The key to getting comfortable using pumpkin in a dish like this is to remind yourself that it’s a winter squash, not a pie filling. After you’ve got that down it’s easy to imagine it marrying with Italian sausage (spicy please!) and fragrant sage in a creamy mac and cheese. This variation just makes sense, it’s got all the earmarks of fall, and the pumpkin presence is mild, and even my pumpkin avoiding husband loved it.
I like this recipe because it turns mac & cheese into a complete meal.
I baked mine in individual ‘cocottes’ or dutch ovens, which you can find at discount department stores (Marshall’s, Home Goods, TJ MAXX) or online. But this mac & cheese is just as good family style in your regular casserole dish. You can assemble it ahead of time and bake it later, just be sure not to over cook the pasta so it stays firm.
- 2 heaping cups dry cellentani pasta (or elbows,)
- 1 lb spicy Italian sausage (either in bulk or in casings)
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
- 8 oz cheddar cheese, grated (use Gruyere or Fontina too)
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (the dried will not do!)
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- set the oven to 350F
- Cook the pasta in lots of well salted water until just shy of al dente. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so you don';t want it too soft. Drain and set aside.
- Brown the sausage in a pan over medium heat until all the pink is gone. If your sausage is in links, remove it from the casing first. Break up the meat as you cook it so that it forms small crumbles. Drain off any excess fat and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan and whisk in the flour, Stir to combine and cook for a minute, but do not brown. Slowly add the milk to the pan while stirring, making sure to get all the flour off the bottom and edges of the pan. Heat the milk until it thickens, stirring constantly. Do not let the milk boil.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pumpkin and the cheese, stirring until the cheese is completely melted.
- Add the sausage and the cooked pasta to the pan, along with the sage, and blend well. Taste and add salt and pepper.
- Turn the pasta into individual baking dishes or one casserole. Bake for about 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.
- Serve hot with fresh sage as a garnish.