Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
Those final moments of the day—the ones just before we fall asleep, when our minds are most free to wander—have a strange, unique power to make even ridiculous thoughts seem utterly logical, if not staggeringly brilliant. Last night, my final thoughts were how best to describe this Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce (yes, I think about these things before bed), and I was struck with the epic revelation that this recipe is an ideal metaphor for growing up.
If you’ve ever fallen asleep crafting the perfect speech to finally give your boss a piece of your mind, only to wake up the next morning to realize that a) it wasn’t as clever as you thought, and b) it would likely get you fired anyway, you know the sensation. At 11:45 p.m., this easy pumpkin pasta sauce was the culinary representation of coming of age and finding one’s place in the world.
Fast forward 6.5 hours. It’s 6:15 a.m., and I’m on my back porch writing this post. Maybe I need another cup of coffee, but growing up still feels like an acceptable metaphor for pumpkin pasta sauce. Is it as staggeringly brilliant as it seemed to my half-asleep brain last night? No. Could it be a reasonably accurate way to explain to you why you should make this pumpkin pasta sauce recipe? Let’s find out.
When I was younger, fettuccini Alfredo was my pasta dish of choice. Whether I ordered it from a menu or poured the Alfredo from a jar at home, I could not get enough of its richness, its carby noodle-ness, and its unapologetic levels of heavy cream, cheese, and butter.
Then, in college and shortly thereafter, Alfredo sauce lost its luster. I dabbled in marinara, learned to make fresh pesto, and by the time I’d swiped my fork through a big plate of penne a la vodka, there was no going back. My old pasta sauce standby seemed excessive and gloppy. It no longer stood up to the bolder flavors and more nuanced textures of its pasta cousins.
Then, a few weeks ago while flipping through an old cookbook, I stumbled across a recipe for fettuccini Alfredo. It filled me with the sort of nostalgia and appreciation that another (arguably more sane) individual might reserve for his childhood teddy bear. It was time for Alfredo to find its place on my plate again.
Pumpkin pasta sauce might seem like an odd interpretation of fettuccini Alfredo, but the two are more similar that you think. Like the Alfredo I once loved, pumpkin pasta sauce is delightfully creamy, comforting, and a joy to twirl around your fork.
Unlike fettuccini Alfredo, however, this healthy pumpkin pasta sauce is diet-friendly and won’t leave you in a complete stupor afterwards. It’s a quality that did not factor into my teenage dietary decision making (of which there was precious little), but as an adult who seeks a balance lifestyle, it’s one that I prize.
Pumpkin is the key ingredient that gives the pasta sauce Alfredo’s signature, rich texture without the excess calories, and it’s loaded with vitamins and nutrients too. The sauce’s pumpkin flavor is subtle, so if you have any picky eaters who are loathe to eat their vegetables, this healthy pumpkin pasta sauce is an excellent way to sneak an extra serving onto the plate (just like with this Cauliflower Pasta.)
If you desire a stronger “pumpkin” taste, feel free to up the spices, as they are what makes the pumpkin flavor in the sauce most pronounced. (If you love pumpkin flavor, check out my list of healthy pumpkin recipes.)
I DO insist that you keep the fresh sage. Its savory, earthy flavor adds depth to the pumpkin pasta sauce and brings it to life. Think of the sage as the final somethin’ somethin’ that makes this pumpkin pasta sauce taste all grown up.
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
- 8 ounces whole wheat fettuccini — or any other long, thin noodle, such as linguine or spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 cloves garlic — minced
- 2 cups nonfat milk
- 1 cup pumpkin puree — not pumpkin pie filling
- 3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese — cut into chunks and at room temperature (do not use fat free)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves — divided
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Pinch ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese — for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, drain pasta, and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot and sizzling, add the flour, then whisk constantly until it turns a golden color and smells nutty. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the milk a few splashes at a time, whisking constantly to smooth any clumps. Increase the heat to medium high, then let cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the pumpkin, cream cheese, half of the chopped sage leaves, salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne. Continue whisking until the cream cheese melts and you have a smooth, rich sauce. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as desired.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pan and gently toss to combine. Thin the pasta with a bit of the reserved pasta water as needed if it seems too thick or sticky. Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan and the remaining sage.
- This recipes serves 2 generously or 3 with smaller portions. To make this a heartier dish (and extend the servings to 4), try adding sautéed greens such as spinach or kale, shredded or chopped cooked chicken, or sautéed chicken or turkey sausage.
- I have not tried doubling the recipe but don't see why it wouldn't work—just make sure you use a large enough pan.
- Reheat leftovers gently in the microwave with a splash of milk to keep them from drying out.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 (of 3)) — Calories: 483, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 38mg, Sodium: 583mg, Carbohydrates: 68g, Fiber: 11g
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If you like this Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce, don’t miss these other healthy (but decadent-tasting!) pasta recipes:
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