Pumpkin mac and cheese needs some pumping up

Pumpkin Macaroni And Cheese

Pumpkin Macaroni And Cheese is colorful, but needs a bit more punch than fontina cheese can offer. A few frozen peas add a bit of color contrast. Photo by Laura Groch

It’s pumpkin’s season to shine, and why not? Full of nutrients, fiber and beta-carotene, it’s always a winner in the kitchen.

But sometimes it needs a little help.

I clipped a recipe recently for a Butternut Squash Macaroni And Cheese from Dr. Oz’s magazine. Adding pureed squash seemed like it wouldn’t stray too far from the creamy mandate, and would bring all the abovementioned good things as well.

Then I saw a recipe for Pumpkin Mac And Cheese in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and clipped that too.

Comparing the recipes, I saw they were pretty much the same: Cook the pasta, make a white sauce (Bechamel), stir in cheese till it melts, add the squash or pumpkin puree, some bread crumbs and cheese for topping, bake and enjoy.

So on a recent chilly night, I tried out a blended Oz/BH&G recipe. The Oz version called for cheddar, but BH&G used fontina cheese. I’ve had plenty of cheddar, but fontina, not so much, so I went with that for a new taste. I skipped the heavy cream called for in the BH&G white sauce, but otherwise pretty much followed their recipe. Added a can of pumpkin, a sprinkle of bread crumbs and baked as directed.

Pumpkin Macaroni And Cheese

Pumpkin Macaroni And Cheese is still a nutritious and warming dish. Just use a sharper cheese, like cheddar, and add a little hot sauce to your plate. Photo by Laura Groch

Hmmm. I’m sorry to report that it was a bit of a disappointment. The pumpkin was colorful, but didn’t bring enough of a flavor pop, and the fontina cheese was just too mild.

However — that doesn’t mean this idea isn’t worth another shot.

Using the cheddar called for in the Dr. Oz recipe, plus the jolts of hot sauce also indicated, I think this would work just fine the second time around. Switch the pumpkin in for the butternut squash if it’s easier to find, and try ziti or penne instead of the cavatappi. The BH&G recipe also added chopped walnuts to the topping, which boosts the protein (but also the fat); or you could sneak in some frozen peas for a bit more color.

This meatless recipe just needed some pumping up to provide a filling, nutritious meal on a cool autumn night.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MACARONI AND CHEESE

1 package (20 ounces) peeled, cubed butternut squash

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 1/2 cups 1 percent or skim milk, heated

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Pinch ground nutmeg

2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

2 dashes hot sauce

1 pound cavatappi pasta (I used penne)

1/2 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Steam squash until very soft (if using), 18 to 20 minutes, then  puree in a food processor and reserve.

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add flour and stir frequently until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Slowly add warm milk and whisk continuously until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, stirring frequently until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add squash puree (or pumpkin), salt, pepper, nutmeg, cheddar and hot sauce and stir until smooth.

Cook pasta in salted water until very al dente (it keeps cooking in the oven). Drain.

Combine panko bread crumbs and olive oil in a small bowl.

Mix pasta with squash sauce. Transfer to a 3- or 4-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with panko and Parmesan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until bubbling and golden brown. Makes 8 servings.

Each serving: 459 calories, 17g fat (8 g saturated), 18g protein, 60g carbohydrate, 8g sugar, 4g fiber, 477 mg sodium, 37 mg cholesterol.

(c) copyright 2016 Laura Groch

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