Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Puts Fall Spin on Classic

Add a taste of autumn to the classic mac and cheese.
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Puts Fall Spin on Classic
Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Tribune News Service
By Gretchen McKay From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Football isn’t the only thing people go nuts over this time of year.

September also marks the start of pumpkin-spice season, with the warming (and controversial) seasonal fall flavor finding its way into everything from your Starbucks latte and Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale to cookies, popcorn, spreads, breads, creamer, yogurt, gelato, cereal, and toaster pastries. Love it or hate it, Nissin even makes a pumpkin-spice cup of instant ramen noodles.

This luscious mac and cheese recipe dumps the “spice” part of the popular duo, but goes heavy on the pumpkin—or should we say squash—because the bright orange puree that goes in Libby’s famous cans of pure pumpkin is actually Dickinson squash, an elongated American heirloom winter squash with tan-colored rind and dense flesh.

I used ruffled campanelle noodles for a bit of flair, but any hollow and tubular pasta noodle that features nooks and crannies for capturing the cheese sauce will work well. A blend of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses enhances the flavor of the traditional cheddar. Make one giant pan to share or divvy up into individual gratin dishes. Don’t forget the panko topping—it adds a marvelous crunch on top of all that cheesy decadence.

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

PG tested
For Mac and Cheese
  • 8 ounces rigatoni or elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half (or cream or milk)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry ground yellow mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated, divided
  • 4 ounces grated Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheese blend, or similar
For Topping
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (I used plain panko)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions for firm, or al dente. (Make sure not to overcook or it will turn to mush when baked.) Drain, rinse, and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Make cheese sauce. In a large pot, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  4. Stir in half-and-half, return pan to heat, and cook over medium-low until mixture begins to simmer. Cook for 1 minute to thicken, stirring constantly.
  5. Stir in pumpkin, mustard, paprika, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Stir in about 1 1/2 cups cheddar, plus all the Parmesan/Pecorino Romano, and cook over medium-low until cheese is melted, about 1 minute, stirring nearly constantly. Turn off heat. Add to pasta and toss to coat.
  7. Transfer mac and cheese to buttered pan, or divide into buttered individual ramekins. Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese evenly over the top and set aside to make topping.
  8. Make topping: In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt 1/4 cup butter (about 30 seconds on high). Add breadcrumbs and toss with a fork until small clumps form. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese. Sprinkle with paprika.
  9. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately. Mac and cheese can be stored airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days and reheated gently in the microwave.
Serves 4-6.

—Adapted from “Cooking with Pumpkin” by Averie Sunshine.

Copyright 2023 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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