One of the best things about fall, besides the chill in the air, football and Ocktoberfests, is the resurgence of comfort food. There’s something about the colder temperatures and brightly colored falling leaves that really give me a hankering for rich casseroles and a hearty chili or two. Growing up, my mom’s baked macaroni and cheese was my favorite comfort food. To give this popular dish even more flavor, I added fall’s hottest ingredient — canned pumpkin.
In my neck of the woods, canned pumpkin is liquid gold. You can’t find it anywhere. I had to search four grocery stores before I found a can in stock. Naturally, I bought about 15 cans to ensure I don’t run out this season. Because my pantry is spewing with this stuff, I’ve been adding it to just about everything. You name it — cakes, casseroles, pizzas, hamburgers, cocktails and, of course, macaroni and cheese. I love my macaroni and cheese extra creamy, and unfortunately, you sometimes lose that when you bake it. However, the addition of the canned pumpkin added more creaminess to the cheese sauce, keeping it extra gooey even after 10 minutes of baking. In addition to the creamy texture, the pumpkin pie spice adds such a unique flavor and incredible aroma. Bring this to your next tailgate party or to your family’s Thanksgiving meal for a fabulously fall side!
Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Yields: Six 1 cup servings
- 8 ounces of uncooked noodles (I used rotini)
- 1 cup of canned pumpkin
- 1 cup of light cream
- 4 tablespoons of Neufchatel cream cheese
- 1 cup shredded part-skim sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
- 1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (divided)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup of panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
- 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
- Cooking spray
- Cook pasta until al dente, about eight minutes in boiling water. Rinse and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
- Meanwhile, heat cream and pumpkin in a sauce pan on medium heat, until thickened.
- Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in cheese until completely melted. The sauce will be quite thick.
- Add in 1/2 pumpkin pie spice, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper. Add pasta and stir it into the pumpkin-cheese sauce and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Pour mixture into the greased dish. Sprinkle panko, parmesan cheese and rest of the pumpkin pie spice to completely cover the top of the macaroni. Add in more cayenne if you want a spicy crust.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until bread crumbs have browned.