Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Italian Sausage
September 12, 2014
Call it biased for being born in October, but fall is my absolute favorite season. From sweater weather to the crisp smell in the air of the fall leaves that are changing into beautiful hues of orange and red, autumn is a magical time of year. And nothing brings that magic to life more than the seasonal return of pumpkins. Yes, the return of fall means every basic chick falling in line for PSLs and posing with pumpkins in an orchard, but can you blame them? Pumpkin is one of the most unique and wonderfully rich and comforting flavors, and so I’ve found ways to include this flavor not only in satisfying my sweet tooth (helloooo pumpkin doughnuts), but in savory meals as well. I’ve made variations of pumpkin pasta several times now, but this pumpkin mac and cheese with Italian sausage is such a perfect combination of flavors that I decided it needs to be shared.
This pumpkin mac and cheese has the richness you crave as the temperatures turn down thanks to a creamy pumpkin béchamel sauce that gets a mountain of Parmesan, aged cheddar, and mozzarella melted into it to become a cheesy Mornay sauce. The nuttiness of the Parmesan perfectly complements the pumpkin purée while extra cheesiness and meltiness (yeah I’m making up words) is provided by the cheddar and mozzarella. Then there’s the bonus of savory, meaty Italian sausage to balance out the sweetness of the pumpkin. And finally it’s topped off with butter-coated breadcrumbs to provide that crisp crunchy outer layer to go with the ooey gooey cheesiness for the ultimate fall comfort food.
A couple of VERY important steps for not effing up your bechamel:
1. Your milk needs to be HOT. As in so hot it’s almost boiling but not quite boiling.
2. Don’t stop stirring.
If you fail to do either of these, I can almost guarantee your bechamel will either burn on the bottom of the pan or break and turn into just milk with butter and flour mixed in and that’s no fun (both of these have happened to me before sadly). So heat up your milk and keep on stirring and whisking and you’ll end up with a sauce with a body like Beyoncé in it -it’s worth it!
If you feel that making the bechamel sauce is just too much work though, you can easily skip it and just stir the pumpkin purée into 2 cups of milk in a skillet over medium, then stir in all of the cheese and combine with the pasta to evenly coat. But I personally love making a true bechamel and find that it makes all the difference in providing that extra creamy goodness in your final pumpkin mac and cheese.
Enjoy the flavors of fall with a rich and comforting pumpkin mac and cheese with Italian sausage that melds Parmesan, aged cheddar, and mozzarella with a pumpkin bechamel sauce for a creamy dish perfect for Thanksgiving or any cold day.
- 1 lb. sweet or spicy Italian sausage, removed from the casing
- 1 box elbow macaroni or fusilli pasta
- 6 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese
- 6 oz. shredded aged white cheddar
- 4 oz. shredded low-moisture mozzarella
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 heaping tbsp. chopped fresh sage, fresh thyme, or rosemary
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 5 tbsp. all purpose flour
- 1 quart whole milk
- 15 oz. can of pumpkin purée (I picked up this from Whole Foods but you can also make your own)
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin spice (optional)
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Boil a large pot of water and cook your pasta according to the box directions, but stop cooking the pasta 2 minutes before the recommended time (since the pasta will cook more in the oven you want to undercook it for now). Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Remove the sausage from it's casing and break it up with a knife into smaller pieces.
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and cook the sausage for 8-10 minutes, using a spatula or wooden spoon to continue to break down the sausage into tiny pieces and stirring until the sausage is evenly cooked through and browned. Set aside.
- In the pot you cooked your pasta in, heat the milk until bubbles begin to form, leaving the heat on low to keep the milk hot while you make the roux.
- In a 2 quart or larger saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Combine the herbs with the panko breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix in the melted butter until evenly coated. Set aside.
- In the same saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tbsp. butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until smooth, forming the roux for your bechamel. Continue whisking and cooking for 2-3 minutes until the roux is golden brown.
- Add the hot milk, 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly until smooth. Continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly to fully incorporate and cook the flour. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
- Stir the pumpkin puree into the bechamel sauce. Add the pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and paprika and stir until fully combined.
- Transfer the bechamel sauce to the large pot and turn the heat to low. Separate 2 oz. of the parmesan and 2 oz. of the aged cheddar cheese and set aside, then add the rest of the shredded cheeses to the pot and stir until fully melted. Taste the bechamel and add salt or pepper to your liking.
- Add the cooked pasta and cooked Italian sausage and stir until fully combined.
- Transfer the mac and cheese mixture to a baking pan and top with the reserved Parmesan and aged cheddar. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly across the shredded cheese.
- Bake the mac and cheese for 20-30 minutes until the top is a nice golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes to let the cheese inside set, then serve and enjoy.
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see the final product. Tag your photos on Instagram with #moderateindulgence and @indulgenteats so I can see them!