Creamy Pumpkin Mac N' Cheese
It doesn’t get much more fall than pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese! This gluten-free recipe is perfect on a cold night or for Thanksgiving.
The Perfect Autumn Pasta
When the temperature starts to drop and fall is in the air, there’s nothing better than really good comfort food. Fall and winter are all about cozy comfort food to warm you up when it’s cold out. Although I live in San Diego and the coldest it gets is 40 degrees at night, I still crave comfort food during this time of year. And there’s no better comfort food to enjoy during autumn than all thing’s pumpkin!
This Creamy Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese is my latest obsession. It has a velvety texture without being too heavy or overly sweet. It’s not only great on it’s own as a main dish but also the perfect side dish to serve up this Thanksgiving! Mix up your traditional Mac n’ Cheese with this easy, gluten-free recipe and I promise all your guests will be going back for seconds.
Easy, Creamy & Flavorful
How hard can making pasta be? Pasta is not hard to make. It’s one of the easiest dishes and a go-to for many beginner cooks. That being said, like any recipe, there are tricks to making a really good pasta dish. Gluten-free pasta can especially be difficult to work with. And in this case, the pasta you use does make a huge difference.
My two favorite gluten-free boxed pastas are Banza and the Barilla Chickpea Pasta. Both pastas maintain their consistency without turning to mush or remaining hard, like many gluten-free pastas tend to do. As well, they reheat beautifully without much change to their texture! For this recipe, I like to use either elbow pasta or pasta shells (as pictured). You can also serve this with fresh pasta!
Once you have your pasta, there’s a few other tricks to making this recipe perfect. After cooking your pasta according to the box instructions, reserve at least three tablespoons of pasta water. Pasta water is magic when it comes to creating a creamy sauce. It really brings all the ingredients together! Finally, do not wash your pasta. When you wash your pasta, you wash off the starches; which, makes it harder for the sauce to stick to the pasta.
A Balanced Pumpkin Sauce
Any good mac n’ cheese recipe comes down to the sauce. This sauce is delicious because it’s flavor, texture and consistency. First, the flavor is balanced. Pumpkin is inherently sweet so it’s important to have some savory spices to balance it so it doesn’t overpower the dish. Second, the texture is perfectly creamy. All of the ingredients are incorporated well. Finally, the texture… much like the consistency but an important difference. The consistency of our sauce is thick without drowning the gluten-free pasta.
While a homemade sauce may seem intimidating, I promise this step-by-step process makes it a breeze! First, we’ll be making a roux. A roux is a combination of butter and flour. To make the roux, first start by melting one and a half tablespoons of unsalted butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Once the butter begins to melt, reduce the heat to medium-low and whisk in three tablespoons of gluten-free all purpose flour. It’s important to add the tablespoons one at a time. This will ensure that you have time to build your roux and incorporate the ingredients slowly. Once your roux is thick, it’s time to add the milk and turn it into a béchamel sauce! I like to use coconut milk instead of milk or cream because cream can be so heavy. Whisk in half a can of the coconut milk, then add the rest from the can. Stir for another few minutes until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
Before we adding in the pumpkin puree, add in two teaspoons of dijon mustard to the béchamel sauce. Dijon mustard is great in sauces because it adds a tangy, savory flavor. This will help balance out the sweetness from the pumpkin. Once incorporated, we’re going to take our béchamel sauce and turn it into a mornay sauce by adding cheese! Combine three fourths cup of grated gouda cheese and one half cup of parmesan cheese in a bowl. Slowly fold in the cheese, pouring one fourth of the cheese into the sauce at a time. Whisk to melt the cheese into the sauce. Finally, it’s time to add in the pumpkin puree! We’ll only be using four ounces of pumpkin puree here because a little goes a long ways. Whisk in the pumpkin until the sauce becomes a beautiful orange color. Then balance the pumpkin by adding in two teaspoons of paprika, one teaspoon of black pepper, half a teaspoon of nutmeg and half a teaspoon of salt. Mix then remove the sauce from heat.
Now that we have our cooked pasta, pasta water, and sauce… it’s time to combine it all! Start by whisking the pasta water into the sauce. Continue to whisk in the pasta water until thoroughly combined and smooth. Then slowly pour the creamy pumpkin sauce over two eight ounce boxes of cooked boxes. Here’s a tip, pour in a little bit of the sauce at a time then stir. You’ll use most, if not all of the sauce. However, it is much easier to incorporate if you pour in a little bit of the sauce at a time.
Once the pasta is coated in the sauce, all that’s left to do is add the minced chives. I love to use chives here because while they have an “onion-y” taste, they are much more mild. They pair much better in this dish than green onions. Mince about two tablespoons of chives, then sprinkle them over the top of the Mac n’ Cheese. Then, grab a serving spoon and dig in!
Why It’s Perfect for Thanksgiving
Although Thanksgiving is a fall holiday, besides pumpkin pie there isn’t many pumpkin centered dishes. The meal is much more savory between gravy, stuffing, and turkey. While, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes are on the sweeter side, there’s still no central side dishes like this one! While Mac n’ Cheese is not always a must side dish, this one definitely is. It brings some fall inspired flavors into the meal and is a dish that even little ones will love!
Creamy Pumpkin Mac N' Cheese
For the Pasta
- 2 8oz. boxes of gluten-free pasta, cooked according to instructions
- 3 tablespoons pasta water, reserved for the sauce
For the Pumpkin Sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons gluten-free all purpose flour
- 1 15 oz. can of coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 3/4 cup gouda cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 4 oz. pumpkin puree
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Cook the pasta according to the box instructions- make sure you save at least three tablespoons of pasta water
- Then drain the liquid from from the pot after the pasta has cooked thoroughly and set to the side
- In a medium sized saucepan, add the butter and cook over medium heat
- Once melted, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour one tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly to incorporate
- Slowly pour in the coconut milk to the saucepan, whisking continuously. Make sure the sauce thickens before adding more
- Once the sauce is thick (should coat the back of a spoon), add the dijon mustard
- Then, slowly fold in the cheese- about one fourth of the cheese at a time
- After all of the cheese has been added to the sauce, add the pumpkin puree and seasonings
- Once combined, stir in the pasta and add the pasta water
- Stir to thoroughly coat the pasta and evenly distribute the pumpkin sauce
- Garnish with minced chives and enjoy!
- Store in an air-tight container for up to five days