This healthier mac and cheese uses pumpkin puree in the sauce, Gruyère and goat cheese to make a rich, creamy dish of comfort food.
OK, we already know that we are going to be eating our fair share of cookies and drinking our fair share of cocktails this December. But we still need to eat dinner, and it wouldn’t hurt if that dinner had some healthy qualities. Still, it’s winter, and I don’t know about you, but I am craving comfort food. A few weeks ago I got a serious craving for mac and cheese. It was cold outside and I just wanted to dig in to a huge dish of cheesy, carby goodness.
I wanted to make it a little bit healthier though. Now, I’m not telling you that this is diet mac and cheese (ew), or skinny mac and cheese. It still has a fair amount of cheese, and pasta. But the pumpkin not only adds a nice flavor and creaminess, but as a bonus some extra fiber too. I also used evaporated milk instead of cream or half and half. I got the idea from America’s Test Kitchen as a way to make a healthier mac and cheese. If you want to use regular milk here, please note that I have not tested that, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work (it just may make the sauce thinner, so you will probably need to add less pasta water). I didn’t use a roux in this recipe, so there is no extra flour (aside from what is in the pasta, obviously). I also used whole wheat shells here. I normally really dislike whole wheat pasta, having had some that tasted very much like cardboard in the past. Some bloggers I follow have been raving about the Delallo brand whole wheat pasta, so I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised because it was actually really good! So if you are looking for a whole wheat pasta, I would recommend trying them out (note, this is NOT sponsored at all, I just like them).
My inspiration came from a few places on this recipe. A few years ago, I made THIS squash and mac recipe from Martha Stewart, and I loved it. Recently I was seeing a few variations on the squash mac and cheese idea, like THIS one and THIS one. I wanted to try it with pumpkin because I had a can on hand and it eliminates the whole chopping and cooking of squash, which really cuts down on time. And I went with goat cheese and Gruyère, because HELLO. They are the best. I originally tried it with JUST goat cheese and I thought the sauce was a little dry, which is why I decided to add the Gruyère. If you don’t like Gruyère I think cheddar would work in its place.
I also added some magic to the sauce that is known as pasta water. Anytime you make pasta, it is always a good idea to save some of the pasta cooking water when you drain it. Adding it to a lumpy, so so sauce will make it silky smooth. I used about half a cup to get the consistency that I wanted.
Now the icing on the cake (or the topping on the mac?) – toasted garlic breadcrumbs. I couldn’t even get that part into the title or else it would be the longest title of any recipe ever. P.S., garlic toasted breadcrumbs may sound time-consuming or difficult BUT IT IS NOT. And it is worth it, trust me. All you need is some panko breadcrumbs, some olive oil and some garlic. You heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds – you don’t want to burn it! Then add the breadcrumbs and stir until they start to turn golden brown. That is it! Super easy, and adds a perfect crunch that you don’t want to miss (you can leave the garlic out. If you want. I don’t really know why you would want to though).
Then you just cover it tightly with foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-6 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly. If you don’t cover it at the beginning it will get too brown on top and dry out. Take it out of the oven and you have a big dish of creamy comfort food.
- 16 ounces whole wheat pasta (or regular pasta)
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- ½ large onion, diced
- 5 garlic cloved, preesed or finely diced. divided
- 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
- 5 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre - I used an herbed goat cheese)
- 4 ounces shredded Gruyere (about 1 cup)
- 12 ounces lowfat evapored milk
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- kosher salt to taste
- Butter a 9x13 casserole dish, set aside
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Cook pasta until al dente according to package instructions. When draining, save 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Toss the hot pasta with a little butter or olive oil if it will not be mixed with the sauce right away, to prevent sticking.
- In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add onions with a pinch of kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook until golden, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully as they can burn easily, you may need to reduce heat.
- Add 4 of the diced garlic cloves, cook for about 30 seconds (be careful not to burn them)
- Add the pumpkin puree and cook, stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the evaporated milk and stir until smooth.
- Add the spices and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
- Add the cheeses, stir until fully melted and incorporated, a few more minutes.
- Add some pasta water until you get the consistency you like. I ended up using about ½ a cup.
- Taste sauce and add more salt if needed.
- Remove from heat and pour over pasta, mix until pasta is fully coated in sauce.
- Pour the pasta into the casserole dish.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the last clove of diced garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs and stir continually until crumbs are turning golden, about 4-5 minutes.
- Sprinkle breadcrumbs over pasta in an even layer. Cover the whole dish tightly in foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 5-6 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.
- Remove from oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.
Are you craving comfort food? What kinds of foods do you like to eat when it gets cold outside?