One of our favorite childhood memories of Halloween is having a special dinner of mac and cheese and “octopus” hot dogs. We would slam down that dinner and run out the door to start trick or treating. In honor of that tradition, we created this recipe for pumpkin mac and cheese. It is an adult twist on our childhood favorite, made even more festive by serving it in a large pumpkin. The mac and cheese has layers of delicious flavors, from the punch of sharp cheddar and nutty gruyere to the woody flavors of fresh thyme. The star of the show, however, is the pumpkin. We have combined canned pumpkin with some fresh pumpkin that is roasted from the serving vessel for the ultimate savory treat. We serve this family style so that people can nibble on it throughout the night while waiting for trick or treaters.
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
An adult spin on our favorite classic Halloween dinner.
- 1 medium pumpkin
- 1 lb orecchiette pasta
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
- pinch of chili flakes (optional)
- 2 tbs flour
- 2 tbs butter
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 cups whole milk
- 8 oz grated sharp cheddar
- 4 oz grated gruyere cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Use a sharp knife (or a pumpkin carver) to cut an 8 inch circle into the pumpkin to remove the stem. Scrape the seeds and stringy pulp from the top and out of the pumpkin until the inside is smooth. Discard the pulp and seeds. Use 2 tbs of the olive oil to rub the inside of the pumpkin and inside layer of the stem. Put the pumpkin in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin has started to soften and the outsides are brown. Set the pumpkin aside and reduce the heat in the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions, about 13 minutes, and drain the pasta after it has finished cooking. Set aside.
- Reheat the pot that the pasta was cooking in over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbs olive oil, the onion, and garlic to the pot. Stir and cook until the onions start to become translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the thyme and red pepper places and cook for another minute.
- Add the flour and butter to the pot. Whisk well to combine. Let the roux cook for about 2 minutes, or until it starts to become thick and bubbly. Add the pumpkin puree and milk to the pot. Whisk well to combine and let the liquids come to a simmer for about 3 minutes so that the flavors combine. Add the cheese 1 cup at a time, mixing well so that the cheese is melted into the sauce before adding more. Reduce the heat to low and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
- Use a spoon to gently scrape out some of the pumpkin (1/2 – 3/4 cup) from the inside of the cooked pumpkin. The pumpkin is the serving vessel, so make sure that the side walls of the pumpkin are still thick enough for serving. Add the pumpkin to the sauce and stir to combine. The texture of the pumpkin should be soft as if it were pureed.
- Add the pasta to the sauce. Gently toss to coat and put the mac and cheese back into the pumpkin. Cover the top of the pumpkin with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Uncover the foil and gently drape with the cooked pumpkin lid to serve.