This pumpkin macaroni and cheese is creamy and rich (yet surprisingly light). What else would you expect from a skillet full of cavatappi, bacon, Cheddar, pumpkin, and sage?
Each autumn, it goes something like this in our house:
“Hey, The One. What do you want for dinner?”
“What about lunch?
“Dessert? Let me guess: Something pumpkin.”
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 afterwards.
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 nuts. 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. This recipe has been updated. Originally posted November 23, 2015.–David Leite
How To Reheat Leftover Pumpkin Macaroni And Cheese
This pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe makes A LOT of macaroni and cheese. Enough for leftovers. This simple fact is epic not just for obvious reasons but 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.
Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
- Quick Glance
- 1 H
- 1 H, 30 M
- Serves 8 to 12
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound (454 grams) cavatappi, elbow macaroni, or small shells
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, divided, more if needed
- 1/2 cup (35 grams) panko or fresh bread crumbs
- 8 ounces (225 grams) bacon, preferably maple cured
- 1 medium (235 grams) onion, cut in half through the root then into half moons
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 15 sage leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (355 milliliters) whole milk
- 2 cups (475 milliliters) heavy cream
- 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces/285 grams) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- One 15-ounce (425-gram) can solid-packed pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1. Place the oven rack in the middle position and crank the heat to 350°F (177°C).
- 2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and toss in 3 tablespoons salt.
- 3. 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 stir until the panko are coated with the butter. Scrape the panko into a bowl.
- 4. Fry the bacon in the same skillet over medium heat until crisp yet still chewy, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels or a brown paper bag to drain. Roughly chop or crumble the bacon.
- 5. 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 3 minutes more. Scrape the mixture into a bowl.
- 6. Meanwhile, dump the pasta in the boiling water. Give it a stir to prevent it from sticking and cook it 2 minutes less than specified on the package. (Trust us. The pasta will continue cooking in the oven.) Drain the pasta.
- 7. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in the skillet over medium heat, add the sage, and let sizzle for a minute. Dump in the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute. Raise the heat to medium-high and slowly pour in the milk, 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.
- 8. Dump the pasta 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 rest for about 10 minutes and then scoop and serve the pumpkin macaroni and cheese straight from the skillet.
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