I have a few confessions to make.
1. I’ve had a can of Libby’s Pure Pumpkin Puree in my pantry since last fall.
2. I thought, until yesterday, that bread crumbs on macaroni and cheese were gross.
Let me address my first confession. Since the end of August, I’ve been reading food bloggers who have been pining away for Libby. Waiting anxiously for her return to the shelves. Not necessarily for pumpkin pie (at least, not yet). No, they’ve been dreaming about pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin quinoa. Two days ago, I was cleaning out my pantry, and there in the corner was a giant can of Libby’s Pumpkin. Not even close to expiring! I remembered buying a three pack from Costco last year before Thanksgiving, and I made a frozen pumpkin pie and some pumpkin bread, but then my husband was all pumpkin-ed out. I put the can away, thinking I’d wait until after Christmas, but apparently, I forgot all about it.
I wanted to make something with the pumpkin that would be delicious, but that would also mask the taste a bit so that my husband would be less likely to get pumpkin-ed out too quickly. And then he asked, ever so nicely (if not a bit insistently), that I make macaroni and cheese for dinner sometime. Like for real–not out of a box. (Another confession, I really hate mac and cheese from a box) And then, as if fate was trying to tell me something, a friend of mine mentioned that her favorite un-grownup food was mac and cheese. I couldn’t ignore the pull of fate!
So, I decided to put my mad scientist skills to work and make Smoked Gouda Pumpkin Mac & Cheese. I scoured the internets (all of them) looking for cooking times, methods, general ingredients, etc. and came up with my own mish-mash. Here’s what ensued:
That’s 8 ounces of smoked gouda and 8 ounces of white cheddar. Man I love food processors with fancy attachments! You can buy cheese that’s already grated if you’re pressed on time, but the taste of freshly grated cheese is pretty unbeatable.
Add all the cheeses, and stir until melty. Then add some Worcestershire, nutmeg, ground mustard and red pepper. I only had red pepper flakes, and I feel like they don’t flavor the dish evenly, so I added some cayenne to the mix. I’m kind of in love with cayenne. But don’t tell my husband. (He gets jealous easily)
At this point, if your sauce looks too thick you can add more milk. Keep stirring and melting, and now would be a good time to check on your noodles. If they’re ready, drain the water, and then combine the noodles and cheese sauce, then place in a baking dish.
Here’s where the bread crumbs come in. Mix about 1/3 to 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs with 2 Tbsp melted butter, and 2 Tbsp of parmesan cheese. Those measurements are just a starting point. Feel free to add more butter if it looks too dry, and more of everything if it looks like it won’t cover the top of the noodles. I didn’t want a thick layer because I thought bread crumbs on mac & cheese was weird. (How could I have been so wrong?)
Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top, and then put the deliciousness in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes (just until the bread crumbs turn brown and crispy). I got super impatient toward the end, and decided to turn the broiler on to speed things up. It worked perfectly:
At this point, my camera decided it was just going to start making up colors. The bread crumbs were not burnt, and the cheese sauce wasn’t nearly as weirdly orange.
And there you have it!
This was so good, and if you didn’t know there was pumpkin involved, it would be really hard to tell. The smoked gouda had a slightly bacon-y flavor, and the bread crumbs gave it some texture and crunch. Everything that had been missing from boxed macaroni! I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the bread crumbless version. Especially since panko has a very light flavor–all you get is the texture. I also learned during this process that pumpkin puree is very low in calories. The addition of pumpkin puree doesn’t cut the overall calories of the meal, but it does add some awesome beta carotene and potassium.
It was seriously hard to stop eating this stuff. And! This is one of those recipes that is really adaptable! Add some cumin, some chicken even! Tumeric might be an interesting experiment. Go wild!!
Just in case you’re not ready to be let loose with this mad cheesyness though, here’s the recipe:
1 Box of pasta–macaroni, penne, whatever floats your boat
2 cups Pumpkin puree (would also be excellent with spaghetti squash puree)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps parmesan cheese
8 oz sharp white cheddar
8 oz smoked gouda
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs