Even though it may still very much be summer outside, for a lot of the country, a new school year is already starting. It's a tough transition from the looser days of summer vacation back into the school-year schedule, but luckily, we've got something that can help with getting back into the swing of weeknight meals. That secret weapon is Taco Mac & Cheese.
A riff on the traditional oven mac & cheese, Taco Mac & Cheese incorporates elements of Tex-Mex tacos into the cheesy goodness of the American classic, adding a little extra heft with vegetables and protein to make it more of a full meal. Our recipe calls for ground beef, but you could absolutely substitute ground turkey or even a can of black beans if you wanted. Cook the meat with onion and bell pepper in a large skillet or Dutch oven until the beef is cooked through and the vegetables are soft. If you felt like adding other vegetables instead or in addition to the bell pepper, now is the time to do it to allow them to cook through before mixing in the pasta and cheeses.
Combine the vegetable and meat mixture with cooked pasta, store-bought taco sauce, and shredded cheese. Then you're going to make a quick bechamel sauce. It might sound intimidating, but it's just a pretty simple combination of butter, flour, and milk to make a delicious sauce glue for all those ingredients. In a medium saucepot, melt one-half a cup of butter, which is one standard-sized stick. When the butter is melted, whisk in a half cup of flour thoroughly, so that the mixture looks a little like wet sand. Don't worry if it looks dry at this point—we'll fix that in a minute. Cook the flour butter mixture, whisking constantly, for about a minute, before slowly adding in three cups of milk. Whole is ideal but if all you have is 2% or even skim, don't worry, you can use it. Whisk constantly as you stream in the milk and keep cooking the mixture until it thickens up. This might take a little bit longer than you'd expect, but keep going, and don't crank up the heat. The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a spoon—meaning you can drag your finger through the coating it leaves on the back of a spoon and it leaves a visible channel. That's it, you've made a bechamel.
Stir the sauce in with the mixture and dump the whole thing in a casserole dish or a large skillet, adding in the cheese you reserved. At this point you can cover it with foil and pop it in the fridge for dinner later that night or the next day, or you can go ahead and bake it in the oven. Serve with all your favorite taco fixings, like pickled jalepenos, sour cream, or even crumbled tortilla chips for extra crunch. Weeknight dinner, saved.
Get the recipe for Taco Mac & Cheese.