Pumpkin season is upon us. Love or or hate it, we’re seeing it everywhere ― in lattes, in desserts, in cereals, in dog treats, in ice cream, in snacks and, my personal favorite, in cocktail mixes. Even George Clooney has jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon ― his team at Casamigos recently released a pumpkin-spiced cocktail mix to go along with their famous tequila.
While you may think of pumpkin in pies or other sweet desserts, it’s actually the perfect ingredient to add a touch of sweetness and depth to a savory recipe. After all, if you think about it, it’s just a squash like all the others.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate it is by stirring it into a béchamel sauce (the fancy French word for milk thickened with butter and flour) when making mac and cheese. Not only is it a great way to sneak some vegetables into your diet, but it makes the sauce even creamier and more decadent. There’s no need to be scared ― it’s not an overwhelming pumpkin flavor. It’s mild enough that even my 2-year-old, who only likes chicken nuggets, ate it.
To ramp up the flavors, I like to use a combination of smoked gouda and sharp cheddar cheeses. It feels fancy without actually being too fancy. The intense smoky flavor from the gouda is the perfect match for the sugary pumpkin notes.
Lastly, I like to go the extra mile and make homemade rustic breadcrumbs to go on top. A little butter, a crusty baguette, a generous heaping of parmesan cheese and a little fresh thyme transforms the dish from a forgettable side dish to a recipe your crazy Aunt Jo will be asking for.
When you’re planning your Thanksgiving menus this year, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and use pumpkin in savory recipes — starting with this mac and cheese.
Smoked Gouda Pumpkin Mac And Cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh baguette, torn into small pieces
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 pound cavatappi (or penne)
4 tablespoons salted butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 cups shredded smoked gouda
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a large baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine torn bread, olive oil, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Place on large baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in parmesan cheese, then set aside.
3. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions; drain well and set aside.
4. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to thicken, about 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Gradually whisk in milk until slightly thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes.
6. Add pumpkin puree and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt to sauce and whisk until incorporated.
7. Turn heat to low and stir in smoked gouda and cheddar cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.
8. Add cooked, drained pasta to sauce then transfer to prepared baking dish.
9. Top with toasted breadcrumbs then place in oven and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.