Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is an easy, healthy baked pasta dish that’s perfect for a weeknight dinner! Lighter than your average mac and cheese thanks to the addition of pumpkin, it’s a vegetarian meal the whole family will love. 

pumpkin mac and cheese on a white plate

Someone asked me the other day what my favourite food was. My answer? Carbs. Followed closely by cheese. If I had to choose a last meal it would be a really good Margherita pizza. Just gimme alllll the carbs and all the cheese, and I’m a happy camper.

Still, 10+ years of nutrition education has instilled some sense in me, and I’m compelled more often than not to sneak some vegetables in with my carbs.

This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is a best of both worlds situation, with carbs and cheese AND a good dose of beta carotene-rich pumpkin all up in your business making this into a healthy mac and cheese recipe if I ever saw one.

Did you know that pumpkin is botanically a fruit? I just wanted to get that out of the way incase someone feels the need to get in my face about how this mac and cheese is technically not veggie-loaded but fruit-loaded. I know, internet people, I know.

I think we should just get into it.

cheese, flour, spices, pasta, pumpkin, and milk on a grey background

What do I need to make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese?

  • Pumpkin! You can use solid-pack canned pumpkin, or you can make your own pumpkin puree!
  • Cheese! I’m using a nice sharp cheddar to hold its own with the pumpkin and spices.
  • Pasta! We’re calling this mac and cheese, but really any shape will do.
  • Flour, butter, and milk. We’re making a roux to thicken the sauce. It’s not complicated, but you will sound fancy if you throw the word roux around a lot.
  • Spices! We’ve got smoked paprika in the hooooooouse.
  • Panko! For a delicious crispy breadcrumb topping.

pumpkin cheese sauce being made in a red casserole dish

How do you make pumpkin mac and cheese?

Easy as 1, 2, 3 (4, 5, 6)!

We’re going to start with making the cheese sauce. If you want, you can also cook up your pasta while this is happening.

I like to make my cheese sauce in an oven-proof cast-iron casserole dish that also works on the stove top, which makes this into almost a one-pot dinner. Blast that pasta for needing it’s own pot to cook in!

If you don’t have a casserole dish that’ll go from stove to oven, you can do the sauce in any stock pot, and then transfer the whole mess to a greased casserole dish to bake.

You’re going to combine the butter, milk, and flour over medium-high heat, and whisk well to combine. Once this mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it thicken until it will coat the back of a spoon.

Now toss in the cheese, and whisk until it’s melted and the sauce is smooth. Then you can add the pumpkin puree and spices, and watch your sauce turn a deep orange colour.

pumpkin mac and cheese process photos

In goes the drained pasta, and everything gets a good toss to coat it well.

In a small bowl you’ll mix your panko bread crumbs with a bit of olive oil Parmesan, and then scatter the topping over the top of the pasta. Now you’re ready to bake!

A quick 30-mins or so in a pre-heated oven is all you need to take this pumpkin mac and cheese into a gloriously bubbly comfort food concoction with that much-coveted crispy panko lid.

If you, like me, live with people who you can’t trust around crispy toppings, you’re going to want to guard that situation with your life.

After a short rest on the counter top this healthy baked mac and cheese recipe is ready to serve!

pumpkin mac and cheese on a white plate with a red casserole dish in the background

Pro tips / recipe notes:

  • What kind of pumpkin does this recipe use? You can opt for solid pack pumpkin from a can (NOT pumpkin pie filling) or make your own pumpkin puree from scratch!
  • What kind of pasta is best for this recipe? I like to use either corkscrew noodles or a hollow noodle with some texture on the outside to grab hold of the sauce (penne rigate or ziti, for example).
  • Does this mac and cheese taste super pumpkiney? I think the pumpkin flavour is pretty subtle. It’ll be dialled up or down a bit depending on what kind of cheese you choose.
  • What’s the best kind of cheese for this recipe? Go for something with a bit of bite to it, like a sharp cheddar for example.
  • Can this mac and cheese be made in advance? Yes! You can make the pumpkin cheese sauce, stir in the pasta, and then throw the whole thing into the fridge (or freezer!) until you’re ready to bake.
  • Can I freeze this recipe? You bet! You can freeze portions of the mac and cheese once cooked (and cooled!) or you can freeze the whole casserole unbaked.

pumpkin mac and cheese with herbs and spices in the background

Hey Nutrition Lady, talk to me about pumpkin!

Alrighty, then!

Pumpkin, and other yellow fleshed winter squash, are jam packed full of carotenes, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and other carotenoids. These are the compounds ultimately responsible for their bright yellow and orange colours, and also is a pre-cursor to Vitamin A (you need that so you can see).

Winter squash (including pumpkins) are also rockstars in the B vitamin department, with high amounts of vitamin B6, and a good amount of vitamin B2, vitamin B3, folate, and pantothenic acid.

Pumpkin also contains a good dose of dietary fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and manganese.

overhead photo of pumpkin mac and cheese in a red casserole dish

Similar recipes you might enjoy:

Baked Pumpkin Risotto
Creamy Cauliflower Pasta Bake
Orecchiette with Broccoli and Lemon

a plate of pumpkin mac and cheese with a casserole dish and spices in the background
5 from 1 vote
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Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is an easy, healthy baked pasta dish that's perfect for a weeknight dinner! Lighter than your average mac and cheese thanks to the addition of pumpkin, it's a vegetarian meal the whole family will love. 

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword Cheese, pasta, Pumpkin
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 532 kcal
Author Katie Trant

Ingredients

  • 16 oz whole wheat rotini or penne pasta 454 g
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 bay leaf optional
  • 1 cup grated cheese eg sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper

Topping:

  • 4 Tbsp bread crumbs I used panko
  • 4 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C/ 400°F. If you don't have a cast iron casserole that can go from stove top to the oven, butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 or deep 9 x 6 oven proof dish, and set aside. 

  2. Bring a large pot of water to boiling over high heat, and cook pasta until just barely tender. Drain and set aside.

  3. While the pasta is cooking, heat the milk, butter, flour, and bay leaf over medium-high heat in medium-sized heavy-bottomed sauce pot. 

  4. Once the milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the sauce has begun to thicken stirring frequently with a whisk, careful to not burn the milk. 

  5. Once the sauce has thickened (it should coat the back of a spoon), remove the bay leaf, and using a whisk to combine, melt in the grated cheese. 

  6. Add the pumpkin puree, smoked paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until smooth.

  7. Combine the cooked pasta and the sauce, and spoon into the prepared dish. 

  8. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Sprinkle the bread crumb topping over the pasta, and toss into the oven.

  9. Bake, uncovered, for 20 - 30 minutes until the top is browned and crispy, and the sauce is bubbling up the sides. 

  10. Let stand for 5 minutes prior to serving.

Recipe Notes

  • Nutrition values are an estimate only. 
  • What kind of pumpkin does this recipe use? You can opt for solid pack pumpkin from a can (NOT pumpkin pie filling) or make your own pumpkin puree from scratch! 
  • What kind of pasta is best for this recipe? I like to use either corkscrew noodles or a hollow noodle with some texture on the outside to grab hold of the sauce (penne rigate or ziti, for example).
  • Does this mac and cheese taste super pumpkiney? I think the pumpkin flavour is pretty subtle. It'll be dialled up or down a bit depending on what kind of cheese you choose. 
  • What's the best kind of cheese for this recipe? Go for something with a bit of bite to it, like a sharp cheddar for example. 
  • Can this mac and cheese be made in advance? Yes! You can make the pumpkin cheese sauce, stir in the pasta, and then throw the whole thing into the fridge (or freezer!) until you're ready to bake. 
  • Can I freeze this recipe? You bet! You can freeze portions of the mac and cheese once cooked (and cooled!) or you can freeze the whole casserole unbaked. 
Nutrition Facts
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Amount Per Serving
Calories 532 Calories from Fat 171
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 29%
Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Cholesterol 45mg 15%
Sodium 313mg 13%
Potassium 385mg 11%
Total Carbohydrates 73g 24%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 6g
Protein 21g 42%
Vitamin A 140%
Vitamin C 2.1%
Calcium 32.2%
Iron 22.5%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This recipe was originally published February 11, 2011. It was retested, rephotographed, and updated on October 5, 2018.

This Pumpkin Mac and Cheese is an easy, healthy baked pasta dish that's perfect for a weeknight dinner! Lighter than your average mac and cheese thanks to the addition of pumpkin, it's a vegetarian meal the whole family will love. #vegetarian #pumpkin #macandcheese #baked #healthy #easy #pasta #dinner #heynutritionlady


 

Comments

  1. As it turns out I do have the blender and I don’t have the frozen pumpkin…and this looks like a great recipe with the squash. (Half the cheese calories)
    (BTW. That All Clad saucier will hold a full mac and cheese sauce…and will cook so many other things. I can vouch for that.)

    • You could a) process a small pumpkin and freeze portions for this recipe and other deliciousness (muffins, for example, and I have a new addiction to pumpkin based smoothies), or b) buy a can of pumpkin puree and use that instead.

      And yes, I made the Stockholm version in my beautiful All Clad saucier, which I miss dearly.

  2. Katie, your recipes are all splendidly delicious! I made your “slaw” on the wkend and have enjoyed it with a dinner of halibut, and it went equally well with a fritatta brunch. So good! And now (having just purchased WW pasta at Bosa on the weekend) this mac and cheese to look fwd to. I can’t wait – my only regret is that I didn’t have these recipes when my boys were living at home … but at least now they can make them on their own! Go Katie!!

  3. I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and thought that I better not keep my love for it a secret any longer! Can’t wait to try out the mac n’ cheese!

  4. First of all, there is something about that whisk photo that I just love! Secondly, given that I am recently obsessed with pumpkin, I think I may make this for dinner! (Feel free to check out my post on pumpkin-sauced pizza! You may enjoy it!)

  5. I made it last night, and my kids LOVED it. Huzzah!!!! I actually got them to eat pumpkin in a non-cookie format!!! Yaaaaay! 🙂 I used regular (aged) cheddar though. Need to find me some stronger cheese this weekend 🙂

  6. OMG! I don’t even know where to begin. I fell in love with this dish before I even had it in the oven. The sauce alone made me weak in the knees.

    I made this for supper this evening. It encouraged me to process one of the last pumpkins I had from the autumn, an Italian seaside pumpkin from the Good Earth farm on Gabriola (a must if you on on the island in the growing season). And I used White Grace cheese from the local to me cheesemakers of Moonstruck cheese. The panko is a must. I ended up not having smoked paprika, but did have both regular and Hungarian. I went with the Hungarian and it was awesome.

    I recommend this to all those who love cheese or pumpkin, but think that almost everyone who finds a warm dish of this in front of them will love it.

        • First, what’s regular mean? Paprika is grown in a lot of different places, so regular could be anything. Hungarian paprika is normally rich in colour and flavour due to the supreme paprika growing conditions in Hungary. Smoked paprika is, well, smoked, so it tastes smokey. It’s a must have in your pantry!

  7. LOVE that Nadine’s Cheese is featured on your blog. I love her cheese, esp because it is organic. I once had a fondue party with her, and could not believe how much cheese i ate that night.

    adding pumpkin into recipes (such as chili) is one of my favourite things to do. It kinda feels like a secret ingredient to me. I feel as if this recipe would be a GREAT hit for casual dinner parties.

    • I love so many things about Nadine’s cheese, I had to hold back from writing them all otherwise the post would have been way too long! It’s organic, they grow and blend their own feed, the milk is gravity fed to the cheese house, the cheese house is kept at temperature by the creek running beneath it . . . it’s so awesome.

  8. Making this tonight and can’t wait! Couldn’t find smoked paprika anywhere, or pumpkins, so will have to try with canned pumpkin and regular paprika! I’ve also looked for the Kootenay cheese at Planet Organic and Community Natural foods and can’t find it! Anyone in Calgary know where they carry this cheese?

    • I’ve seen it at Janis Beaton Cheese in Calgary before. You can probably find a pumpkin of sorts at the Calgary farmer’s market, or another squash could sub, like butternut for example, but canned is fine too. I’ve definitely bought smoked paprika in Calgary before, but I can’t remember the name of the store. It’s out there, so keep an eye out and snag it when you find some, it’s such a great flavour!

  9. Just made this again, this time for my 16 month old son (<3) and he devoured it. Much easier than roasting squash first, etc! Thanks, as always!

    • I made a version for my little fella, using orzo for the pasta so we could spoon it for him. He loved it! Now he’s much more into feeding himself, so I’ll have to make it again with bigger pasta for him to grab.

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