Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

This pumpkin macaroni and cheese is easy and creamy and rich. What else would you expect from a skillet full of pasta, Cheddar, pumpkin, bacon, and sage? Comfort food at its most indulgent with a smidgen of conscience-appeasing healthfulness.

A cast-iron skillet filled with pumpkin mac and cheese

Each autumn, it goes something like this in our house:

“Hey, The One. What do you want for dinner?”

“Something pumpkin.”

“What about lunch?

“Something pumpkin.”

“A snack.”

“Something pumpkin.”

“Dessert? Let me guess: Something pumpkin.”

“No, chocolate.”

I can’t win with this man. But I have gotten good at serving him all kinds of pumpkin dishes: Pumpkin Soup, Braised Short Ribs with Pumpkin Orzo, Pumpkin and Sage Pasta Hats, and my famous Pumpkin Cake With Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting.

This year, though, I wanted to surprise him with something different. I had exhausted just about every pumpkin recipe on this site, and then it hit me: This man is a massive cheese ball. (I mean this in the very best way possible.) He loves cheese. On top of that, he literally, truly says, at least once a week, “I could eat pasta every day.” So I did a little math.

Cheese + pasta + pumpkin = pumpkin macaroni and cheese.

No, it wasn’t a huge leap, but it was a huge ass success. He loved the creaminess and the subtle-but-not-too-subtle pumpkin flavor that doesn’t distract from the sharp Cheddar cheese. And as he was shoveling forkfuls of the stuff into his mouth, he kept asking, “What’s that tang?” Then he’d cluck his tongue trying to guess it. (I knew he’d never figure it out. It’s cider vinegar. Just enough to brighten the flavor and complement the cheese.)

And since it’s near Thanksgiving and everyone will be wondering, What in the hell am I going to do with all this leftover turkey? I have just one answer: Bury chunks of it in this dish. And then make The One proud and serve a chocolate dessert afterward.

David Leite's signature

A cast-iron skillet filled with pumpkin macaroni and cheese.

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

When it comes to this pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe, or any mac and cheese recipe, call me wild and crazy, but I prefer unusual pasta shapes. Yes, yes you can go with old school elbow mac that we all had as kids in this pumpkin macaroni and cheese, but I say go a little wild. Several pasta shapes that are relatively easy to find that I like include gemelli, campanelle, caserecce, and cellentani. Will this pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe succeed or fail because of your pasta shape? No. Will your choice of a snazzy shape dress it up a bit? Absolutely.–David Leite

Video: Discover Other Pasta Shapes for Your Mac and Cheese

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 1 H
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 8 to 12
5/5 - 3 reviews
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Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and toss in 3 tablespoons salt.

While the water is coming to a boil, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat and stir in the panko. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the panko are coated with butter. Scrape the panko into a bowl.

In the same skillet over medium heat, fry the bacon until crisp yet still chewy, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels or a brown paper bag to drain.

If there’s enough fat in the skillet to cook the onion, great. If not, add a tablespoon or two of butter to the bacon drippings. Cook the onion over low heat, stirring often, until softened and golden, about 20 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. Scrape the mixture into a bowl.

Meanwhile, dump the pasta in the boiling water. Give it a stir to prevent it from sticking and cook it for 2 minutes less than specified on the package. (Trust us. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven.)

While the pasta cooks, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in the skillet over medium heat, add the sage, and let sizzle for 1 minute.

Dump in the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and slowly pour in the milk, still whisking continually. Repeat with the cream. Whisk in 2 cups cheese until it melts.

Add the reserved bacon, onion, pumpkin, vinegar, thyme, nutmeg, 2 1/2 teaspoons (9 grams) kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Take a taste and add more salt or pepper, if you wish.

Drain the pasta and dump it into the skillet and stir to combine. (Alternately, you could dump everything in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.) Top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese and then sprinkle with the buttered panko. Bake in the oven until bubbling and the panko is lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let the pumpkin macaroni and cheese rest for about 10 minutes and then bring it to the table and scoop it straight from the skillet. Originally posted November 23, 2015.

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    What You Need To Know About Reheating This Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

    • This pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe makes A LOT of macaroni and cheese. As in, ample. Enough for leftovers, even. This simple fact is epic because, like all casseroles, this dish actually improves with age—but only if you reheat it with care. Shy away from the temptation to plop it in the microwave as the fats in the sauce separate and all manner of nasty greasiness will ensue. Instead, cover the dish of macaroni and cheese and slide it in a warm oven or scoop the macaroni and cheese into the top of a double boiler and gently heat until it’s warmed through. If your leftover pumpkin macaroni and cheese seems a touch on the dry side as you warm it, just stir in a little whole milk.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    This pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe is amazing. The addition of pumpkin gives such a warmth to the macaroni and cheese although it doesn't taste like "pumpkin. So don't think sweet. Think a rich, cheesy sauce with a beautiful, deep orange squash-like taste wrapped around little pasta shells.

    This dish is a little time consuming. The cheeses I used were extra-sharp Cheddar and a little sharp white Cheddar—a favorite combination of mine. After adding it to the flour and milk mixture, it created a lovely cheese sauce that looked amazing. The pumpkin rounded out the creaminess and mixed perfectly with the cheese sauce. The It was bubbly and looked great! The final outcome was a beautiful creamy macaroni and cheese with a wonderful hint of pumpkin. Again, don't think of sweet pumpkin.

    This an amazing recipe and you really should try it!

    This is wonderful cold weather comfort food at its best. That's the short and sweet review for this recipe. There is nothing I would change here. Other than the lovely flavor and texture, I loved the weight measures, even for the onion!

    The sauce had a very nice consistency. It was thick and creamy and coated the elbow macaroni perfectly. Out of the oven it is perfectly cooked with a bubbly sauce and great texture. The flavors work so good with a great balance of sharp cheese (I used a mixture of Cheddar and Gruyère that I had on hand), caramelized sweet onions, and herbs, all rounded out by a touch of cider vinegar.

    This can easily serve 8 as a main or even up to 12 as a smallish side dish.


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    1. When I returned from my weekly pandemic grocery shopping I discovered I did not have canned pumpkin. So I roasted some squash — not as orange as pumpkin, but it made the sauce earthy and delicious. Yum —a keeper.

    2. Goodness, this really does make alot of mac and cheese! Just as well as I made it as part of a shoot dinner and a bunch of very hungry men who had spent the afternoon in the cold and wet came back and devoured the lot! It was highly praised, so thank you for this marvelous recipe. I used a small pumpkin and sage and thyme from my garden and added a bit of Maille Honey Mustard which worked well. Outstanding, thank you!

      1. Patricia, I’m delighted to hear the guys liked the recipe. And yes it does make a lot. I figured why make believe we’ll all eat daintily when what we really want is to do a face-plant in the skillet!

    3. So, I’m have not made this yet but pretty sure it will make an appearance at Thanksgiving! I really just wanted to say thank you for using an ENTIRE can of pumpkin! Do now know how many recipes call for 3/4 of a can of pumpkin and what the hell are you supposed to do with 3 ounces of leftover pumpkin? 😘 Happy thanksgiving!!

      1. Oh, don’t I know it, Sharon! I’ve been test-driving a few pumpkin recipes lately, and I had a collection of cans 1/4 or 1/5 full on of kitchen window sill.

    4. I have everything in the house to make this…except the heavy cream… 🙁 Would there be a huge taste/texture difference if I just used all whole milk? Love your suggestion of throwing in leftover turkey because, yeah..what the hell do you do with all that leftover turkey? 🙂

      1. Chris, shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure the sauce thickens properly, as cream is thicker than milk. And YOU know what I’m talking about with turkey….!

    5. I made this last night and my family raved about it. So good! Very rich, though. I did substitute 2% milk for the whole milk and turkey bacon for the pig bacon. Like some other commenters, I also chopped the bacon before cooking it. Turkey bacon has much less fat so I needed some extra butter for the onion. It was a great way to use some of the sage and thyme that are still growing in my garden. For the pasta I used some Trader Joe’s fall butternut squash pasta shaped like little pumpkins. Delicious!

      1. Superb, Amy. And I hear you: I was looking for all kinds of ways to use up the sage in the garden. In part, that’s what prompted me to develop the recipe.

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