This easy, cheesy Ground Beef Pasta dinner is basically grown-up Hamburger Helper. It has so much flavor but is still quick to get on the table.
This ground beef pasta recipe is like the Italian version of Hamburger Helper, but much much tastier! It’s a creamy beef pasta dish with melty cheese mixed in. Plus, it’s ready in under half an hour and is sure to be loved by the whole family.
Scroll down to read more about how it all comes together or click here to jump straight down to the recipe.
- Video: How To Make Cheesy Ground Beef Pasta
- What Is Ground Beef Pasta?
- What Pasta Shape Works Best?
- What Kind Of Beef?
- Why Do I Need To Reserve Pasta Water?
- Substitutions For Heavy Cream
- Optional Additions
- Make It A Baked Pasta
- Can I Make It Ahead?
- More Delicious Pasta Recipes
- Podcast Episode About Making Cheesy Ground Beef Pasta
- Easy Cheesy Ground Beef Pasta Recipe
Video: How To Make Cheesy Ground Beef Pasta
What Is Ground Beef Pasta?
In a nutshell, it’s a delicious creamy sauce with ground beef, tomato, and cheddar cheese mixed with a pasta shape like penne. How did this recipe come about? Well, quite often when I think of making a pasta dinner using beef, I turn to a basic spaghetti sauce (or this spaghetti sauce made in the Instant Pot). My family really loves that and so I make it often. But then I get bored of it, even though they want more.
When that happens, I make this ground beef pasta dinner instead. It’s still pasta, which they love. And ground beef, which they love. But the sauce is less tomatoey (there’s no can of marinara in there! Just some tomato paste and canned diced tomatoes), and it’s creamy because there’s some cream in there. And then it’s nice and cheesy, but with cheddar cheese instead of the more Italian Parmesan or mozzarella. There’s also a little bit of Worcestershire in the sauce, which really brings out the meatiness, and I think is what makes it taste a bit like Hamburger Helper (but better!).
What Pasta Shape Works Best?
My recipe calls for penne but any pasta shape that is that kind of size will work. Rotini, bow ties, shells, wide egg noodles are great in here, and even macaroni works well too. I particularly like tubes of some kind (like the penne) or pasta shapes with indents (like shells and rotini) so that the sauce gets right in those bits, you know?
If you want to use pasta strands like spaghetti or linguine, it’s great, but I like to break them in half before adding them to the water for this dish.
If your pasta box has a full pound (16 oz.) instead of 14 ounces, that’s fine. Go ahead and use it all. But then add in an extra tablespoon of tomato paste when it’s time for that in the sauce. And once your pasta and sauce are mixed together, you might want to drizzle in another 2 tablespoons of cream along with the pasta water, just to make sure it’s saucy enough for that bit of extra pasta.
Want a similar recipe but with rice instead of pasta? Try my Ground Beef and Rice Skillet. How about one with potatoes instead of pasta? This Ground Beef and Potato Skillet is one my kids ask for all.the.time.
What Kind Of Beef?
I use lean ground beef for this pasta dinner but any kind of ground beef will work. If it has a higher fat content, you’ll want to make sure to drain off the grease after browning the beef.
You can instead use ground turkey or ground chicken. I would avoid ground turkey breast however because it’s so dry and lean.
Why Do I Need To Reserve Pasta Water?
The water from when you’re boiling pasta has starch and salt in it. Adding it to a sauce thins the sauce a little bit, but not with just plain water. With starchy, salty water. In this case, it helps the sauce to coat all the pasta ensuring every bite is full of flavor.
Tip: I always forget to scoop out the pasta water and find myself draining the pasta and then being mad at myself as all the water drains away down the sink. Here’s what I do to help remember:
- When you read the recipe and it says to scoop out some pasta water before draining it, immediately put a colander in the sink and put a measuring cup in the colander. Then go ahead and put your water on to boil and cook your pasta in it. Then when you go to drain the pasta, you’ll see the measuring cup in the colander and it will remind you. Put the pot back on the stove, scoop out some water, AND THEN drain the pasta.
The pasta for this is going back into its pot after cooking. Why? I so often see recipes where you add the pasta to the pan that the sauce is in. That pan is often not super-large and it’s then hard to stir everything together. So instead, add the sauce to the large pot with the pasta and you’ll have way more room to stir.
Substitutions For Heavy Cream
Sometimes when dairy is added to a dish that has some acidity, the sauce curdles. This is especially likely if the dish comes to a boil or if the dairy has a low fat content. That is why heavy cream is called for here.
If you would prefer to use half and half or whole milk or canned evaporated milk, you can, but you do run the risk of curdling. To help prevent that from happening, prior to adding the dairy, take the sauce off of the stove. Stir it well to cool it down a bit. Then add in the dairy and the cheese and stir to melt it in.
If the cheese is not melting, return the sauce to the stove and heat it over medium heat while stirring continuously, just until the cheese has melted. Then take it off the heat.
One of the great things about this ground beef pasta recipe is that it’s so versatile. You can add and adjust ingredients depending on your family’s tastes and what you have on hand.
When you add the onions to your large skillet, you can also add any or all of the following: a chopped up bell pepper, 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms, 2 stalks of chopped celery, 2 peeled and chopped carrots.
I often add a 14 ounce can of cannellini beans to this recipe. Stir them in just before the tomato paste. Fresh spinach leaves or chopped kale can also be wilted into the sauce at this time. As much as 3 cups will wilt right down in just a couple of minutes. Use tongs to stir it in and get it under the hot sauce so that it wilts.
Instead of the diced tomatoes, you can use 2 cups of tomato sauce, any marinara style sauce will be great. If you don’t want to use the Worcestershire, you can skip it. I find that it adds a nice background meatiness. If you want to substitute something in for it, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard is a great choice.
You can make homemade Italian Seasoning or use store-bought, or you can use 1/2 teaspoon dried basil and 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano. Also, inspired by my Italian Sausage Seasoning recipe, I also really like to add fennel seeds to meals like this. It makes it taste a bit like Italian sausage. Use the actual Italian Sausage Seasoning instead of Italian Seasoning, or just use Italian seasoning and then add 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed. Fresh basil makes a really nice garnish for this dish, it’s pretty and adds tons of fresh flavor.
Make It A Baked Pasta
My go-to baked pasta dish is this No-Boil Pasta Bake, but this recipe is also delicious as a baked pasta dish.
If you want to turn this into a baked pasta, here’s how:
- After mixing the pasta and sauce together, transfer to a baking dish. Top with more shredded cheese, and then bake in a 400°F oven just until the cheese is melted.
Can I Make It Ahead?
This homemade hamburger-helper-style pasta dish will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days, so you can definitely make it ahead of time and then reheat it to serve. Either reheat it in the microwave, stirring every couple of minutes, or on the stove, stirring frequently. Or, you can put it in a baking dish, cover it in foile, and then bake it at 350F until heated through, about 30 minutes. Then, if you’d like, uncover it, top it with more shredded cheese, and bake a few minutes more until the cheese is melted.
This ground beef pasta also freezes very well, making it a great option for meal prep. Put it into an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.
More Delicious Pasta Recipes
- Beefy Stuffed Shells
- Italian Sausage Pasta Dinner
- Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Pasta
- Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
- Feta Pasta Bake Recipe
- Chicken Alfredo Pasta Bake
Podcast Episode About Making Cheesy Ground Beef Pasta
Listen to me explain briefly about how to make this pasta, along with some other great tips, by clicking the play button below:
This easy, cheesy Ground Beef Pasta Dinner is basically grown-up Hamburger Helper. It has so much flavor but is still quick to get on the table.
- 14 oz. penne pasta
- 1.5 lbs. ground beef
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire
- 1 (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Cook pasta according to package directions but remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water just before draining the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot it was cooked in after draining.
- Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add in the beef. Season with the salt and Italian seasoning. Spread out the meat and then cook undisturbed until well-browned underneath, 4-5 minutes. Break up the meat and stir.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until fully-cooked and no longer pink, about 3-5 more minutes. Drain off any grease, if desired.
- Stir the onions and garlic into the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-4 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well. Add the diced tomatoes with their juices. Stir and cook to heat through, 1-2 minutes.
- Add the heavy cream. Stir and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the cheese and mix well to melt it in.
- Add the beef mixture to the cooked pasta in the pasta pot. Stir.
- Add in 2-4 tablespoons of the reserved pasta cooking water to make the sauce a bit silkier. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.
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