Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese!

This week we turn our attentions to another of Mr. Panda's less favorite foods- the pumpkin. While he's not as averse to pumpkin as he is to broccoli, he doesn't get quite as excited about the delicious orange gourd as I do. Just before he left for the week I asked him if he was least likely to eat Pumpkin Mac & Cheese or Pumpkin Gnocchi.  The blank stare I got in return clearly told me that he wouldn't be sad to miss out on either. Given that this was a very tough week (not only did I change jobs, but my new workplace was relocating so I was helping with the move... AND I have a paper due) I decided on the less-effort-required mac & cheese.

I'm of the personal opinion that cheese should be its own food group. This recipe calls for three- THREE- different cheeses; one soft and flavorful cheese; one medium texture melty cheese; one medium texture strong flavor cheese. Of course, with three different kinds of quality cheese, this recipe is not exactly cheap. Also, do you have any idea how hard it is to find canned pumpkin when it's not Thanksgiving? Ridiculously hard. I ended up paying $3 for a small can of organic pumpkin. And since it's February, it's not like I even had the option of cooking and pureeing my own (not that I would  have if I could have cause, well, I'm lazy). To top it all off,  I went shopping for the ingredients on Sunday evening, which is apparently when everyone and their mother is at the grocery store.

Between the price and the fight to get these ingredients, this had best be some damn good mac & cheese.

Know what? It was.

It was cheesy and pumpkiny, and not at all too-sweet. If you look at my ingredients and the ingredients in the original linked recipe, you'll notice I used way more cheese and totally different spices. I know when pumpkin is involved people tend to auto-grab the nutmeg and cinnamon. C'mon, you don't get enough of that in October and November? Try something else. Like Cardomom! (My favorite of all spices, by the way.) I also used garam masala, which is an Indian spice blend that I like a lot. I think one of my favorite parts of this dish was putting different spices in just to see how it would all come out. I encourage you to try even different spices- like maybe a curry!

What's in this?
- 1 box of pasta (I used elbows, but any short shape'll do!)
- 1 can pumpkin puree
- 1 cup half & half (non fat ok)
- 1 1/4 cup of creamy cheese such as brie or camembert
- 1 cup sharp cheddar
- 1 cup emmanthaler
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 1/4 tsp Kosher salt 
- 1/4 tsp pepper

What did you do to it?
- Cook pasta in boiling water til al dente
-Whisk pumpkin with milk in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat until hot, then reduce to low and add cheeses a little at a time until all melted.

Sauce should look like this before all cheese is melted, only less sideways. Hmm...

- Once the sauce is smooth and all the cheese is melted, mix in your spices.
- Taste the sauce. Add more of whatever you'd like - even CHEESE!
- Drain pasta and return to pot
- Pour cheese sauce over pasta and mix it up until cheese is everywhere!

I know that pumpkin + pasta + cheese may not sound all that appealing to some people. But! It was so delicious. You should try it. Be adventurous! Unfortunately, I need to master how to cook for just one or two people, cause I think I could have fed an army with this recipe. Anyone want some pumpkin mac & cheese? The leftovers aren't bad!

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