Mac and Cheese is an American classic comfort food and in this Chili Mac and Cheese Casserole it goes a step further with a Mexican influenced salsa addition to ground beef and a crunchy breadcrumb topping.
Quick and easy, this homemade version gets lots of cheddar and pepper jack cheese to satisfy any cheese lover. No strange orange powdered packets, this is homemade with ingredients you know.
Hamburger Helper this is not. I remember eating those often as a kid and it brings back great comfort food memories, but this mac and cheese casserole is made from scratch and easier to make than you think.
I like to use both cheddar and pepper jack cheese in mine. I prefer not to breakdown the ground beef and keep the pieces chunky, all the better to get coated by the salsa and cheese sauce. Some Panko breadcrumbs with a little oregano tops this and in the oven it goes.
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? This one is made with two kinds of cheeses and starts with a little butter and flour to make a roux, which is just a fancy French term for a classic thickener of soups and sauces. Milk is whisked in and basically you have what is termed a béchamel sauce. Whisk in the shredded cheeses and this becomes one incredible, thick cheese sauce.
Simply add the cooked pasta, and if too thick, a little of the pasta water and you are set. This is what sets it apart from the boxed version. I always add a bit of the cooked pasta water to pasta sauces as it helps emulsify the sauce the pasta is in due to the starches from the the cooked pasta in the water. Remember that tip for other pasta dishes. 🙂
When you break through the crunchy breadcrumb topping the cheesy goodness awaits. Chock full of big chunks of beef and stretchy, spicy cheese, this mac and cheese casserole is pure comfort food. Like this one, check out my Chicken Tortellini Dijon Alfredo. Enjoy!
- 1 lb ground beef
- 2 cups chunky salsa
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 lb elbow pasta
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 cup Pepper Jack cheese shredded (See Note 1)
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- reserved pasta water
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp butter melted
- 1/2 tsp dry oregano See Note 2
- chopped cilantro
- Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large stock pot over high heat add ground beef and brown, breaking up meat into large chunks, about 4 minutes. Add salsa and cook another 2 minutes. Set aside.
- In a small bowl add the melted butter and toss with Panko breadcrumbs and dried oregano. Set aside.
- In the same stock pot bring 4 quarts of water and kosher salt to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.
- In same stock pot add butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir to cook a minute or two. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook on simmer until thickened. Add these cheeses and whisk until smooth. Add the dry mustard and pepper, stirring to combine.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and thin if too thick with reserved pasta water.
- Fold in the beef salsa mixture with the cheese pasta and pour into greased 9x9” baking dish. Top with breadcrumb mixture and bake for 15 minutes and top is golden brown and crispy. Serve immediately with chopped cilantro as garnish.
2. I prefer to use Mexican oregano if you can find it. A different flavor that you would recognize in most Mexican dishes. This is optional.