Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mexican Shell Casserole

One of the best gifts we got for our wedding was a recipe book that was custom-made for us by good friends of ours.  Tom was the associate pastor of our church and Megan, his wife, knew how valuable tried-and-true recipes would be to our new household.  Megan assembled the recipes, Tom typed them all up, and they put them all together in a lovely binder with room to add recipe cards of our own as time went by.  I go back to that book all the time—I have added lots of my own recipes, and adapted some of Megan’s.  This recipe comes from that book and started out great the way Megan wrote it—Mexican Stuffed Shells.  The original is a twist on traditional stuffed shells, filling jumbo pasta shells with a Mexican-style meat mixture and using salsa in place of spaghetti sauce.  I like to make the original recipe, but once when The Rev was still in seminary, I wanted to adapt it for our weekly potluck on the seminary campus.  Instead of filling jumbo shells, which can be time consuming and doesn’t lend itself to potluck-sized servings, I turned it into a casserole with medium pasta shells.  Over time, I’ve made some additions like Mexicorn (when I have it on hand) and tortilla strips sprinkled on top for extra crunch.  This is one of my favorite meals to take to someone such as a new mother because it’s easy, it’s tasty, and it’s a complete meal when you put a little fresh fruit or a salad on the side.  It also freezes really well.  Just put it in the freezer before the final bake.
Mexican Shell Casserole
2 c. uncooked medium pasta shells
1 lb. ground beef
1 can diced green chiles
1-24 oz. jar salsa (I use mild when I’m giving as a meal to someone else, but my family can take medium)
½ c. French fried onions
1 can Mexicorn (optional.  I didn’t have any tonight so I tossed a bit of corn I froze last summer in the water with the pasta for the last five minutes or so.)
1 ½ c. shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (I used 2% sharp cheddar)
Tortilla strips (usually found in the aisle with salad toppings)

Preheat oven to 350o.  Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Brown the ground beef and drain off excess fat if necessary.  When the beef is no longer pink, stir in the chiles (do not drain) and the salsa, watering down the salsa as necessary to approximate the consistency of jarred spaghetti sauce.  Stir in fried onions and simmer over low heat while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.  Cook the pasta just to al dente; drain.  In a 9x13 baking dish, combine the meat mixture, pasta, Mexicorn if you are using it, and ½ cup cheese.  Top with remaining cheese and scatter tortilla strips over the top (I’d guess I used about ¼ cup.)  Bake the casserole in 350o oven until cheese is melted and lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. 
*If baking after casserole has been refrigerated or frozen and thawed, cover with foil and bake until casserole is bubbly and cheese is melted.  Remove the foil and bake 5-10 minutes longer to brown cheese.

Tonight I served this with fresh sliced strawberries and of course a bottle of Tabasco for The Rev, who likes things a lot spicier than I do!  This is a hearty meal, and the five of us had a little less than half the casserole leftover.
Meat mixture

Pasta draining--you can see the fresh frozen corn I tossed in

In the oven--this gives you a good idea of how many tortilla strips I used

The finished product.  Delish!

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