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Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Baked pumpkin mac and cheese.jpg
In this baked mac and cheese recipe, pumpkin puree bumps up the flavor, creaminess, and 
nutrition. You can hardly detect pumpkin flavor in the finished product except a bit of sweetness. Instead of using all milk for the liquid, using a flavorful vegetab

le (or chicken) for half the liquid gives it a deeper savory flavor. If you want a taste that screams "pumpkin!" a little stronger, feel free to experiment with other spices like ginger, cloves, or allspice (cinnamon might be a bit out-of-place). Make sure it's browned fully and evenly at the end; the crunchy top is the best part!
Recipe is vegetarian and contains no eggs. To make gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta and vegetable stock, and use sweet rice flour instead of regular flour.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

  • 12 cup small-diced onions (yellow, white, Spanish, or Vidalia) or leeks
  • 4 tablespoons (1⁄4 cup, or half a stick) of butter
  • Spices and flavorings:
    • 12 teaspoon chipotle powder (or a mix of smoked paprika and cayenne)
    • 12 teaspoon ground mustard
    • 12 teaspoon garlic powder (or more, to taste)
    • 12 teaspoon ground annato (optional; provides the bright yellow color)
    • Salt, black pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
    • 1 bay leaf
    • Optional fresh herbs: a few teaspoons of thyme, rosemary, or sage (if dried, use much less)
  • 3 tablespoons flour (for GF: use sweet rice flour)
  • 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
  • 1 cup vegetable stock (or chicken stock, or more milk)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (or other squash puree)
  • 8-10oz. grated cheese (I like about 2oz. smoked gouda, half an ounce of grated parmesan or romano; the rest sharp cheddar and/or jack) plus more for topping
  • 8oz. (half a pound) elbow, penne, or shell pasta (for GF: use corn, brown rice, or quinoa pasta)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside until cheese sauce is ready.
  2. Heat a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add butter and onions; saute until onions are softened (or if desired, browned). Meanwhile, combine milk/cream and vegetable stock (or, use all whole milk instead) in a saucepan or microwavable measuring cup and heat just below a simmer.
  3. Add desired herbs and spices to onions. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is incorporated and no longer raw; 1-2 minutes. Add bay leaf.
  4. Slowly add hot milk/stock mixture, stirring constantly until completely incorporated. Bring to a simmer; mixture should thicken. Turn heat down to low.
  5. Add cheese bit by bit, stirring until melted and smooth. Add pumpkin and stir; mixture will be very thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. Add pasta to cheese sauce, stirring until combined. Remove bay leaf. Divide mac and cheese among four mini-casserole dishes (or one large casserole). Bake for 20-30 minutes; bits of pasta should start to brown and sauce should bubble.
  7. Turn on broiler. Top each casserole with more grated cheese and broil until well-browned and crispy on top. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.


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