Veggie-Filled Enchilada Pasta Casserole (with Optional Ground Beef)
Cinco de Mayo + comfort food. Now that’s a combo I can get behind. This Mexican-food-inspired combo might also add to my behind, so I made this cheesy pasta casserole as healthy as possible.
This veggie-filled enchilada pasta bake is – you guessed it – made with loads of veggies. In fact, there are about as many veggies in there as there is pasta. Maybe even a little more.
And. And! The pasta is whole wheat.
But don’t worry. It’s definitely not rabbit food. This stuff is smothered in cheddar cheese and baked to bubbly perfection, so we’ve got that. The carnivores can even get their own dish with ground beef added to the mix.
Me, I’m good with the hearty veggies – bell peppers, zucchini, and spinach – along with a confetti of black beans. A little sour cream adds just a bit of creaminess and tang to the spicy enchilada sauce, added with a generous touch to guarantee pure sauciness in every bite. Saucy is good. No dry casseroles here.
It’s worth noting that when I first started developing this recipe, I made the enchilada sauce from scratch. But ultimately, I felt like it just made the recipe too fussy – too many ingredients, too many steps. So I say, go with a good prepared enchilada sauce – but if you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and make your own! It’s a pretty forgiving recipe that way.
On top of all that sauce and pasta and veggies, there’s a nice layer of glorious melty cheddar. And olives! Black olives. You’ve got to have the olives. Man, I love olives.
I’m kind of proud of this one, I’ve gotta say. It’s a very, very nice way to eat your vegetables, be it Cinco de Mayo or any other day of the year.
Veggie-Filled Enchilada Pasta Bake (with Optional Ground Beef)
Packed with veggies and made with whole wheat penne, this saucy vegetarian baked pasta packs a little less guilt than your average comfort food casserole. If you've got meat-eaters coming to the table, it's easy to bake two versions: one with ground beef, one without. I've included instructions for cooking it both ways.
- 8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips
- 2 medium zucchini, halved and sliced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (28-ounce) can enchilada sauce (I like a hotter version, but mild works just fine too)
- 1/2 cup sour cream (I use low fat), plus more for topping if desired
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)
- 1/2 cup black olives, halved
- 3 green onions (scallions), diced
If adding ground beef to half:
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef, cooked, crumbled, and drained
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cook pasta, according to package instructions, until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat. Select a pot that will be large enough for mixing the veggies, pasta and sauce later on. Add the onion, bell peppers, and zucchini. Saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Add baby spinach and saute, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add salt and stir.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the enchilada sauce and the sour cream.
If making an all-veggie version:
- Add the black beans, sauce, and cooked pasta to the sauteed veggies. Toss gently to distribute. Pour veggie and pasta mixture into a 9-inch x 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and dot with halved olives. Continue to "Bake" step.
If making a half veggie, half ground beef version:
- Cook ground beef in a medium saute pan over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain.
- Add the black beans, sauce, and cooked pasta to the sauteed veggies. Toss gently to distribute. Transfer 5 cups of the pasta mixture to an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish and set aside. Add the hamburger to the remaining pasta mixture, mix gently, and pour into another 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle each with cheddar cheese. Dot with halved olives (my resident carnivore isn't fond of olives, so I put 'em all on mine and leave his plain. Great way to tell the meaty dish from the veggie dish, too). Continue to "Bake" step.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until heated through, bubbling, and the cheese has melted.
- Sprinkle green onions over the top. Serve with sour cream for topping, if desired.