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A chili pasta casserole that’s great for game night — or any night

(Rey Lopez for The Washington Post/Food styling by Nicola Justine Davis for The Washington Post)
Chili Pasta Casserole
Active time:20 mins
Total time:40 mins
Servings:6 to 8
Active time:20 mins
Total time:40 mins
Servings:6 to 8

I’m a sucker for a casserole, especially one made with pasta, sauce, meat and cheese. I love digging a big spoon into it and filling my dish with the comforting scoops that still have curls of steam rising off them.

Casseroles taste good, yes, but also, if you’re the cook in your house, you know they typically use fewer pots and often can be made with shelf-stable ingredients or refrigerator mainstays. Plus, they can fill you up when your wallet is a bit thin.

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While cruising through the “Seriously Good Chili Cookbook” by Brian Baumgartner, the actor who portrayed chili expert Kevin Malone on NBC’s “The Office,” I discovered what has quickly become a new favorite: Chili Pasta Casserole.

Baumgartner, who became famous for a chili-spilling scene on the hit NBC sitcom and has embraced his chili connection, collected more than 170 recipes from cook-off winners, chefs and regular folks. He got this dish from Sara Lundberg of Portland, Ore., who is a cookbook author and founder of Budget Savvy Diva, a lifestyle blog. Lundberg has five children, so she’s definitely zeroed-in on the importance of getting a thrifty dinner on the table fast.

In her recipe, Lundberg cooked the dish on the stove in a large skillet and then transferred it all to a 9-by-13-inch pan, but we used a large, ovenproof pan and that left us with one less pan to clean. (The pan must hold about 14 cups total.)

Brian Baumgartner — Kevin from ‘The Office’ — shares his chili tips

If, however, you want to make the dish ahead, use the casserole dish. It can be assembled and refrigerated so it is ready to be baked just before serving. This recipe also freezes really well. I froze it in two-person portions — the size of our household — and had three delicious meals at my fingertips.

The ease of assembly and freezing makes this a great option for potlucks, parties or game-day festivities, especially for weeknight football watching.

This is a dish that is easy to vary to your own taste, too. If you’re not a beef eater, substitute with ground turkey or chicken. Or go vegetarian with a plant-based meat or add another can of beans. If you want to slip vegetables in there, toss spinach, kale, peas or corn into the mixture and cook them down a bit before you add the pasta.

The best part is that the casserole takes 15 to 20 minutes to assemble. Then you pop it in the oven for 20 minutes, which gives you time to clean up any kitchen mess, make a green salad and uncork a bottle of red wine.

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When the casserole is bubbling and ready to dig into, Lundberg recommends a generous dollop of sour cream on top. I concur.

Chili Pasta Casserole

If you do not have a skillet large enough to accommodate this dish — it makes about 14 cups — or if you want to assemble it in advance, transfer the meat and bean mixture from the skillet to a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Add the pasta and stir until well combined. If baking right away, top with cheese and place it in the oven.

If not baking right away, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month. If frozen, allow the casserole to defrost in the refrigerator overnight and then bake as directed.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces short pasta, such as orecchiette, small shells or elbows
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small white onion (5 ounces), chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90 percent lean or higher) or 12 ounces plant-based meat, such as Beyond Meat brand
  • One (15-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • One (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • One (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • One (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 2 cups (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions, for serving

Step 1

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until al dente, then drain.


Step 2

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes.


Step 3

Add the tomato sauce, beans, diced tomatoes and green chiles, water, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.


Step 4

Transfer the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese and bake for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling and heated through.

Divide among bowls and serve with the sour cream and scallions on top or on the side.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (1 3/4 cups), based on 8

Calories: 471; Total Fat: 20 g; Saturated Fat: 10 g; Cholesterol: 74 mg; Sodium: 568 mg; Carbohydrates: 44 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 7 g; Protein: 29 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from “Seriously Good Chili Cookbook” by Brian Baumgartner (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2022).

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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