Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Fall is the perfect time of year to indulge in a warm bowl of pumpkin macaroni and cheese. Besides the added texture, this dish is filled with vitamin D and calcium, providing your body with the essential nutrients you need for the upcoming winter. After a long day, go home, relax, and dive into this creamy pumpkin sensation. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) Unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup All-purpose flour
Salt and pepper (to taste)
pinch Ground nutmeg
2 tsp Dried sage
1 tsp Red pepper flakes
1 (15 oz) Can pumpkin puree
2 1/2 cups Whole milk
1 (8 oz) Package of low-fat cream cheese (room temperature, cut into cubes)
1/2 cup Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese
1 (16 oz) Box whole-wheat shell pasta (cooked according to package instructions)
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp Olive oil

Grease a 9 x 12-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with butter (or spray with non-stick cooking spray). Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, combine butter and flour and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the flour and butter, still whisking continuously, for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden-brown color.

Stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp sage, and red pepper flakes.

Slowly begin to pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously to keep lumps from forming. Allow the mixture to simmer, still continue to stir occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, or until thickened enough that it coats the back of a spoon.

Turn heat down to low and stir in the pumpkin puree and cubed cream cheese. Continue to stir into thickened milked mixture until fully melted.

Turn off heat and stir in the remaining cheeses (cheddar and Gruyere) until fully melted.

Add cooked pasta shells to cheese sauce mixture and fold in until pasta is completely coated with sauce.

Pour macaroni and cheese into the prepared baking dish.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs with the 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 tsp dried sage, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Pour panko topping evenly over top of the macaroni and cheese.

Put the baking dish into the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese sauce is gooey and panko topping is golden brown.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and let it cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.