This taco pasta is a super simple one pot dinner that’s hearty, cheesy, and made easily in the Instant Pot! The mild heat level makes this perfect for kids and families, but it’s also easily customize-able!
This is one of my Instant Pot recipes I know you’ll want to keep on hand!
There’s one type of recipe that I never get tired of creating/cooking/eating. Easy. Dinner. Recipes.
You know, the kind of recipe that you can truly get on the table fast, are easy to prep ahead, and that the whole family will love.
No standing over a hot stove for an hour and a half. No 40 minutes of prep. And no kids whining that they “hate this gross food”. Sound familiar?
I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t struggled with a picky eater at some point in their kids’ lives. It’s frustrating… to say the least. And trust me, you’re not alone!
This recipe reminds me of a much better version of the Hamburger Helper we all grew up with… but with a Mexican-inspired taco flair!
How to make taco pasta in the Instant Pot?
This is just an overview; the full ingredients and directions are in the recipe card toward the bottom of this post.
- Brown beef. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
- Saute veggies. You want them to be softened, so this only takes a few minutes.
- Add beef and season. Feel free to use store-bought taco seasoning, or homemade.
- Add liquids. I like to use the mild picante sauce, but of course you can use whichever heat level you’d like.
- Add pasta. Don’t stir, just press down into the sauce if needed.
- Pressure cook. Quick release when finished.
- Add cream and cheese. Stir well, then let sit a few minutes to thicken.
If you’re leery of using heavy cream, you could use evaporated milk instead. I don’t recommend using regular milk (of any fat percentage)… since the milk could potentially curdle when adding it to the hot tomato based sauce.
Variations of this recipe
- Chorizo – to add more of a Mexican flair, try swapping half the beef for ground chorizo!
- Homemade seasoning – packets are easy, but homemade is almost as easy, I promise! Try my homemade taco seasoning blend… it’s fantastic.
- Pasta – I’ve only tested this recipe with medium shells, but in theory it should work with any short cut of pasta (such as farfalle, penne, rotini, elbow, etc). The timing may be different, but in general, to cook pasta in the Instant Pot – cook it for about half the time listed on the package.
- Spicy – I purposefully made this recipe mild, since you can always add heat, and it’s more difficult to take it away. If you’d like to add extra spice, try adding some cayenne pepper, use jalapeño (and use more than one if you’d like), and/or use a spicy picante or salsa.
- Vegetables – if you’d like to add some additional veggies, feel free to add some diced zucchini or corn.
The most important one is to cook the beef first, then add the onions. The moisture the onion gives off as it cooks will loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. You’ll also be scraping the bottom of the pot. The second way is to not stir, but rather just push the pasta down into the liquid a bit.
There are so many options, but I really love a generous sprinkle of minced cilantro, along with a sprinkle of black pepper. However, whatever you love on your tacos will also work! Sour cream, black olives, green onions, guacamole, etc.
Making taco pasta ahead of time
The fact that this recipe comes together so quickly, paired with the fact that leftover pasta dishes don’t taste as good as when made fresh, I don’t recommend making this dish entirely ahead of time.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t prep ahead.. it’s one of my pro tips for making quick and easy dinners. The more you can prep ahead, the better!
How to prep ahead for this recipe
- Veggies – the onion, poblano, and garlic can be diced/minced ahead of time and kept refrigerated.
- Liquid – the tomato sauce and picante sauce (or salsa) can be measured, added to a container, and refrigerated.
- Toppings – any taco toppings you’d like to use can be chopped and kept refrigerated.
Leftover pasta should be refrigerated in an airtight container and enjoyed within 4 days.
Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave, possibly with a splash of beef broth or water to loosen it up if necessary.
I love this model’s features like a completely flat bottom insert, as well as a locking insert, making stirring super easy. Plus, it automatically switches to sealing when you lock the lid!
Did you make this? Be sure to leave a review below and tag me @the_chunky_chef on Facebook and Instagram!
- 1 Tbsp vegetable or avocado oil
- 1 lb ground beef I like to use 85-90%
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 1 small poblano pepper (or jalapeño) minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 – 3 Tbsp taco seasoning (one standard packet is around 2 1/2 Tbsp)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano optional
- 16 oz box dried medium shells pasta
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- 8 oz picante sauce or salsa use any heat level you like
- 4 cups reduced sodium beef broth
- 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
- minced fresh cilantro
- sprinkle of black pepper
- your favorite taco toppings
- Select “saute” and if you have an option to select “high” select that. When hot, add oil, then beef. Cook the beef, crumbling as it cooks, for 4-5 minutes, or until fully crumbled and no pink remains. Drain.
- To the now empty pot, add onion and poblano (or jalapeño) and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any browned beef bits.
- Add garlic, stirring well to combine and cook about 30 seconds.
- Return drained beef to the pot, then taco seasoning, salt and oregano (if using). Stir well to combine.
Layer and add liquids
- Press “cancel”. Add medium shells to pot, do not stir.
- Pour in tomato sauce and picante sauce, then top with beef broth. Do not stir, just press shells down into the liquid, if needed.
- Secure lid and make sure the valve is on “sealing”. Press “manual” or “pressure cook” and pressure cook on high pressure for 4 minutes.
Quick pressure release
- When the time is up, move the valve to “venting” to perform a quick release. When the pin has dropped, remove the lid.
Add cheese and thicken
- Stir in heavy cream and shredded cheese.
- Stir until smooth and combined, then let sit for a couple of minutes to thicken up.
- Serve hot, sprinkled with minced cilantro, a pinch of black pepper, and your favorite taco toppings.
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- Prep and cook time does not include the time for the pot to come up to pressure, since this will vary from pot to pot and individual to individual. For reference, my pot usually takes 10-15 minutes to come up to pressure.
- The dried pasta can be added on top of the meat (as written here – with the sauces and liquids poured over the top of it), or added after the liquid (and just push the shells under the liquid if needed). Usually the order matters, but I have great results either way for this recipe.
- You won’t need nearly as much beef broth for this version, since the pasta will be cooked separately.
- Cook the pasta, according to package directions, in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain and set aside. You can toss it with a bit of oil to prevent it from sticking together too much.
- Heat a large skillet over MED HIGH heat until hot. Add oil, then beef, and cook for 4-5 minutes, crumbling as it cooks, until no longer pink. Drain and set aside.
- To the empty skillet, add onion and poblano and cook 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds or so.
- Return beef to the skillet, then season with taco seasoning, salt, and oregano (if using).
- Stir in tomato sauce, picante sauce, and 1/2 cup of beef broth.
- Add heavy cream and cheese, stirring to combine.
- Add drained pasta and toss to combine well.
- Serve hot, with desired garnishes.
The Chunky Chef is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.