Southwest Pasta Bake Recipe
Southwest Pasta Bake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Southwest Pasta Bake Recipe

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Fat-free cream cheese and reduced-fat cheddar make this creamy casserole lower in fat and calories. It's a good way to get our kids to eat spinach in "disguise". —Carol Lepak of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
TOTAL TIME: Prep: 20 min. Bake: 35 min. + standing
MAKES:8 servings
TOTAL TIME: Prep: 20 min. Bake: 35 min. + standing
MAKES: 8 servings


  • 8 ounces uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 package (8 ounces) fat-free cream cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jar (16 ounces) picante sauce
  • 1 can (8 ounces) no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • 1 can (6 ounces) no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 can (2-1/4 ounces) sliced ripe olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions

Nutritional Facts

1 each: 328 calories, 9g fat (4g saturated fat), 40mg cholesterol, 855mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate (6g sugars, 4g fiber), 25g protein Diabetic Exchanges:1-1/2 starch, 3 lean meat 2 vegetabl


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in milk. Stir in spinach and oregano; set aside.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Drain. Stir in the picante sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Drain pasta; stir into meat mixture.
  3. In a 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray, layer half of the meat mixture and all of the spinach mixture. Top with remaining meat mixture.
  4. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with olives and onions. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 8 servings.
Originally published as Southwest Pasta Bake in Light & Tasty October/November 2003, p27

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Reviewed Jan. 8, 2015

"Delicious! I make this for my family at least 1x a month and never have leftovers."

Reviewed Feb. 2, 2012

"I did not like this recipe at all. I don't think the cream cheese or spinach should be added at all. The flavor combinations were terrible."

Reviewed Nov. 13, 2011

"I love this recipe! I do make some changes when I make this. I use 99% fat free turkey instead of beef and low-fat cream cheese instead of fat free. It is delicious and doesn't taste low fat. I highly recommend it!"

Reviewed Oct. 11, 2011

"Loved this!! Made it just as shown except for used fat free ground turkey and Barilla whole grain Penne noodles. MMmm good!"

Reviewed Jun. 15, 2011

"This is delicious! I used 98% fat free turkey (lower fat than beef) and low-fat cream cheese (more taste than fat-free). My husband and I loved it. I will definitely be making this again. I may also try wheat pasta next time."

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