingredients languishing in my refrigerator or freezer that need to be used up, and plain old mac and cheese turns into something else entirely.

For example, with the epic event of Cinco de Mayo landing on Taco Tuesday this year, I’m guessing that homes throughout the country cooked up taco-seasoned ground beef in abundance last week.

And if all those homes are anything like mine, there was at least a cup or two of meat left sitting in the pan after every last taco had been consumed. Enter our leftovers hero: cheesy taco pasta.

What sets apart this pasta is the fact that the pasta is cooked not in plain water, but a combination of chicken broth and enchilada sauce. The savory and spicy-infused pasta is then mixed with two types of cheeses before being combined with leftover taco meat.

The whole cheesy mixture is gently poured into a pan and broiled with extra cheese on top, which adds a slightly crunchy, smoky texture and taste to the whole thing.

If you really want to take this meal to the next level, listen closely, because I’m going to tell you a secret that my husband might be upset with me for sharing, as he would like to hoard all of what I’m about to tell you about for himself:

Buy yourself a bottle of sweet candied jalapenos and sprinkle some on top of the cheesy pasta before broiling. My husband puts locally made B&G Sweet Heat Peppers on everything – even dishes that don’t seem like they would benefit from candied jalapenos (spaghetti, anyone?).

He loves them so much that the last time I sent him to the grocery store, he came home with eight jars because we happened to run out one time, and he never, ever wanted to experience that hardship again.

The next time you need some comfort food, try mixing up some of this cheesy taco pasta. It might just take you to the happy place you never knew you were missing.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Adapted from

4 cups chicken broth

8 ounces uncooked pasta (such as rotini, penne, mini shells or elbow)

1 cup enchilada sauce

1 pound cooked ground beef, flavored with taco seasoning

1 cup shredded mozzarella or pepper jack cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Sweet candied jalapenos, optional

Optional toppings: sour cream, salsa, avocado, tomatoes

Preheat oven broiler.

In a large pot or skillet, add the chicken broth, pasta and enchilada sauce. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat to medium for about 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally.

If there is too much excess liquid once the pasta is cooked, drain enough off so the pasta is still very moist but not swimming in sauce. Remove from the heat.

While pasta is cooking, heat the leftover taco meat in the microwave or a skillet until hot.

Combine the cheeses and add two cups to the pasta. Add the taco meat and stir well. Pour the pasta mixture into a 9-by-13 pan and sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese on top.

Top with sweet candied jalapenos, if desired. Place under broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until cheese starts to bubble.

Serve immediately. Top with sour cream, salsa, avocado and tomatoes, if desired.

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