Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Recipe
As I spent my childhood in France, Thanksgiving wasn't part of our traditional feasts. I’ve come to believe that Thanksgiving is synonymous with an abundance of comfort food. My personal all-time favorite comfort food is mac and cheese, so I tried adapting the dish with the flavors of the holiday season. I added diced pumpkin to the traditional layers of macaroni, white sauce and string-y, melted cheese. The pumpkin infuses a mild sweetness into the dish and really adds another dimension. It also doesn’t hurt that the colors are so reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
Mac and cheese is a great dish that is suitable all year round. You can flavor the dish with your favorite ingredients such as morel mushrooms, red pesto or any combination of cheeses. If pumpkin isn’t your thing, make your own pasta gratin creation; let your imagination run wild!
Yields: 8 servings1 (16-ounce) package ditalini pasta, cooked
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4-½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
½ cup Asiago cheese, freshly grated
½ cup sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
½ cup Fontina cheese, freshly grated
½ cup mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
4 tablespoons curly parsley
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Prepping the pumpkin: Remove the seeds and the strings(if any). Place the cubes of pumpkin on a greased baking sheet with the sprig of thyme in the center. Sprinkle with sugar and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 425°F for about 1 hour until soft. Let the pumpkin cool completely. Discard the thyme.
Note for the pasta: Cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about 1/3 cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse) into a large colander. Season with a little salt.
For the white sauce:
In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low; you don't want the butter to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter and form a paste. Stir well until incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat and stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the cheeses (except Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of mozzarella cheese). Mix well. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
In a blender, combine half the amount of pumpkin with the white sauce. Pulse until the sauce is smooth.
In a large non-stick pan, heat some olive oil. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until golden and fragrant. Add the cooked ditalini pasta and toss for about 2 minutes. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add a little pasta water. Turn off the heat and add the pumpkin sauce. Mix until the pasta is well coated. Add the remaining diced pumpkin pieces. Check seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.
In a casserole dish greased with 1 tablespoon butter (for easy clean up), add the creamy pasta and sprinkle with more mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Spread the top with little pieces of butter. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes at 400°F and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden crust. Remove from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Cut into squares.
Garnish with more parsley.
If you want to prepare the dish in advance, place the creamy pasta in the baking dishes but only bake 30 minutes before you're ready to serve. (If you store the pasta in the refrigerator before baking, make sure the pasta is warm; maybe bake for a longer time, 15-20 minutes).
I used a wide variety of cheeses; you could use other cheeses such as goat cheese, Monterey Jack, Gruyère or Munster.
To make white sauce, I always start with all the ingredients at the same temperature, so make sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
Published By: on November 22, 2011.