Pumpkin mac & cheese is amazingly creamy and the perfect fall and winter meal that can be made in under 30 minutes for a simple weeknight meal.
I really love pumpkin season and one of my favorite recipes is pumpkin mac and cheese, which I honestly rarely get to make because I’m married to someone who despises pumpkins so much. So I don’t make it very often unless I make an individual serving for just myself, which I have definitely done.
This recipe is so creamy, rich, and absolutely delicious with just the right amount of pumpkin goodness. You might think pumpkin and pasta are an odd pairing, but the pumpkin rounds out the creaminess and makes it absolutely delicious. When you add pumpkin to a savory dish, the flavors and spice meld together and it becomes almost unrecognizable except for the orange hue it gives the pasta.
4 reasons you will love pumpkin mac & cheese
There are so many reasons to love this ultimate pumpkin mac and cheese, but here are a few reasons to get you started.
- Full of fall flavor Each bite is like taking a bit into fall with flavors like pumpkin and fresh sage.
- Not overly pumpkin-y You will find that the pumpkin flavor is there and you can definitely taste it, but the cheesiness comes through more than the pumpkin. So I don’t think it is overly pumpkin-y.
- 3 kinds of cheese for me, that is enough to just push me over the edge. With 3 different kinds of cheese, this dish has maximum flavor and texture.
- Brown butter sage breadcrumbs When you make mac and cheese from scratch bread crumbs are a must on top for texture and extra flavor.
Ingredients in pumpkin mac and cheese
Choosing the right ingredients for pumpkin mac and cheese is certainly important but should be found easily in your pantry or local grocery store.
- Pasta When it comes to making mac and cheese, you can use almost any type of pasta that is going to soak up the gooey cheesy sauce. I like to use fusilli, shells, rotini, or, of course, elbows.
- Butter & all-purpose flour This is the basis of the pumpkin sauce also called a roux.
- Whole milk & Cream This combination is what creates the rich and creamy mac and cheese.
- Pumpkin puree You can use canned pumpkin puree or make pumpkin puree from scratch. (Just make sure you are buying a pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling). Both options will work great here.
- Garlic will add a nice flavor to your mac and cheese.
- Fresh Sage This gives you a light fall flavor and is a great match with the pumpkin flavor.
- Spices I like to use a combination of spices to balance out the richness of the pumpkin cheese sauce. Ground mustard for additional flavor, nutmeg for added warmth, and cayenne for a little bit of additional spice.
- Cheese, of course, we cannot for get the cheese, having the three different kinds of cheese really help round out the mac and cheese.
How to make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Making this pumpkin macaroni and cheese is pretty simple. There isn’t much difference between your standard mac and cheese and pumpkin mac and cheese. There are 3 simple steps for this recipe. If you have never made basic mac and cheese, it is truly a simple recipe and I will walk you through every step.
Boil the pasta
- Always boil pasta in generously salted water. It’s a step that is generally overlooked, but this is the only chance to season your pasta. You should try and refrain from adding oil to your pasta water because it will prevent the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This means you want the creamy pumpkin cheese sauce to stick to the pasta as much as possible.
- Boil pasta for 2-3 minutes. It’s important to boil your pasta until it is just under al dente since when you are baking the pasta it will continue to cook for a significant amount of time. Cooking it for 2-3 minutes will prevent you from ending up with overcooked pasta. There is nothing worse for me than overcooked pasta.
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook you will want to start on the roux which is really the base of your cheesy sauce. Here are a few tips to help you succeed which is always my hope.
- When you add your flour to your melted butter, make sure it is completely incorporated and that you are consistently stirring and whisking, as this will prevent your roux mixture from browning too much. A little bit of brown is what you are looking for, but not too much.
- Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes. This is important so that you cook out the flour taste in your delicious sauce.
- I like to add a little bit of garlic directly into the roux. This helps to flavor the sauce a little bit. Once the roux has been built, it’s time to start building the sauce a little bit more.
Now it’s time to make the bechamel sauce, which is a fancy word for making a white sauce. This recipe takes the white sauce one step forward by adding cheese to make a creamy cheese sauce.
- Gradually incorporate the milk and cream into the roux. You will want to consistently whisk to make sure you don’t create any lumps in your sauce. You want the sauce to start to thicken, and the best test for this is so that it coats the back of a spoon.
- Once the sauce has thickened, add the pumpkin, spices, and cheese. Cook until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is beautifully smooth.
- Now you are ready to add the pasta to the wonderfully cheesy sauce & transfer it to a baking dish.
- You are now ready to bake your pumpkin macaroni and cheese.
Brown Butter Sage Breadcrumbs
The breadcrumb topping is just a little extra finishing touch is an optional touch but it finishes it off beautifully. This topping is very simple to make by using panko bread crumbs ad butter.
- Melt the butter and add the panko breadcrumbs. I like to use panko because they turn out nice and crispy and don’t brown as quickly as regular bread crumbs. Once they are slightly browned in a pan, sprinkle them over top of your macaroni and cheese and bake until bubbling and absolutely perfect.
The Best Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup parmesan optional
Pumpkin Cheese Sauce
- 16 ounces pasta
- 4 tbsp butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup cream
- 14 ounces pumpkin puree canned or made from scratch
- 2 tsp ground mustard
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper optional or you can use less
- 2 cup gruyere cheese grated and divided
- 2 cups white cheddar grated and divided
- ½ cup parmesan
- salt and pepper to season
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta & cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is 2-3 minutes under al dente. Drain the pasta & set aside.
- Add the butter to a medium size pot on medium-high heat. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the butter browns. Remove from the heat. Add the panko breadcrumbs, stirring to coat in the browned butter. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a medium bowl, adding in the parmesan & stirring to combine. Set aside.
- Wipe the pot used to make the breadcrumbs with paper towel, wiping out any browned butter residue. Place the pot back over medium heat & add the butter for the roux. Once melted, add in the flour, whisking vigorously to eliminate any lumps in the roux. Cook the roux for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Add the garlic & cook 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Slowly add the milk & cream into the pot, whisking constantly to eliminate any lumps in the roux. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened to the point that it coats the back of a spoon. Add the pumpkin,, ground mustard, ground nutmeg, & cayenne, stirring to combine. Add ¾ of the gruyere & sharp white cheddar (1 ½ cups each) & the grated parmesan, stirring to combine. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat. Taste & season with additional kosher salt or ground black pepper, as desired.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pumpkin sauce, stirring to coat. Carefully transfer the pumpkin mac & cheese to the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining gruyere & sharp white cheddar (½ cup each) & sprinkle the brown butter breadcrumbs over top. Cover with foil & bake.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, removing the foil in the last 5 minutes of baking time, until the cheese is melted & the breadcrumbs are toasty.
- Serve immediately and Enjoy!