Yes, this dish is good. SO good.
And yes, you can make it easily. So easily, in fact, that as you’re gorging yourself on pumpkiny, cheesy goodness, you’ll be shocked that you made it yourself.
You’ll also be surprised to know that this dish is healthier than you’d think. First, the pumpkin puree is a nutritious, vitamin-rich way to sneak some veggies into your meal. Second, the shredded kale — whether frozen or fresh — is a nutrient powerhouse. Third, IF you consume a moderate portion and balance it with a side salad or other veggies, you can indulge a bit with higher-fat cheese due to a surprisingly low-fat béchamel sauce base.
That’s right, my little kiddos. You’re making your own béchamel today! It’s one of THE original, iconic French “mother” sauces that all chefs learn to perfect in their early days of culinary school, and you’ll be making your own as a base for cheese sauce today. You can do it, my friends. Trust your neighborhood friendly GKG. You won’t regret mastering this easy technique – it’s adaptable to any type of mac and cheese, or even to white sauced, wintry lasagnas.
I suggest using a large Corningware casserole dish with a lid for baking this recipe, or a deep-sided baking dish / casserole pan. For a fun twist, use small ramekins to make individual servings and lower the overall baking time. How cute would that be for a dinner party? (I’d round out that menu with a fall / winter greens salad, a bottle of chardonnay, and some crusty bread on the side.)
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese with Kale — serves 6. Easily doubled or halved.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup milk, heated, plus extra as needed
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- Salt & pepper to season
- 3/4 can pumpkin (approx 3/4 – 1 cup ish)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup cheddar or fontina cheese, shredded (Note: DON’T use Mozzarella. When it melts, it gets too stringy.)
- 1-2 tbsp Parmesan, plus more for crumb topping
- 3/4 lb rigatoni, regular or whole wheat. (Or use any cut of pasta you like. Mostaccioli, penne and ziti are great, too.)
- 1 package frozen kale, thawed and drained of excess moisture
- 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Extra Parmesan for topping & serving
Here’s what you do:
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Set a pot of salted water to boil, and prepare pasta according to package directions. Once pasta is cooked, drain and drizzle with a bit of olive oil; set aside in baking / casserole dish. Meanwhile, thaw the kale in the microwave according to package directions; squeeze out any excess moisture using paper towels or a fine-mesh colander / sieve.
- For the Béchamel, heat butter over medium heat until bubbling slightly. Add flour and whisk vigorously, until the mixture bubbles a bit. This should last about 2 minutes — not longer! If the roux (the butter-flour mixture) turns brown, it has cooked too long (and your sauce is no longer a béchamel).
- Add the warmed milk, continuing to stir constantly. When the mixture begins to bubble / boil, add salt, pepper & nutmeg, and lower the heat. Stir and cook an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce is thick enough to coat your whisk / the back of a spoon. Add the pumpkin and stir until well-combined. Try not to lap up the sauce with your tongue. (This was very, VERY challenging for me.)
- In the last minute of cooking, add the cheese by stirring in Cheddar / Fontina and Parmesan. Your sauce will be pretty thick, so add another splash or two of milk if it’s getting cement mixer-y. The taste, though, will blow your mind. Sharp Cheddar or subtle Fontina are both amazing, and that little hint of Parmesan kicks it up an extra notch. Or five.
- Pour the sauce over your prepared pasta. Add kale (up to 1 whole package; I found that 3/4 of a package was fine) and stir until well-mixed; the pasta should be evenly coated.
- Whip up a quick crumb toping with breadcrumbs, olive oil, a hint of extra Parmesan, some salt & pepper, and a dash of extra nutmeg (optional); top the mac & cheese with breadcrumbs, and bake for 20 minutes, covered. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the crumb topping is crispy.
- Eat to your heart’s content. Or, I suppose, an actual serving sized portion.
I have to say, kids, that I’m pretty proud of this recipe. Granted, anything can be new, improved, and changed, and with making and remaking it, this could prove to be no exception. However, the results were so flippin’ good that I’m still eating the stuff a week later. (I rationed it out. Is that weird? Eh. Pumpkiny goodness does crazy things to me.) Let me know how yours turns out — and happy eating!
Do you ladies and gents like this concepts of pumpkin mac & cheese, or does it violate your childhood-created cheesy mac sensibilities? Have you made similar recipes yourself? How else have you made and re-made good ol’ mac & cheese?