Friday, November 16, 2012

Pumpkin Mac 'n Cheese

Sometimes I find recipe inspiration in unexpected places.

We were visiting daycare centers and playschools last week- Lila will go back to daycare when I'm back at work in a few weeks, and we visited several school to find a place she will love. The schools have all their weekly lunch and snack menus posted prominently on the bulletin board and of course I'm always curious to see what's being served.

One school had the most delicious menu- I saw pumpkin mac 'n cheese on the menu for lunch that day and thought- mmm, that sounds so good.

Today, V had a Thanksgiving potluck lunch at his workplace and I thought pumpkin mac 'n cheese would be a good dish to send in- crowd-pleasing and simple enough to make, plus mac 'n cheese is a standard Thanksgiving side dish, with pumpkin adding some seasonal flair.

There are many recipes online and this one caught my eye. Embellished with savory notes from browned butter and caramelized onions, I just had to make it. I made a crunchy topping of breadcrumbs, sage (another flavor of the season), parmesan and french fried onions.

The favors of this dish are similar to this butternut squash onion lasagna I posted a few winters ago but this recipe is even easier to put together.

A couple of notes: The pumpkin bechamel sauce can be cooked a day ahead of time and stored in the fridge. I used canned pumpkin puree this time; if you do, make sure you buy pure pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling, which has sugar and spices. And although I would never endorse "hiding" vegetables in dishes, the pumpkin truly blends into the sauce, adding a richer orange color and sweet flavor that any kid would enjoy.

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
(Adapted from this recipe on Brokeass Gourmet)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Cook 1 box (14 oz or so) short pasta such as elbows or rotini. Save a cup of pasta cooking water.
3. To make the pumpkin bechamel sauce, heat 4 tbsp. butter and fry 1 sliced onion on low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the onion is caramelized and the butter is browned. Then stir in 1 tbsp. flour and cook until the flour is toasty.
4. Slowly whisk in 2 cups whole milk and 1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin puree and bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.
5. Add 2 loosely packed cups shredded cheddar cheese. Make sure the saucepan is pulled off the heat before adding the cheese. And add cheese in small handfuls, stirring in as you go along. This way the sauce will be smooth and you won't have cheese stuck to the sides of the pan. 
6. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes (optional).
7. Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour into greased casserole. You don't want the sauce to be too thick (it will thicken upon baking and standing); thin it with pasta water if needed.
8. Topping: In a bowl, mix a handful each of panko (coarse Japanese breadcrumbs), grated parmesan cheese and French fried onions (a supermarket staple around Thanksgiving because it is used in those green bean casseroles) and a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh sage. Spread the topping evenly on the pasta.
9. Bake for 20 minutes or until the topping is browned and the sides of the casserole are bubbling. 

The potluck dish came back scraped clean so I'm guessing they enjoyed it. I hope you have a lovely weekend!


  1. This is just what I needed! I have tons of pumpkin on hand to use up and I was searching for all kinds of things to make with it. Just one question, does pumpkin make this mac'n'cheese sweet?

    - Priti

    1. It is sweetish for sure! I personally enjoy sweet flavors in savory dishes but yeah, not everyone will like that.

  2. No eggs! Yaaay!
    My friends and I are planning a thanksgiving pot luck party next weekend and this will be a nice option for me.

    1. Nope- no eggs. And most Thanksgiving sides don't involve eggs so there's tons of options for you :)

  3. Sounds delightful, N! So you used the fried onions instead of caramelized ones, right?

    1. Oh Vani- I left out a very important step of adding and caramelizing onions!!! Shoot- glad you asked, because now I've fixed the recipe.

  4. yummy it looks!

  5. Looks super yummy and very tempting! I cant wait to cook it, but will have to wait till im able to eat it, as im a new mum, and im not sure if pumpkin is good for the bub yet (who's going to be 1 month tomo) :))

    1. I've never ever heard of pumpkin being a problem for baby because of a nursing mother eating it, but of course that's a decision for you to make.

      Congratulations on the new baby :)

  6. You mean you're *not* making canned green bean casserole? ;) This looks like a much more delicious use of fried onions, for sure!

  7. Made this last night for dinner - it was so yummy!!
    My 3-year-old 'helped' me make it, grating the cheese and mixing the pasta in with the sauce - we ended up licking the sauce with our fingers from the pan, singing yummy yummy all the time :-)
    Thank you for sharing this! The pumpkin (I used 'parangikai') gave this such a creamy and mildly sweet flavor - it was awesome!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I am so delighted that you and your 3 yr old had fun making and eating it.


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