1/2 pound elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked pasta)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
2 medium onions , chopped medium
1 red bell pepper , stemmed, seeded, and chopped medium
6 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
8 ounces Colby Jack (Co-Jack) cheese , shredded (about 2 2/3 cups)
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni; cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and set aside.
- Wipe the Dutch oven dry. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink and beginning to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the beef through a colander, discarding the drippings, and set it aside.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the Dutch oven and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, red pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato puree, brown sugar, the reserved pasta water, and the drained beef; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have melded, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the cooked pasta and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish (or a shallow casserole dish of similar size) and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and browned, about 15 minutes. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.