An easy, cheesy skillet dinner with seasoned ground beef and pasta shells in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce. Reminiscent of a childhood favorite but with all the goodness of homemade.
I'm going to date myself a bit here. When I was a kid and saw those Hamburger Helper commercials with the white glove character (was that an oven mitt or something?), I would beg my mom to buy it, the cheeseburger one. She never did, although she had no problem buying all the other convenience foods of the time. But I guess this was just a bridge too far for my parents, especially my dad, to serve for dinner.
This is my imagined homemade version of that creamy, cheesy beef and macaroni pasta I saw on TV. I'm not saying it's better, I wouldn't know. But I do know this is really good and the definition of easy comfort food.
Versatile ground beef and seasonings combined with pasta shells in a to-die-for creamy cheese sauce. How could that not possibly be delicious? It pretty much comes together in one skillet, just boil the shells separately before adding them to the ground beef sauce.
Here's what you'll need:
- Medium pasta shells or another small shape like campanelle or fusilli.
- Ground beef, onion and garlic
- Italian seasoning, dry mustard, crushed red pepper and salt
- Worcestershire sauce for a little savory pop of flavor.
- Flour for the thickening agent.
- Beef stock my hands down preference is mixing up some stock with Better Than Bouillon beef base, I really think the taste can't be beat and it makes a big difference. It comes in a jar and you mix in one teaspoon per cup of water. Or you can use a good quality store-bought brand, or even homemade chicken stock would work.
- One can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes or regular crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce.
- Heavy cream
- A little sour cream
- Sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese shred it yourself, it will melt better than the pre-shredded packaged cheese.
- Grated parmesan for serving.
How to make cheesy pasta shells and beef
Step 1: Cook the pasta shells, drain and set aside. Meanwhile, brown the ground beef and onions until translucent.
Step 2: Add the garlic and seasonings to the ground beef mixture and cook until fragrant.
Step 3: Sprinkle with flour, stir and cook a couple minutes to incorporate and cook off the flour taste.
Step 4: Gradually whisk in the beef stock and crushed tomatoes.
Step 5: Simmer until reduced a bit and starting to thicken.
Step 6: Add the pasta and toss with the beef and sauce, then stir in the heavy cream and sour cream until heated through.
Step 7: Stir in the shredded cheese and heat until melted and sauce is creamy.
Step 8: Serve immediately with grated parmesan on top, enjoy!
Recipe notes and tips
- I really like to use Better Than Bouillon for the beef stock, I buy the seasoned roasted beef base. It is a noticeable taste difference over store-bought beef stock. Just mix in one teaspoon per cup of water. But you can certainly use store-bought beef stock, just seek out the best quality one you can find.
- I use medium pasta shells for this recipe. You can sub with another similar sized shape, like campanelle, fusilli or bowties. You want pasta shapes with nooks and crannies to hold that amazing sauce!
- I've used both sharp and extra sharp cheddar cheese in this recipe, it usually comes down to whichever one I have on hand. I give the edge to extra sharp, tho!
- Grate the cheddar yourself on a box grater, it will melt better than pre-packaged shredded cheese. The sauce will most likely be creamier this way.
- The cheesy beef and shells will thicken as it sits, so if you like it thicker, let it rest 5 or 10 minutes before serving. I just leave it on the stove with the heat turned off for several minutes.
Creamy, cheesy ground beef and pasta shells, easy and delicious comfort food on the table in under an hour. The whole family will love this dish, it's impossible not to. xxo- Kelly🍴🐦
Here are some more easy and comforting weeknight family dinner ideas:
- Easy Ground Turkey Enchiladas
- Skillet Pesto Mozzarella Chicken
- Sausage Sheet Pan Dinner
- Sausage, Apple, Potato and Sauerkraut Skillet
- Cast Iron Skillet Cajun Chicken Thighs
- Creamy Cajun Tortellini Soup
- Instant Pot Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- Creamy Cajun Pork Chops
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Cheesy Beef and Shells
- 8 ounces medium pasta shells
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef I like ground sirloin
- ½ medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt I use Diamond Crystal
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes just a pinch, more or less to taste
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 (15-oz.) can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sour cream, room temp
- 2 cups grated extra sharp/sharp cheddar cheese
- Grated parmesan cheese for serving optional
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous few pinches of salt and cook pasta shells according to package instructions, about 11 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and brown, stir and crumble about 4 or 5 minutes. Add onion to the beef and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until onions are translucent.
- Stir in garlic, Italian seasoning, dry mustard, crushed red pepper, salt and Worcestershire and continue cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Sprinkle with flour, stir to incorporate and cook off the flour taste, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Gradually whisk in the beef broth and crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir occasionally until slightly reduced and starting to thicken, about 7 or 8 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta shells to the skillet, stir in heavy cream and sour cream and heat through, about 2 minutes. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
- Add the grated cheese and stir to combine and melt, about 2 more minutes.
- Serve immediately, or let rest 5 minutes or so off heat to thicken more. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, if desired.
- Depending on appetites, this skillet dinner will serve 4 to 6 people.
- I highly recommend Better Than Bouillon to make the beef stock called for in this recipe, comes in a jar, just follow the directions.
- Can use regular crushed tomatoes or sauce, instead of fire roasted.
- Grating the cheese yourself is best, it will melt better. You'll grate about ¾ of an 8-ounce block of cheddar cheese to yield about 2 cups.
- The cheesy beef and shells will thicken upon sitting for several minutes.
Sunday 21st of August 2022
I made this for a Sunday afternoon meal. Everyone loved it! It was also easy to make. I will be making it again!
Thursday 3rd of February 2022
Tried it and LOVED it! A modern approach to classic comfort food. So tasty.
Thursday 3rd of February 2022
As a kid in the 70's, I totally remember those Hamburger Helper commercials. When we first had our kids HH was a somewhat regular dinner staple, until I learned of the evils of ultra-processed food that is. Good times!