Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is brought to you by the double fist pump.
- Sneaking in your cocktail order just before Happy Hour ends: Double fist pump.
- The cute shoes on clearance are actually your size: Double fist pump.
- Your favorite dance tune is on the radio when you turn on the car: Double fist pump.
- The outrageously decadent pasta you’re shoveling in your face turns out to be good for you: QUADRUPLE FIST PUMP!
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is creamy, dreamy, cheesy pasta love, gone deceptively light. While I can’t promote Pumpkin Mac and Cheese as a health food per se, you will be hard pressed to find another healthy mac and cheese recipe that tastes this rich, while actually being reasonably good for you. We owe this double fist pump-worthy miracle to two super ingredients: pumpkin puree and my favorite healthy cooking weapon, Greek yogurt.
The pumpkin puree and the Greek yogurt add guilt-free depth and body to the sauce. Fear not, cheese still represents—surely you know this Wisconsin resident well enough to realize I would never deny you cheese. Extra-sharp cheddar and Parmesan bring big cheese taste, but a little of these two flavor-jammers goes a long way. When the gooey cheddar melts with the creamy pumpkin sauce, the pumpkin flavor mellows and the cheddar steals the spotlight. This is macaroni and cheese afterall. All is well with the world.
We enhance our luscious pumpkin cheddar sauce with a touch of nutmeg to complement the pumpkin’s natural flavors, as well as a subtle kick of cayenne and dry mustard, just to keep everyone awake.
Now, we could leave our velvety Pumpkin Mac and Cheese as is and live happily ever after, but mac and cheese is meant to be comfort food. Enter crispy bacon and caramelized onions to add an extra layer of flavor and richness. Plus, adding caramelized onions to anything renders it instantly appropriate to serve at a fancy dinner party.
Do serve Pumpkin Mac and Cheese at your next fancy dinner party. A fancy dinner party with Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is wayyyyy more fun than a fancy dinner party without it. Just ask anyone—they’ll agree. You are about to be the Hostess of the Year.
Now, let’s talk topping. No self-respecting baked mac and cheese dish would be complete without that gloriously golden Parmesan breadcrumb crust. At our apartment, I insist on being the one to dish out the Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, because I relish that first moment of crashing the serving spoon through the wondrous breadcrumb crust to reach the creamy, saucy noodles underneath.
Plus, when I serve Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, I can strategically sneak any excess topping onto my own plate. I call this the “cook’s privilege.” (The cook’s privilege logic also applies to brownie batter that’s left on the beaters, excess frosting, and the largest slice of pie.)
Dive right on into a big bowl of velvety Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. Be sure to sneak yourself an extra scoop of the crusty golden topping, and set your fork down for one reason only: to give the double fist pump!
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- 4 ounces bacon cooked (4–5 pieces)*
- 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 2 cups yellow onion thinly sliced (about 1 large)
- 1 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) (15 ounces)
- 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
- 1 cup low-sodium canned chicken stock (if homemade, skim off fat)
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 13 ounces whole wheat elbow macaroni or other short pasta such as penne or rigatoni
- 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
- 1/3 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/4 cup), divided
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- If necessary, cook the bacon according to one of my easy methods listed below. Once cool enough to handle, chop into rough pieces and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium high. Add onions and sauté just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook onions until caramelized and tender, stirring occasionally. Let the onions cook for at least 10 additional minutes, or up to 30 minutes as you prepare the rest of the recipe.
- In a deep, wide saucepan, combine pumpkin, stock, and milk, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in mustard, salt, pepper nutmeg, and cayenne.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and 1 tablespoon kosher salt, then cook just until al dente according to package instructions. Drain, then transfer noodles to a large bowl. Pour pumpkin sauce over the top, then stir in the cheddar, Greek yogurt, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Fold in all of the caramelized onions and reserved bacon.
- Lightly coat a 9-inch square, deep baking dish or a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Transfer the pumpkin noodle mixture to dish. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the noodles. Cover dish with foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top, 30 to 35 minutes more. Serve immediately.
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