This smoky pumpkin mac and cheese recipe is made with the most dreamy smoked gouda pumpkin sauce and sprinkled with crispy garlic-herb breadcrumbs.
Ok, I know that we’re probably not supposed to pick favorites as food bloggers. But I feel the need to mention that my husband casually mentioned that this was one of his favorite recipes I’ve made…“ever.”
I have to say that I agree. ♡
As someone who’s always had a soft spot for savory pumpkin recipes, I had a very good feeling about the idea of this mac and cheese when I was rounding up the ingredients. The combination of creamy smoked gouda, salty aged Parmesan, sweet pumpkin purée, chunky pipe rigate, fresh baby spinach, and a hint of smoked paprika sounded like it had great potential. But when stirred together until perfectly creamy and melty, and then served hot sprinkled with a crunch of garlicky rosemary breadcrumbs? This mac and cheese was next-level amazing.
The smoky, savory and slightly-sweet blend of flavors makes the pumpkin cheese sauce downright irresistible. And I will warn you now that you’re definitely going to be reaching for a second scoop of these magical garlicky breadcrumbs, which add the most perfect, buttery, garlicky “crunch” to every bite. We’ve kept this recipe vegetarian here in our house, but you’re welcome to add in some chicken or sausage if you’d like. And if you happen to be sensitive to smoky flavors, be sure to read the notes below for different cheeses that you’re welcome to use.
I can’t wait for you to try this one, so round up some pumpkin and cheese and let’s get to cooking!
Smoky Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Ingredients
Here are a few brief notes about the ingredients you will need to make this pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe:
Pasta: I used pipe rigate in the batch pictured here, but you’re welcome to use whatever pasta shape you love best.
Smoked gouda: This delicious cheese melts beautifully to form the base for our cheese sauce. I love using a full 12 ounces of smoked gouda, but if you prefer a slightly less-smoky flavor, you’re welcome to use a 50/50 blend of smoked gouda and sharp cheddar (or any other milder cheese that you prefer).
Parmesan: We will also mix in about 1 ounce of freshly-grated Parmesan, whose aged, salty, nutty flavor pairs beautifully with the smoked gouda.
Pumpkin purée: You will need about 1 cup of canned pumpkin purée for the sauce. (Sorry, I wanted to make use of the full can for this recipe, but the pumpkin flavor was much too strong. That said, if you need an idea for how to use the remaining half can of pumpkin purée, I used mine to make these healthy pumpkin muffins.)
Milk: I recommend using either whole or 2% milk. I find that it works best to warm the milk slightly before adding it to the pasta, in order for the cheese and pumpkin sauce to melt smoothly and quickly.
Smoked paprika: A teaspoon of smoked paprika brings out the best of the delicious smoky pumpkin flavors in the cheese sauce.
Spinach: I like adding in a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach (or kale, etc) for extra nutrients and a pop of color.
Garlicky breadcrumbs: butter, garlic, Panko, fresh rosemary (or sage), salt and pepper
Tips for Making This Recipe
Before we get to the full recipe below, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when making this smoky pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe:
Prep the cheese sauce ingredients beforehand: It’s important that all of the pumpkin cheese sauce ingredients are ready to go the moment that the pasta has been drained, so I recommend getting everything prepped beforehand (or at least grate the cheeses to give you a head start) so that you won’t be rushed while the pasta cooks.
Grate the cheese by hand: As always, I recommend grating the cheeses by hand to help them melt smoothly into the sauce. You can either use the coarse side of a box grater or the grating attachment of a food processor to grate the gouda, and a Microplane works best to grate the Parmesan.
Don’t overcook the pasta: Be sure to test the pasta during the final few minutes of cooking so that you can drain the pasta once it *just* reaches al dente. You definitely do not want to overcook the pasta, especially since it will continue to cook a bit more in the cheese sauce.
Here are a few other variations that you are welcome to try with this recipe:
Add a protein: Italian sausage, chicken, or shrimp would all be great options if you would like to add a protein to this pasta.
Add nuts: Pine nuts or finely-chopped walnuts would also be a delicious addition to the garlicky breadcrumbs, if you would like to add some nuts for extra flavor and crunch.
Use different cheeses: If smoky flavors aren’t your favorite, you’re welcome to use non-smoked gouda cheese or different type of cheese (such as cheddar, fontina, havarti, gruyere) in place of the smoked gouda. Or if you prefer, you can create a mix of two or more types of cheeses, adding up to 12 ounces total. We made this recipe once with half smoked gouda and half sharp white cheddar and it was also delicious.
Use a different squash purée: If you don’t have a can of pumpkin purée on hand, you’re welcome to cook and purée a different type of squash to use in its place, such as butternut squash purée.
Play around with the seasonings: There are a number of other fun seasonings that you’re welcome to play around with in the cheese sauce. For example, a touch of Dijon would also be delicious. Or you’re welcome to add some ground nutmeg, cinnamon and/or ginger in place of the smoked paprika if you prefer a warming spices vibe.
Make it gluten-free: Use a gluten-free pasta and gluten-free Panko to make this recipe gluten-free.
Make the breadcrumbs.Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add Panko, rosemary, salt and pepper. Continue sautéing, stirring occasionally, until the Panko reaches a toasted golden brown color. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook the pasta.Cook the pasta in a large stockpot of generously-salted boiling water until just barely al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and return it to the stockpot.
Mix.Add the smoked gouda, Parmesan, pumpkin purée, warmed milk, smoked paprika, spinach and ½ cup of the starchy pasta water to the pasta. Stir until the cheese is combined and has melted into a smooth and creamy sauce. If the sauce seems too thick or the cheese has not fully melted, add in an extra ¼ to ½ cup of the starchy pasta water as needed.
Serve.Serve immediately, garnishing each portion with a generous sprinkling of garlicky breadcrumbs.