Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just When I Thought it Was Safe... (Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese)

Macaroni and cheese. What comes to mind when you read those words? If you're like me, you probably suddenly felt oddly calm and warm just picturing the familiar cheesy, steaming noodles. A sense of safety and comfort, maybe even some soft childhood memories surface. I love tradition. I grew up in a happy, big family with LOTS of traditions. Traditions for birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentines, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Sunday nights, bedtime, weddings, and of course, Christmas. I love our traditions, and, like all good traditions, they have to be done right. Macaroni and cheese is like a good tradition. Comfortable, warm, gooey, cheesy, and you can count on it to always be the same. At least that's what I thought.

A few months ago, I encountered a recipe that challenged my beliefs about good ol' Mac. Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese. Just the title tells you something is terribly wrong. Someone put pumpkin in my mac?! And looking further down the list of ingredients I was appalled to find no mention of that favorite and familiar cheese...cheddar! It just wasn't there, and in its place was the frighteningly foreign "Gouda." I did have some leftover pumpkin in the freezer though...I saved the recipe to my computer, hoping that someday I might be courageous enough to try it, though a nagging voice kept telling me I'd be betraying the standby.

A few weeks ago, however, when making out my meal list, before I could change my mind, I quickly wrote "Gouda" on my shopping list. And, at the store, I hesitated again. Gouda wasn't so expensive, but still my hand hovered over the cold case...I'd never bought a round cheese encased in red wax before. My husband encouraged me to go for it, and it was done.

Yesterday afternoon, on the way home from a friend's house, I stopped at our general store for some milk. My mac n' cheese recipe also called for Red Cayenne Pepper, which I did not have and intended to leave out, seeing as I don't like spicy things and there was only 1/8 of a tsp anyway. But, I decided to check the spice aisle just in case. Now, mind you, my husband and I live in a very rural area, and our little general store really just carries the basics. The closest real grocery store is about 17 miles away. I highly doubted Cayenne pepper would be in much demand here. Lo and behold, however, two dusty little canisters sat neglected on the shelf, not even priced. I inquired about this, and the shopkeeper couldn't find the price either, so he sold it to me at $1.99, which I have no doubt was quite a steal! It was meant to be! :)

I decided to make the dish in the afternoon, ahead of time, so I could have plenty of time and room for my experiment. I love trying new things, so my mood was almost giddy! It makes me so happy just to be in the kitchen, creating!
The first step was to whirl chunks of bread in the blender. Sounded funny to me, but what I got were beautiful fine crumbs, so perfect that I had to laugh- I never would have thought to use the blender for that! These I mixed with Parmesan cheese. I was a little wary of the bread crumb idea, having had only one experience with crumb-topped macaroni. The dish I had ordered that way had seemed dry and crunchy- not at all my idea of perfect mac n' cheese! But, setting aside the crumbs for later, I also decided to set aside my misgivings. Then I began to multi-task. Those of you who cook know that you can hardly escape multi-tasking. Cooking perfects your ability to do so! This simmering here that broiling there, chopping up something for the next step, washing a vegetable, and watching the clock all the while! So, while the pumpkin puree and chicken broth simmered on the back of the stove, I chopped onions and got them bubbling in some butter...grating the Gouda in between stirs.

Now, Gouda is a little more difficult to grate that cheddar, as it is a softer cheese. I couldn't resist nibbling a bit- my first taste of Gouda! I have been trying since yesterday to describe the flavor. It is entirely different than cheddar- mild, yet strikingly rich, with maybe just a slight tang. It is a lovely mellow orange color. The aroma of the onions, butter, flour and milk simmering away was heavenly!

While the pasta boiled on the back burner, I mixed in the cheeses, spices (a seemingly odd combination of nutmeg and the cayenne pepper...) and the pumpkin mixture to create a delightful orange sauce. After draining the macaroni, I poured it into a 11x7 glass dish, pouring the sauce over all. After mixing enough to coat, more grated Gouda went on top, then, in true Italian style, I finished it off by sprinkling the pasta with bread crumbs. It looked beautiful.
I popped it into the fridge for later. And promptly forgot to take my frozen roll dough out of the freezer to rise. So, in lieu of lovely fresh-baked rolls we had toast with our adventurous dinner. Oh, well. Guess sometimes you just can't do it all! :)

The macaroni smelled wonderful as it was cooking, and because I refrigerated it, it took about twice the prescribed 20 minutes. But when I set it on the table, it looked wonderful!

The crumbs had turned a perfect golden brown and I was starving! It was delicious! My first bite was fabulous, but subsequent bites were even better as I sorted out the flavors and savored them. Travis doesn't share my same passion for macaroni and cheese in general, so I don't think it had quite the same bewitching effect on him, though he did pronounce it very good. I usually take the second helping as a good sign... ;)
The pumpkin flavor was not strong, in fact my first few bites, I didn't taste it at all. But then every now and then I could catch it. The flavor in general was very mild, not having quite the sharpness that we're used to when we stand by the old familiar cheddar, but possessing something of a mellowed spiciness. The pasta was deliciously moist and I surprised myself by absolutely loving the fine crumb topping!
I have a new respect for macaroni and that is not wrapped in tradition, but in new and unique flavors! I've always had a weakness for homemade mac, and this one was-or I should say, is (yay for leftovers!)- a pleasure. Thank you, macaroni, for lending yourself to adventure!

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
(printable version)

Serves 4 to 6

1 slice sturdy white bread,crusts removed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée
1 cup chicken broth
12 ounces pasta shells
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Tear the bread into chunks and whirl in a blender until fine crumbs form. Mix with half of the Parmesan cheese and set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, over medium heat stir the pumpkin purée and broth together. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cover and keep warm.

3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until
al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and pour into a 2-quart baking dish.

4. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer; cook, whisking frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5. Stir in half of the Gouda, the remaining Parmesan, and the salt, nutmeg, and
cayenne, and whisk vigorously until melted and smooth. Slowly pour in the
pumpkin mixture, whisking until well blended.

6. Pour the pumpkin-cheese sauce over the pasta and stir gently to coat. Sprinkle with the remaining Gouda and then the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until the crumbs are golden, about 20 minutes.


  1. What if you were to freeze the gouda before grating it?

  2. I'm so glad it turned out well! I adore Gouda Cheese, I think it's amazing! I'm going to have Josh read this and see if it is something he would be interested in eating. I'm sure he will, since it has Gouda :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...