Fall is a special time of year. The weather starts getting cooler and the leaves begin to reveal their bright, vivid colors. All those warm, comfy coats and sweaters start to make an appearance. This is also the time of year we begin to crave our favorite comfort foods. They make us feel warm and secure when, at times, the weather can be really dark and dreary. Among the comfort food rock stars is the trusted stand-by, macaroni & cheese. Here’s a twist on that old favorite that incorporates everyone’s (ok, well, nearly everyone’s) favorite gourd, pumpkin. For a quick, weeknight treat give this recipe for brown butter pumpkin stovetop mac & cheese a try,
The ingredients for this dish are pretty simple. Most of these items will be a staple of any well stocked pantry. If you don’t happen to have a specific one on hand, however, they are relatively inexpensive and widely available. If you are making the four serving recipe then you will only need roughly one half of a standard, fifteen ounce can of pumpkin puree. Don’t worry about having more than you need. Just place the leftover puree in a container and keep it in the fridge for another recipe! I highly suggest that you stick to unsalted butter. You will be adding enough salt as you cook so you definitely won’t miss it. If you do not happen to have unsalted butter then it is ok to use salted. Just cut back a bit on the salt you add during cooking. You can always adjust it at the end if it needs more.
Assemble your ingredients. There isn’t a lot of preparation required for this dish but what little there is can easily be done ahead of time. If you aren’t comfortable with prepping while you cook then this can save you from some embarrassing moments. You will be cooking with milk so prepping ahead of time can turn from being convenient to vital as milk can easily scald. If you have ever had the pleasure of smelling scaled milk I’m sure you understand why it is desirable to avoid this if at all possible!
There is very little prep involved in this recipe. The easiest to start with is the thyme Strip the leaves from the woody stems and lightly run a chef’s knife through them. This will help the oils release more easily into the dish while cooking. If you opted for a block of cheddar you will also want to make sure you shred it finely. This will let the cheese quickly melt into the sauce and avoid clumping.
How long it takes your stovetop to bring water to a boil will determine whether you want to cook your pasta before, while, or after you make the sauce. The sauce won’t take long to make but you will want to pay close attention to the cooking process to avoid burning the butter or scalding the milk. You can keep the sauce on low heat to keep it warm if you opt to make it before you cook the pasta.
The sauce is simple to make. You will start with a basic bechamel, or white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan while stirring continually. Keep an eye on this. The butter will begin to turn a brown color slowly at first but will very quickly burn if you’re not careful. This will take only a couple of minutes. Once the butter has browned, remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk until the heat from the butter has cooked it through. Once the flour has cooked return the pan to the heat.
This next part will require very close attention. Begin to stir in the milk slowly. Keep stirring the mixture. This will keep the milk from scalding at the surface of the saucepan. Once the milk has been added and has come to a simmer, keep stirring and let it cook until it has thickened. As with the butter, this will not take long and can go wrong in an instant. Do not walk away! Milk can easily scald and, when it does, there is no mistaking the smell. Once the mixture has properly thickened, remove it from the heat immediately.
Now that the bechamel is prepared it’s time to turn it into a delicious cheese sauce with a pumpkin twist. First you will add the thyme, pumpkin puree, salt, and black pepper and stir to combine. At this point you can make a couple of additions. For a bit of a kick add a pinch of cayenne pepper. You could also give it a bit of deeper spice, as with a pumpkin pie, by adding a pinch of nutmeg, cinnamon, and/or cardamon. Once the spices and herbs have been combined with the sauce, gently fold in the shredded cheddar cheese. The finely shredded cheese will easily melt into the mixture.
This is where all that stirring and closely watching the sauce will pay off big time. Mix together the pumpkin cheese sauce and pasta then divide the mac & cheese among the plates. Garnish it with the reserved thyme. If you have any family members that would not appreciate a bit of a kick with their mac you can always offer cayenne pepper at table. The more adventuresome among you can add as little or as much as they want. To up the comfort level, try toasting some panko bread crumbs in a dry pan and use it as a garnish.
Brown Butter Pumpkin Stovetop Mac & Cheese
- ½ small package Thyme Fresh
- 8 oz Cheddar Cheese Shredded
- 10 fl oz Whole Milk
- 2 tbsp Butter Unsalted
- 12 oz Elbow Pasta
- 7.5 oz Pumpkin Puree Pure
- 2 tbsn All-Purpose Flour
- ¼ tsp Black Pepper
- 3 tsp Salt
- Bring a large pot filled halfway with water to a boil and add 2 tsp of salt. Mix in the elbow pasta and cook until al dente, about 8-10 min. Refer to the instructions on the box for the specific brand of pasta you're using.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook until the butter has browned, about 3-4 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent burning.
When the butter has browned, remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the flour while whisking constantly, about 1 minute.
Return the saucepan to the heat and slowly add the whole milk. Wisk constantly and bring to a simmer. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 1 minute.
Remove from heat and add the fresh thyme leaves (reserve some for use as a garnish), pumpkin puree, remaining salt, black pepper, and shredded cheddar cheese. Mix thoroughly.
Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pot when it has cooked to al dente. Add the pumpkin cheese mixture and stir to combine.
Plate the mac & cheese and garnish with the reserved thyme.
- Missing the crunchy bread topping of oven mac & cheese? Toast some panko bread crumbs in a dry skillet and use as a table-side topping.
- Try adding a touch of chili powder or cayenne pepper to give it a hint of a kick.
- For a slightly deeper spice flavor try adding a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or cardamom.
- Have a favorite cheese you like to use? Don't be afraid to mix and match the melting cheeses near and dear to your heart.
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Wrap Yourself In Cheesy Goodness This Fall
Fall is here and it’s time to get all warm and cozy. Once the cool weather starts to descend it’s all about the warm and fuzzy. There are a lot of fall and winter comfort foods that bring about all those good feelings. Mac and cheese is always near the top of that list. The addition of pumpkin lends a bit decadence to this old favorite. Using pure pumpkin puree gives just a subtle hint to the dish without being overpowering. Give this rendition of a treasured classic a try and it will quickly become a new favorite.