Mac and cheese, meet pumpkin spice

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Now that the nights are cooler, many of us move from the light dishes of summer to the heartier comfort foods of fall. Autumn is when root vegetables and winter squashes take center stage, adding a nutritional kick to stews, soups, grain bowls and casseroles.

Two of my favorites are butternut squash and pumpkin. Both turn ultra-creamy and sweet when roasted and just smack of fall. They also happen to pair beautifully with another flavor I absolutely adore — Thai red curry.

This savory dish marries the flavors of pumpkin curry with a creamy mac and cheese. Perfect for the vegetarians in your life, it’s made with coconut milk, pumpkin puree, red chili paste and bite-sized chunks of roasted squash. It’s crowned with a crunchy and buttery panko topping.

Red curry paste is spicy but not blistering hot, so you can add more or less as you wish, or even leave it out if you’re not a fan of Thai flavors. It’s easy to find in the Asian section of most grocery stores.

I used coconut milk for extra richness, but you could use regular milk or cream.


PG tested

For macaroni

  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 12 ounces rigatoni, elbow macaroni or campanelle pasta
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 13.5-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or light cream
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, canned or homemade
  • 1-2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces grated parmesan

For topping

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring a pot of salted water to boil.

Place cubed squash in medium bowl and drizzle with oil. Toss to coat with hands, then spread out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place in oven, and roast until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While squash is roasting, cook pasta according to package directions for firm, or al dente. (Make sure not to overcook or it will turn to mush when baked.) Drain, rinse and set aside.

Make cheese sauce. In a large pot, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, until it smells toasty. Whisk in coconut milk and half-and-half, return pan to heat and cook over medium-low until mixture begins to simmer. Cook for 1 minute to thicken, stirring constantly.

Stir in pumpkin and curry paste; whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in cheddar and parmesan and cook over medium-low until cheese is melted, about 1 minute, stirring nearly constantly. Turn off heat. Add to pasta and toss to coat.

Transfer mac and cheese to buttered pan. Set aside to make topping.

Melt butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Add breadcrumbs and toss with a fork until small clumps form. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately. It can be stored airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days and reheated gently in the microwave.

Serves 4-6.

– Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette