American Recipes/ Dinner/ pasta/ Side dish/ Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

11 November 2021 By Aleksandra

This is the best recipe for pumpkin mac and cheese! It’s made with a whole can of pumpkin puree and 3 kinds of cheese for the best flavor. Pumpkin puree adds a little extra something to the dish but you can’t really taste it. It’s still so cheesy and comforting. You need to try this fall-flavored and toddler-friendly mac and cheese. It comes together in 20 minutes and it’s so delicious! The recipe includes stovetop instructions and how to bake this dish.

We love pumpkin in savory dishes, if you do too, check out this turkey pumpkin chili.

Pumpkin mac and cheese in a white bowl. Small pumpkins in the background.

Why this recipe is great

  • It’s cheesy, comforting, and very flavorful. It’s sharp, nutty, creamy, savory with a hint of sweetness.
  • It’s actually lightened up in comparison to traditional mac and cheese. Pumpkin puree adds so much creaminess that we don’t need to add any cream!
  • If you’re not a fan of pumpkin, don’t worry! It still tastes mostly of cheese!
  • 3 kinds of cheese provide an amazing flavor.
  • It comes together in no time and makes a great weeknight dinner or a decadent Thanksgiving side dish!

Ingredients

Labeled ingredients for pumpkin mac and cheese.

Here’s what you need to make this amazing dish:

  • Pasta – any kind – I used macaroni but fusilli, cavatappi, small shells, or bow ties are also a good option.
  • Butter and flour for the roux that will thicken our cheese sauce. We will brown the butter which will add tons of flavor to the sauce!
  • Pumpkin puree – you can use canned pumpkin puree (this recipe conveniently uses a whole can) or a homemade pumpkin puree. You can use pumpkin puree or butternut squash puree – it doesn’t make any difference in flavor or preparation method. I would really recommend using homemade pumpkin puree – it’s so easy to make and the difference in flavor is huge! Basically, you need to cut it in a couple of large chunks, bake at 400°F (200°C) for about 20-40 minutes until fork-tender, then scoop out the seeds (discard them) and the flesh using a spoon. Puree the flesh with a blender and discard the skin. It’s done! Choose sugar or pie pumpkin types, not large pumpkins that are perfect for carving. Do not use pumpkin pie filling (!) which is sweetened and already spiced.
  • Spices – I’m using a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg to pronounce the fall flavors in this dish. You can also use pumpkin pie spice instead. I’m also adding a touch of Dijon mustard and garlic powder.
  • Milk – makes the base of the sauce. Usually, also cream is being added to mac and cheese but here it’s not necessary since pumpkin puree already provides so much creaminess. This makes this recipe more healthy than the traditional mac and cheese!
  • Cheese – I’m using 3 kinds of cheese for the best flavor possible. We have tangy sharp cheddar, flavorful Gruyere cheese, and nutty parmesan cheese. Each cheese has its place here. You could use just cheddar or just Gruyere but I would always add a touch of parmesan cheese for that punch of umami flavor. Parmesan cheese is aged for so long and has such a savory cheese flavor, it really adds something extra to the other types of cheese. Gruyere cheese is a Swiss cheese that is so flavorful but unfortunately a bit pricey. It has a distinct amazing flavor, so I would really recommend buying it, if you can find it. Instead of Gruyere, you could use fontina picante. Smoked gounda would also be interesting!

Optional – if you’d like to bake your mac and cheese, you can top it with an amazing crunchy parmesan breadcrumb topping that is soo good! I already used it to make my chicken broccoli rice casserole and zucchini gratin. To make it you will need just butter, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese. You could also add some chopped walnuts to the topping.

What you could also add

  • Some protein: pan-fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, leftover ham, cooked Spanish chorizo, cooked crumbled sausage.
  • Veggies: peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower.
  • Toppings: crumbled cooked bacon or crispy pan-fried prosciutto.
  • Herbs: you could add crispy sage leaves or fresh thyme/rosemary to the dish.
  • Hot sauce – to make it more spicy. I added just a pinch of cayenne – it adds a small kick of flavor without being too hot. Add hot sauce if you like things spicy!

Step by step instructions

Macaroni pasta in a pot. Melted butter in a pot.

STEP 1: Cook the pasta al dente (it should have a bite to it, don’t overcook the pasta). Drain and set aside.

TIP: Pasta water should be generously salted. Do not add oil to the water – it will prevent the cheese sauce from sticking to the pasta.

STEP 2+3: Melt the butter in a large pot. Make brown butter: cook the butter over medium-low heat until it smells nutty and it’s light golden brown in color (about 1-2 minutes).

Melted butter is in photo 2 and browned butter is shown in photo 3.

Brown butter in a pot. Roux in a pot.

STEP 4: Add the flour, whisk until well-combined then cook for 1 minute. Whisk it from time to time making sure it doesn’t get too dark.

Roux and pumpkin puree in a pot. Milk is being added to a pot with pumpkin puree.

STEP 5: Add pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, then cook for 2 minutes, whisking often, until the puree is thickened a bit. Allow it to brown a little bit at the bottom of the pot but be careful not to burn it.

STEP 6: Slowly add milk, whisking constantly, until well-combined. Bring to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking from time to time, making sure the sauce doesn’t burn at the bottom of the pot.

Did you know that mac and cheese sauce is just bechamel sauce (the one you add to a lasagna) with cheese added? This type of sauce is called Mornay sauce.

Cheese is being added to cheese sauce in a pot. Cheese sauce is being stirred with cooked macaroni in a pot.

STEP 7: Take the pot off the heat, make sure the sauce is not bubbling when you add the cheese. Gradually add the cheese, about 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Add the next portion of cheese when the previous one has been incorporated/fully melted. Grated cheese will melt the easiest but you can also get away with small chunks.

If the cheese is not melting you can put the pot back on the burner and heat it gently over low heat.

Season your cheese sauce with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.

STEP 8: Add the cooked pasta and stir until combined. The dish will be rather runny at this point but it will thicken considerably while cooling.

Enjoy!

Baked pumpkin mac and cheese

This easy and quick stovetop pumpkin mac and cheese is delicious but if you want to take it to another level you can bake it with my favorite breadcrumb parmesan topping.

Here’s how to do it:

Breadcrumbs are being added to melted butter in a pot. Parmesan is being added to breadcrumbs in a pot.

STEP 9: Melt the butter in a small pot. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until combined. Take the pot off the heat.

STEP 10: Add the grated parmesan and stir until combined.

Pumpkin mac and cheese in a white baking dish. Mac and cheese topped with breadcrumb topping in a white dish.

STEP 11: Make your pumpkin mac and cheese as described above but cook the pasta 2 minutes shorter than the cooking time on the package. Transfer your mac and cheese into a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) casserole dish. Stir in an additional 1/4 cup of milk.

STEP 12: Top the noodles with parmesan breadcrumb topping and bake for about 20-25 minutes at 400°F (200°C) or until the topping is golden.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin mac and cheese with breadcrumb parmesan topping in a white baking dish.

Serving suggestions

Protein:

Veggie side dishes:

Storage

This dish reheats very well and can be even frozen!

How to store stovetop mac and cheese: keep it in a closed container for up to 4 days in the fridge.

How to reheat it: The sauce will thicken considerably but when you reheat it on the stovetop is will become ‘saucy’ again. You can add a small amount of milk to make it less thick.

How to freeze it: divide it into servings and freeze flat in zip-lock bags. Thaw in the fridge then reheat in a pot on the stove like described above.

How to store baked mac and cheese: keep it in a closed container (or just your baking dish wrapped in aluminum foil) for up to 4 days in the fridge.

How to freeze: You can freeze it whole in the baking dish or divide it into servings and freeze them in zip-lock bags. I prefer the second option – it’s quicker to thaw and reheat.

To reheat: you can thaw your mac and cheese in the fridge first or bake it straight from the freezer. Place it in a baking dish and put it in a cold oven. Set it to 320°F (160°C) and bake until it’s warmed through. If baking a whole casserole you may need to cover it with aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out from a long baking time.

Top Tips

  1. Don’t overcook the pasta. Nicely chewy, al dente pasta should contrast smooth cheesy sauce.
  2. Don’t add the cheese to a bubbling sauce – it may split.
  3. Don’t add all the cheese at once.
  4. Grate the cheese yourself – it tastes better and melts better.
  5. Use homemade pumpkin puree for the best flavor (tastes so much better than canned!)

FAQ

Why is my cheese sauce grainy?

It’s possible that your cheese sauce has split.

How to prevent cheese sauce from splitting?

Make sure your sauce is not boiling when you are adding the cheese. Don’t add all the cheese at once. Add another portion when the previous one is melted. Try to use freshly grated cheese. Pre-grated cheeses can contain substances that prevent them from melting properly.

How to fix broken cheese sauce?

Simply mix it in a blender until smooth! It will be perfect.

What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese?

The best three kinds of cheese for mac and cheese are Gruyere cheese, sharp cheddar, and Parmesan cheese!

What is the best pasta for mac and cheese?

You want to choose a pasta type that can hold well the cheesy sauce. Good types of pasta for mac and cheese are macaroni, fusilli, small shells, cavatappi, or bow ties.

Pumpkin mac and cheese in a white bowl. Small pumpkins and kitchen cloth near the bowl.

Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

This is the best recipe for pumpkin mac and cheese! It’s made with a whole can of pumpkin puree and 3 kinds of cheese for the best flavor. Pumpkin puree adds a little extra something to the dish but you can’t really taste it. It’s still so cheesy and comforting. You need to try this fall-flavored mac and cheese. It comes together in 20 minutes and it’s so delicious!
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Pumpkin mac and cheese in a white bowl. Small pumpkins in the background.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 425kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

  • 16 oz (450g) elbow macaroni, uncooked
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ¾ cups pumpkin puree (425g), homemade or 1 (15-oz) can
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups milk (480g)
  • 1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere (150g/5.3 oz), or sharp cheddar
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar (150g/5.3 oz)
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (15g)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper optional
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta al dente (it should have a bite to it, don't overcook the pasta). Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a large pot. Make brown butter: cook the butter over medium-low heat until it smells nutty and it's light golden brown in color (about 1-2 minutes).
  • Add the flour, whisk until well-combined then cook for 1 minute. Whisk it from time to time making sure it doesn't get too dark.
  • Add pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, mustard, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, then cook for 2 minutes, whisking often, until the puree is thickened a bit. Allow it to brown a little bit at the bottom of the pot but be careful not to burn it.
  • Slowly add milk, whisking constantly, until well-combined. Bring to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking from time to time, making sure the sauce doesn't burn at the bottom of the pot.
  • Take the pot off the heat, make sure the sauce is not bubbling when you add all kinds of cheese. Gradually add the cheese, about 1/2 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition. Add the next portion of cheese when the previous one has been incorporated/fully melted. Grated cheese will melt the easiest but you can also get away with small chunks. If the cheese is not melting you can put the pot back on the burner and heat it gently over low heat.
  • Season your cheese sauce with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add the cooked pasta and stir until combined. The dish will be rather runny at this point but it will thicken considerably while cooling.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

  • Good types of pasta for mac and cheese are: macaroni, fusilli, small shells, cavatappi, or bow ties.
  • This dish reheats well and can be frozen (you can find more information in the post).
  • How to make baked pumpkin mac and cheese with breadcrumb parmesan topping:
    For the topping you will neeed: 3 tablespoons butter (45g), 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (55g), and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (45g). Melt the butter in a small pot. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until combined. Take the pot off the heat and add the grated parmesan, stir until combined.
    Make your pumpkin mac and cheese as described above but cook the pasta 2 minutes shorter than the cooking time on the package. Transfer your mac and cheese into a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) casserole dish. Stir in an additional 1/4 cup of milk. Top the noodles with parmesan breadcrumb topping and bake for about 20-25 minutes at 400°F (200°C) or until the topping is golden.
  • For stovetop mac and cheese, crumbled cooked bacon or crispy pan-fried prosciutto are great toppings.
  • You can use canned or homemade pumpkin puree. You can use pumpkin puree or butternut squash puree (choose sugar/pie pumpkin types, not large pumpkins that are perfect for carving). I would really recommend using homemade pumpkin puree – it’s so easy to make and the difference in flavor is huge! Basically, you need to cut it in a couple of large chunks, bake at 400°F (200°C) for about 20-40 minutes until fork-tender, then scoop out the seeds (discard them) and the flesh using a spoon. Puree the flesh with a blender and discard the skin. It’s done! Do not use pumpkin pie filling (!) which is sweetened and already spiced.
  • Instead of the spices listed in the recipe, you can use pumpkin pie spice.
  • Calories = 1 serving (1/8 of the stovetop recipe). This is only an estimate!
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Diet Vegetarian
Tried this Recipe? Rate the Recipe and tell us what you think in the Comments!

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