Whenever anyone asks me to name some of my favorite foods, macaroni and cheese is always at the top of the list. It’s such a simple dish but for me it’s the ultimate comfort food. When I was growing up, I was more than happy eating macaroni and cheese from a box. Nowadays I like to experiment with many different versions of the classic dish. I enjoy trying out combinations of different cheeses and stirring in various ingredients like caramelized onions, lobster, and truffle oil. I even make an Indian version called Masala Mac & Cheese.
I decided to make a healthier (but equally delicious) version of this comfort dish. Traditional macaroni and cheese is very high in fat and calories because it uses a lot of cheese and the sauce is typically made with butter and whole milk or cream. I made a few tweaks to the dish to lighten it up without sacrificing flavor.
To add color, creaminess and a healthy dose of nutrients, I decided to stir in an ingredient that’s everywhere this time of year- pumpkin. You don’t have to use fresh pumpkin- canned is just as good and it’s available all year round. Most people think of using pumpkin in sweet applications like pumpkin pie, muffins, and cakes but it actually works really well in savory dishes. Just one note- make sure you buy pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix, which is sweetened.
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the macaroni. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and reserve some of the pasta water.
- Meanwhile, heat the milk in a large sauté pan until just simmering and whisk in the pumpkin. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the Cheddar, Fontina and Neufchatel cheeses along with the mustard, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir until the cheese is melted (the sauce may be slightly grainy- this is normal). Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine well. Add a small amount of the reserved pasta water as needed to adjust the consistency.
- The dish can be served at this point with just a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper. If desired, you can make a topping (see directions below).
1 ½ tsp olive oil
¼ tsp dried sage
⅛ tsp salt
- If desired, you can make a topping by combining the breadcrumbs, oil, sage and salt together in a small bowl. Transfer the mac and cheese to a serving dish or individual gratin dishes and sprinkle the topping evenly over the top. Place under the broiler for a few minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.
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