Autumn is probably my favorite food season. While summer is my favorite season overall, and the vegetables and fruits available in the summer make for some amazing meals, I look forward to the beginning of the comfort food season… and the pumpkin.
It’s tough to find canned pumpkin here in London, though not impossible. (Pro-tip: Waitrose and Whole Foods. Waitrose is much cheaper.) I love including it in all sorts of dishes, including the traditional (pumpkin pie), and the quirky (spiced pumpkin oatmeal). You could definitely use fresh pumpkin purée but that’s a time investment I’m not always willing to make.
And then there’s the cheese! Invest in a nice cheese, cuz it will make your macaroni that much tastier. I don’t use the most expensive cheddar on the block but I try to find the one on the best sale that I know tastes delish.
I first tried this recipe a few years ago, and have since honed my mac & cheese technique from when I used to end up with grainy and too-runny sauce. (Thankfully I’m over that now, and hopefully my instructions can help with your cheese sauces too.)
Every year I look forward to making this! It’s so seasonal and warming, and it reminds me of multicolored trees, warm wooly blankets and hikes on crunchy leaf-covered paths.
The pumpkin removes a tiny bit of the guilt of eating a big heaping portion of mac & cheese, but don’t worry, it’s not going to start tasting like a big sweet hunk of pie. There’s also panko on top to add a crunch that just makes me happy. Check out that crumbly topping!
I’ll post my regular mac & cheese recipe soon, but you can get away with making this without the pumpkin, if you’re really not keen.
On The Counter:
For the Cheese Sauce
1/2 lb (250g) whole wheat tube/twist pasta (I used rigatoni)
1.5 tbsp butter
1.5 tbsp flour
2 cups milk, divided into 1 cup and 2 1/2 cups.
3/4 cup grated mature cheddar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp nutmeg
For the Topping
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated mature cheddar
What To Do:
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta to al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400F (200C).
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan on low heat, melt butter. Once the butter is nearly all liquid, sprinkle the flour on and whisk together until there are no lumps. Cook for another 30 seconds.
Add 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup and continue to whisk. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, whisking constantly, until it thickens up.
Add the grated cheese slowly, whisking as you add it in. Keep stirring until the cheese melts. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, the pumpkin and finally the last 1/2 cup of milk. Keep stirring until everything is smooth.
Remove from heat and mix in pasta. Pour the whole mix until a casserole dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the panko, saved cheese, cayenne and salt. mix together til well combined.
Sprinkle crumb mixture on top of the macaroni.
Put casserole dish into the oven for 20 minutes. It should be warm and bubbly, with a golden crumb topping.
Macaroni & cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods, which also means that I judge it quite harshly in restaurants. Just last week I had a mac & cheese that was more leeks than macaroni… and the cheese tasted like nothing more than hot goo. Don’t let bad restaurant mac happen to you, too!