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I warned you. You knew it would happen. So don’t complain when 3 out of 4 recipes I post are pumpkin-themed.

It’s officially fall, and despite the fact that the weather has been consistently in the 80s here, I have more than jumped on that pumpkin and spice train.

Exhibit A: my Curried Pumpkin Blondies and my Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce.

Pumpkin Mac

And so while my pumpkin addiction has resurged with full force, here is yet another pumpkin dish, an autumn themed take on a classic dish: Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese with Kale and Italian Sausage.

This dish practically screams fall flavor. Sweet pumpkin paired with bitter, savory kale and hot Italian sausage combine to make a comforting, filling meal on any chilly evening.

Then, of course, the half pound of cheese helps the comfort factor a bit too. :)

This mac and cheese recipe is a derivative of my pumpkin Alfredo sauce as I was determined to utilize it in a large format recipe. You see, both my boyfriend and I really enjoy cooking, but have pretty busy work schedules, so we have a great system to keep us fed throughout the week. (Almost) every weekend we each cook one large dish designed to last us through out the week. Its a pretty ingenious plan. I wish I could say I thought of it myself, but I can’t take any credit. That idea belongs entirely to my man.

As a side note, I always get a little tripped up with the words “genius” and “ingenious”. The first connotes brilliance, where the second is more like cleverness, but they still throw me off a bit. They are such similar words with similar definitions but not interchangeable. Kind of like “famous” and “infamous”. An infamous person is famous but for specifically nefarious reasons. I remember learning in school that the prefix “in” denotes the word means the opposite of its base. As in “comprehensible” and “incomprehensible”. But “in” seems to do whatever the hell it wants at the beginning of a word. :/

Aaaanyways, I am way off topic. Back to the food. Back to my weekend cooking.

Pumpkin Mac 2

Because I intended to make something large enough to last both myself and my boyfriend throughout the week, I set out to make a dish large with at least 10 servings. My original idea a casserole or lasagna but, like all of my other recipes, it went through at least a hundred iterations of barely altered recipes in my head before it became a pumpkin mac and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Its nostalgic and reminds us of a simpler time. In my case, it brings me back to my five-year old self eating my mom’s Velveeta mac and cheese. I loved the velvety-smooth, chemically processed taste of that stuff. My mom? She hated it. As most sensible adults with even a minimally matured palate should.

Luckily, macaroni and cheese is one of those dishes that can grow up with you. Seriously, Google “Grown up mac and cheese”. Its a treasure trove of delicious cheesy goodness. From the simple breadcrumb topped baked mac to the luxurious lobster and black truffle filled delicacy, mac and cheese is no longer just for five-year old taste profiles.

Pumpkin Mac 3

So, in my version of mac and cheese, I combined a few of my favorite fall flavors to make a unique dish: pumpkin, kale and Italian sausage. While this cheese-laden meal doesn’t need meat, I felt the fennel and salt from the sausage would enhance the dish overall. I used Muenster for this, but any white cheese without an overpowering flavor would go nicely. Swiss or Gruyere would be especially nice. The pumpkin itself is not a strong or assertive flavor in this dish, but together with the kale, cheese, and sausage, makes for a perfect cool-weather meal.

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese with Kale and Italian Sausage

Ingredients

  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed (I used turkey sausage)
  •  1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 bunches curly kale *NOTE*
  • 2.5 cup low fat milk
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tb flour dissolved in ~2 Tb water
  • 1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz, approx. 1 3/4 cup)
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 8 oz white cheese, shredded (approx. 2 cups) *NOTE*
  • 1 regular box pasta shells or elbows *NOTE*
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Tools

  • 9×13 inch baking dish
  • Dutch oven
  • Large stockpot
  • Medium sauce pan
  • Colander
  • Large mixing bowl

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 500F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish with a small amount of oil or butter.
  2. Have a plate lined with paper towels ready. Crumble sausage in a Dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to break sausage in to small pieces. Cook until no pink remains, approximately 7 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, remove sausage and let rest on paper towels. Reserve the oil in Dutch oven.
  3. In the same Dutch oven, cook diced onions and garlic over medium-low in the reserved sausage oil.
  4. Remove stems from kale and chop in to bite size pieces. I find it easier to simply rip out the stems and tear the kale by hand. This is much quicker than using a knife. Once onion is translucent, add chopped kale. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until kale is tender, approximately 30 minutes.
  5. Fill a large stockpot with approximately 4 quarts of heavily salted water (enough to cover the pasta) and bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and continue to boil 5-7 minutes, until pasta is al dente (firm but not hard).
  6. While pasta is cooking, mix milk, paprika, cinnamon, red pepper and nutmeg in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Bring just below a boil (bubbling at the edges of the pan). Add flour mixture and whisk until milk thickens. Turn the burner to low. Add pumpkin and worcestershire sauce and whisk until smooth. Keep on low heat until pasta is cooked.

To Assemble:

  1. Place the shredded white cheese in a large bowl. When pasta is done, drain in a large colander. Pour warm pasta over shredded cheese and then pour the pumpkin sauce over the pasta. Cover and let sit a few minutes to allow cheese to melt.
  2. Mix pasta with cheese and sauce until well coated (cheese may be a bit stringy, thats okay)
  3. Add tender kale and sausage and mix until well incorporated. Pour mixture in to greased 9X13 and spread evenly.
  4. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese over the top of the pasta. Bake at 500F for 10 minutes until parmesan begins to turn golden-brown at the edges of the pan.

*NOTES* 

  • I realize that a “bunch” of kale may be slightly ambiguous. Don’t worry about it. The amount of kale won’t make or break this dish. For reference though, I ended up with about 6 or 7 cups of chopped kale.
  • As I mentioned in the post itself, I used Muenster cheese, but any white cheese without a strong or overpowering flavor will do. I think Gruyere or Swiss or even a mixture of all three would be great.
  • I always thought a standard box of pasta was 16 ounces but apparently I was wrong. My box was 13.8 ounces. Again, not critical. Just use the normal sized box of pasta you find at the grocery store.

Pumpkin sauce adapted from my Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce.

Procedure adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

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