Yes, this really is the best darn pumpkin mac and cheese recipe! It’s loaded with shredded cheese (extra sharp cheddar, parmesan, and Gruyere!) and pumpkin puree, plus plenty of spices and bacon. My family loves this absolutely delicious soul warming pasta dish!
Homemade Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
Fall is in the air! And that means we’re making and baking all things pumpkin. Mostly sweet stuff like mini pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin coffee cake. But pumpkin can be savory too! In fact, some of my favorite pumpkin recipes are things like curry, stew, and yes: pumpkin macaroni and cheese! Aka the ultimate Thanksgiving side-dish!
If you’re like ew, I cannot get on board with pumpkin spice Mac and cheese. I feel you! I get it. But this is not that! This is a true savory dish, and the pumpkin is not sweet tasting and definitely doesn’t have a PSL vibe. In my opinion, this macaroni and cheese tastes like Thanksgiving! It’s rich in flavor from the likes of sage, shallots, and bacon. And the pumpkin just accentuates everything and gives it the most gorgeous orange hue! A lot of people actually think the flavor is butternut squash!
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Ingredients
- Pasta: When it comes to choosing your macaroni noodle, you’ve got options! You can use the traditional elbow macaroni noodle of course. Or, shake it up and use shells, shallows, or even something like penne or rotini.
- Bacon: I prefer using thick-cut bacon, but any variety will do. The cooking time will just slightly vary deepening on how thick/thin it is.
- Butter: As always, I suggest using unsalted butter, but salted will work in a pinch. Be sure to omit the salt called for, then taste the sauce and add more only if needed.
- Shallots: Add SO much flavor! If you cannot find shallots, a yellow onion will work. The taste won’t be the same, but it’s better than nothing.
- Sage: Please please please use FRESH sage! Dried sage will not give this pumpkin Mac and cheese the same fresh flavor.
- Garlic: Again, fresh is best! Actually, fresh is a must. Be sure to finely mince for the best flavor distribution.
- Flour: A small amount of all purpose flour goes in the sauce and thickens it up so it’s nice and creamy, but not runny. I don’t suggest using another variety of flour here. But if you do, a 1 for 1 GF flour is probably your safest choice.
- Milk: Whole milk aka full-fat works best here. A reduced fat milk will work ok, but will yield a less rich and creamy sauce. I don’t suggest using nut milks here.
- Pumpkin Puree: Please do not use pumpkin pie mix! Your Mac and cheese will taste like dessert but not in a good way. You want pure pumpkin puree. I use canned but homemade is fine!
- Brown Sugar: Someone is going to ask why add sugar to macaroni and cheese, so I’ll just answer that now: it’s delicious! It honestly doesn’t make the sauce sweet, it simply enhances the flavors of the sage, shallots, and pumpkin. And works in harmony with the cayenne pepper to create perfect balance.
- Dijon Mustard: I like using coarse dijon mustard, sometimes labeled country dijon. But in a pinch, regular dijon works fine! I don’t suggest using yellow or brown mustard.
- Spices: Salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and ground nutmeg add subtle spice and so much flavor to this recipe! If you really hate spice, you can reduce the cayenne a bit. But don’t eliminate it! It really balances out the sweetness from the pumpkin.
- Heavy Cream: Yes, you need this ingredient. Mac and cheese is not the place to try and cut saturated fat lol. A small amount creates a rich silky smooth sauce you’ll love. It’s worth it!
- Cheese: While you can definitely play with this blend, I suggest using extra sharp cheddar, Gruyere cheese, and parmesan.
- Bread Crumbs: We love using panko bread crumbs, but regular old bread crumbs will work. I do suggest using plain bread crumb and not flavored.
- Olive Oil: You’ll combine the bread crumbs and olive oil in a small bowl and toss well to combine. This helps crisp up the bread crumbs. Any variety of olive oil will work!
Let’s Make Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese
- Preheat the oven about 30 minutes before you plan on baking! You’ll need a very large (3-quart or more) baking dish for this recipe. And you’ll want to lightly grease it.
- Cook your pasta! You’ll bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and toss in your noodles. Cook, but only for a few minutes. You want it to be extremely al dente (it’ll be hard). Pour your partially cooked pasta into that prepared baking dish.
- Cook your bacon until very crispy on both sides! Then chop into small bits and set it aside.
- Melt your butter, then toss in the chopped shallots and cook until softened. Stir in the sage and garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Slowly sprinkle in the flour WHILE STIRRING CONSTANTLY! Then very slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly as you add. Whisking constantly here is important, hence the caps and exclamation points! You’ll add the pumpkin after the milk goes in.
- Once your sauce starts to thicken, whisk in your sugar and spices. Then reduce to low and whisk in the cream, cheese, and some bacon. Once the cheese is melted, taste and add more salt and black pepper, if needed. Or any other spice you want more of.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss to combine, then sprinkle with the bread crumbs, and bake!
If you’re feeling super fancy, you can fry up a few sage leaves in oil while the macaroni and cheese bakes, then place them on top right before serving. Totally optional but definitely makes the finished dish look extra special and seasonal.
This pumpkin macaroni and cheese is so flavorful, hearty, and delicious! It’s truly perfect for any night you’re craving comfort food. And a must-make for Thanksgiving! It’s just begging to be served alongside my green bean casserole, honey mustard roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry apple stuffing, and extra crispy sweet potato wedges!
More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes:
- Extra Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Elevated Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Gruyere
- Creamy Alfredo Mac and Cheese with Spring Peas and Asparagus
- Sriracha Mac and Cheese
Best Darn Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- 1 teaspoon salt for the pasta water
- 1 pound macaroni pasta or shell shaped pasta
- 1 pound thick-cut bacon
- 5 Tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter
- 3 large-ish shallots diced
- 3 Tablespoons fresh sage minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/3 cup (40g) all-purpose flour
- 3 cups (681ml) whole milk
- 1 15 ounce (425g) can pumpkin puree
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons coarse dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar packed
- 1 and 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup (113ml) heavy cream aka whipping cream
- 10 ounces (283g) extra sharp cheddar cheese grated
- 8 ounces (226g) gruyere cheese grated
- 2 ounces (57g) Parmesan cheese finely grated
- 1/2 cup (30g) Panko bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Lightly grease a 3-quart baking dish and set aside until needed.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and pasta and cook for 4 minutes. The pasta will be very al dente. Pour pasta into a prepared baking dish and set aside until needed.
- In a large skillet over medium-heat, cook the bacon until crispy on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Blot any excess oil with a paper towel, then chop into small bits. Set aside.
- In a large pan, melt the butter over medium-heat. Add in the chopped shallots and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until softened and nearly translucent. Stir in the sage and garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, or until fragrant.
- Sprinkle in the flour, and stirring constantly, cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly as you add. Whisk in the pumpkin puree until smooth.
- Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the dijon mustard, brown sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder, black pepper, and nutmeg.
- Reduce to low heat. Whisk in the heavy cream, then fold in the cheeses and 1/2 of the chopped bacon.
- Remove from heat and immediately pour the sauce over cooked pasta and stir gently to combine.
- In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and olive oil, mixing well until the bread crumbs are evenly coated in the oil. Sprinkle evenly on top of the macaroni and cheese.
- Place the baking dish in the preheated oven, cover with foil, and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the top with remaining bacon, and bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes. Garish with extra sage leaves, if desired. Serve warm!