Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Ok, so technically the dish that is photographed here would be pumpkin penne & cheese… but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll just assume that we’re in agreement and that it’s okay for me to henceforth (yes, I wrote henceforth) refer to this as mac & cheese.

More specifically: creamy, rich, cheesy, comforting, perfect-on-a-cool-autumn-evening mac & cheese.

With pumpkin.

Oh goodness, I think my heart just skipped a beat.

If you think pumpkin puree should be reserved only for baked goods, let this recipe serve as proof that you are sorely mistaken. Its luscious texture and earthy flavor render pumpkin puree a fantastic addition to savory dishes, such as this mac & cheese.

True, pumpkin needs a little oomph from the spice department in order to be downright delicious, but I’ve got that covered. A pinch of nutmeg does wonders for the pumpkin cheese sauce, as does a bit of cayenne pepper.

In terms of the cheeses included in the sauce, I settled on three: neufchatel cream cheese for its smooth silkiness, gruyere for its luxurious meltability, and reduced fat sharp cheddar for its piquant flavor.

Clearly, I prefer creamy stovetop mac & cheese to the crispy baked version… but I bet this dish would also be delicious crowned with a sage-infused breadcrumb mixture and popped into the oven until set.

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz uncooked macaroni or other pasta, preferably whole wheat or whole wheat blend pasta
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat milk
  • 2 oz (about 4 Tbsp) 1/3-less-fat neufchatel cream cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated 50% reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese (can sub in any good melting cheese, such as monterey jack)
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper, or more depending on heat preference
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together and heat pumpkin puree and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until hot.
  3. Reduce stove heat to low. Whisk in cheeses until fully melted.
  4. Stir in nutmeg and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir drained pasta into the pumpkin-cheese sauce and mix until thoroughly combined.
  6. At this point, the mac & cheese might appear a bit soupy. If this is the case, let the mixture sit off of the heat for a few minutes. The cheese sauce will firm up as it slightly cools.
  7. Serve with an extra dusting of nutmeg, if desired.


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