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Semolina's Craveable Cheeseburger Pasta

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

The best of both worlds, the ingredients for this make-a-double-batch Cheeseburger Pasta can be as homemade or store-bought as you need. The nostalgia in this dish is real for me, too. For one, I'm a child of the 80's and 90's, which means I've eaten my body weight in Hamburger Helper. True to Louisiana moms throughout the state, my mom couldn't just serve us something straight from a box (the horror!). She'd always add the Holy Trinity- smothered onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Maybe some thyme from my dad's garden, maybe a little Worcestershire. Definitely Tabasco on the table. So, yeah, Hamburger Helper, but Cajun-ed up Hamburger Helper whose mascot would be a thigh-high shrimping boot instead of a white glove.

This chef-y version of Hamberger Helper came into my life when I worked at Semolina Pasta Restaurant during my college years. It was a Wednesday-only special so craved that even employees who were off that day came in just to order this elevated-stoner-food pasta. Who could blame them? The creamiest cheese sauce, a barely-spicy BBQ marinara, and savory seared beef were all complimented by the tang of mustard and pickles plus the crunch of lettuce, potato sticks, and toasted sesame seeds... I mean, if ya' mouth ain't watering yet you should probably see a doctor.*

To make things even cheesier (buh-dum-chuuu), Semolina is where I happened to meet my most amazing hubby. To my knowledge, there are somewhere around 6 couples who also met at Semolina around the same time who are still together today, babies and all.

Rob and I are going on 16 years, and we're still goopy in love.

I'm still making Cheeseburger Pasta a couple of Wednesdays a year.

Coincidence? Maybe.

Or maybe this dish is the food of love.

Why don't you make some Cheeseburger Pasta for your honey and let me know how it turns out for you.

Happy eating, y'all :)

Semolina's Cheeseburger Pasta

serves 4-5

1 lb. penne pasta

1 T butter or oil

1 T vegetable oil

1 1/2 lb ground beef (I like 80/20)

1/2 cup diced onion

4 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt and pepper

2 cups marinara

1/2 cup BBQ sauce

4 cups cheese sauce or queso

Topping options:

Shredded cheddar cheese

Shredduce, a.k.a. shredded lettuce

Sliced tomatoes

Yellow mustard

Sandwich-sliced pickles

Potato Sticks

Sesame Seeds



In a bowl, combine the marinara and BBQ sauce. Taste it; if it's too sweet add a splash of red wine vinegar or hot sauce. Prep your toppings: chop your veggies shred the cheese, and gather the crunchy bits.


Prepare pasta according to package directions. Strain (don't rinse!) and return to the pot. Add 1 T butter or oil and toss to coat; set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat (7/10). Add 1 T oil, ground beef, and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Break into chunks with a wooden utensil and cook until nicely browned. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, then remove from heat. Drain excess oil if necessary.

Add cheese sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Return to a low heat if necessary. If it gets too thick, stir in a splash of milk to loosen it up.

Assemble in this order:***

A dollop of BBQ marinara on the bottom of the plate

A big scoop of cheesy pasta

A not-as-big scoop of seared ground beef

A handful of cheddar cheese

A mountain of shredduce

A handful of tomato, jalapeno, and/or pickle

A drizzle of mustard

A shower of potato sticks

A sprinkle of sesame seeds

*I'm not a doctor. Please don't take my medical advice.

**Available, as in, "I did the cooking, y'all can do your own assembling."

***I didn't give portions for the toppings because people are picky about such things and I'm not that much of a know-it-all. You do you.

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