I’ve been chomping at the bit to update this Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe. It’s been on the blog for a few years, however, I felt it deserved some more love so I’ve gone ahead and updated the post and recipe to give this delicious creamy pasta dish and classic comfort food a new lease on life.
Mac and cheese was never something I enjoyed, until adulthood. From memory, my brother used to like it, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than covering pasta in a creamy, cheesy sauce. I was more a tomato based sauce girl like this ragu bolognese or this venetian crab linguine, but luckily I discovered the pleasure of eating creamy pasta dishes, and now I’m making up for lost time.
This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe is a spin on the classic. By adding pumpkin puree, somehow the sauce is even silkier and has a subtle pumpkin flavour. Even though there is quite a bit of pumpkin puree in this recipe, it doesn’t steal the show. In fact, all the ingredients shine.
The Best Pasta for Mac and Cheese & What is Macaroni?
Obviously, the best pasta is in the name. Macaroni is a tubular, curly pasta. It has a hole through the centre and often ridges along the outside. That shape is perfect for holding onto thick sauce because sauce will cling to the ridges and seep into the hole in the centre.
You can use other pastas for mac and cheese very successfully. Try to stick to tube style pasta with ridges or grooves. Penne and elbows work well but even mini shells work great do as they act like little cups to catch the sauce.
The Creamy Pumpkin Sauce
This sauce is made using homemade pumpkin puree. If you can get the canned variety and you prefer it, then you can certainly use that – just don’t use pumpkin pie filling.
I cook my own pumpkin and puree it in a blender which takes very little effort and you know it has nothing but pumpkin in it.
I’ve also made this sauce using roasted pumpkin before. Roasting pumpkin intensifies the natural sweetness of it and translates beautifully into this cheesy, savoury dish.
The Best Cheese for Macaroni and Cheese
This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is made using a combination of mozzarella and cheddar but there are other options. Gouda would add a lovely creamy element to this, as would gruyere. A little parmesan would really increase the savouriness of the whole dish.
Stick to melting cheeses (so not feta or haloumi for instance) and whatever you do DON”T use pre-grated cheese. Use a block and grate it yourself since pre-grated varieties actually have a coating to stop the cheese from clumping together and it will affect the texture of your pumpkin sauce.
How To Make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- Start by steaming cubes of pumpkin until tender, then add them to a blender with ¼ cup of milk and blend. Make sure to remove the steam cover on your blender and sit a tea towel gently over the hole so that it doesn’t spit up.
- Boil the dried pasta according to packet instructions until al dente.
- The sauce is made similar to a bechamel or white sauce – cook out flour in butter, then add a little garlic followed by milk and pumpkin puree.
- Once it thickens a little, turn the heat off and add the cheeses. Stir them until melted (place it back over low heat if you need to but don’t bring it to a bubble).
- Season and serve.
Tips for making Mac and Cheese ahead of time
I find mac and cheese always best served fresh, however, if you want to make it a day ahead just keep the pasta and sauce separate and reheat when needed.
- Macaroni: Cook the pasta, then drain it. Tip it into your serving dish and splash over a little olive all (not to much) and mix it all up. This will stop the pasta from sticking together. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge but give it a toss around every so often until it’s totally cooled.
- Pumpkin Sauce: You can make the pumpkin sauce entirely, then store it in an airtight container in the fridge. When ready to serve, reheat the sauce over low heat until it hot to the touch. Toss in the pasta and heat that through, then serve.
I prefer this method, to keep the components separate as the starch in the pasta can thicken the sauce once they’re combined and as it cools, it seems to congeal the sauce and it’s never quite as smooth as when you first made it.
Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese?
Technically, yes. It thaws ok but for the reasons stated above I prefer to serve mac and cheese fresh. The sauce is never quite as creamy as when it was first made.
So, there you go. Classic comfort food and a delicious Thanksgiving or fall side dish (or anytime dish, to be honest) – this Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is an absolute winner. What could be wrong with pasta wrapped in a silky pumpkin sauce?
More Pasta Dishes You’ll Love
- Chicken Lasagna with Spinach and Mushrooms
- Chicken Penne Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes
- Meatball Pasta Bake
- Leftover Ham, Sweet Potato, Ricotta Pasta Bake
- Greek Pastitsio
- One Pan Chicken Pesto Pasta Bake
Stovetop Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- 500 g pumpkin (or butternut squash)
- 2 ¼ cups milk
- 3 cups dried macaroni
- 2 tablespoons butter (notes)
- 2 tablespoons flour (notes)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 ½ cups grated mozzarella (lightly packed / 150g)
- 1 cup grated cheddar (packed / 125g)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper or to taste
- parsley to serve
- FOR THE PUMPKIN PUREE
- Peel and cut the pumpkin into 2 inch cubes.
- Place them into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil over high heat then let them boil for about 8 minutes until soft enough to poke a fork into.
- Drain, then place the pumpkin into a blender with ¼ cup of the milk. Remove the vent cover from the lid and loosely place a tea towel over the top. Blend to a smooth puree.
- FOR THE PASTA
- Fill the same saucepan about ⅓ full with water. Salt well and bring to the boil. Add your pasta and cook according to packet instructions until just al dente.
- Drain, then drizzle over a little oil and mix it up. This will stop the pasta from sticking together while it waits.
- FOR THE PUMPKIN SAUCE
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter then add the flour and stir well (a flat whisk works well). Continue to stir gently until it starts to look frothy.
- Add the garlic and stir well for 30 seconds or until the butter just starts to turn golden.
- Very slowly, and while continuing to stir, drizzle in the remaining 2 cups of milk. Keep stirring until you have a smooth paste.
- Once the milk mixture begins bubbling and has thickened just slightly, add the pumpkin puree. Whisk to combine. Let the mixture come to a simmer and thicken just a little then remove the pan from the heat.
- Add both cheeses and stir with a spoon continuously until completely melted and you have a thick smooth cheese sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
- I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon
- You can use any pumpkin you like or even butternut squash.
- You can steam or roast the pumpkin if you prefer.
- Use any type of ridged, tubular pasta.
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