Cheese, butter, and milk are staples in classic mac and cheese. They’re also why a one-cup serving can easily contain 24g of fat, including 14g –– or more –– of the saturated, artery-clogging kind. Creating a healthier version of this family favorite that can compete taste- and texture-wise with the rich creaminess of traditional mac and cheese wasn’t easy. That is, until I tried adding a secret ingredient: pumpkin.
I know, I know, adding pumpkin to mac and cheese may sound odd. The idea stems from a trend I spotted a few years back, when chefs and foodies started throwing butternut squash into their mac and cheese recipes. I thought it was genius –– and that achieving the same creaminess might be possible with pumpkin, too.
Turns out, it was. This version eats like a traditional mac and cheese but contains 50% less fat and saturated fat. Using extra-sharp white Cheddar allows you to cut back on the amount of cheese you use without sacrificing flavor. Adding pumpkin brings creaminess –– and a Vitamin A boost –– to the dish. You can make this two ways: Bake as directed, or, if you’re in a hurry, dish it out off the stovetop at the end of Step 4. Either way, it’s delish.
White Cheddar-Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 5 minutes
1 (16-oz) box whole-grain penne
1 ½ Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups 1% milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp pepper
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin puree
1 (8-oz) block extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 Tbsp panko
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute or until slightly golden, stirring constantly. Slowly add milk. Cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.
4. Add pumpkin, salt, garlic powder, dry mustard, and pepper to saucepan; stir well to combine. Add grated Cheddar cheese and 5 Tbsp Parmesan cheese. Cook 3 minutes or until cheese is completely melted, stirring frequently.
5. Lightly coat a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Add cooked pasta to cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, combine remaining 3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese with panko. Sprinkle across top.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until hot throughout. Turn oven to broil and cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
NUTRITION FACTS (per 1 cup ): Calories 300; Total Fat 11g (Saturated Fat 6); Cholesterol 30mg; Sodium 380mg; Total Carbs 39g (Dietary Fiber 4g, Total Sugars 4g, Added Sugars 0g); Protein 14g.
CAROLYN WILLIAMS, PHD, RD