Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower

Update 12/10/13: Along with the original bacony version, this pumpkin mac and cheese packed with winter vegetables is one of my favorite dishes. I’ve made it many times throughout the years. I always want this dish a bit more saucy, so I’m planning to give it a proper re-post sometime soon using 2 cups of milk, and 1 cup of goat cheese in place of the ricotta. But for now, here are some updated photographs. Cheers!

I know it’s barely been two months since I posted about Baked Mac and Cheese with roasted squash, collards, bacon and sage, but I just made this dish again the other night, only with a few changes. I won’t say it was ‘better,’ since I omitted the bacon and that would be just impossible, but it was pretty spectacular. As I have been eating it for just about every meal for the past three days, it seemed unfair not to share the variation.

The brilliant thing about this recipe is that the roux which traditionally thickens the creamy sauce is replaced by roasted winter squash. You can roast the squash ahead of time and store it in the fridge to ease the prep on the day you plan to make the dish.

I actually followed the original recipe, one I clipped from Martha Stewart many years ago, more closely this time, using the ricotta cheese, vegetable stock and pinch of nutmeg originally called for, but this time I added blanched kale and cauliflower which get cooked in the same water used for the pasta – easy, peasy.

The pasta is gooey and hearty enough to feel decadent, yet light and vegetal enough to convince you you are eating something healthy. I can’t think of a more satisfying one-dish meal on a chilly winter’s day.

I don’t have much experience with picky children, but this seems like a good recipe to get them to eat their veggies. The pureed squash blends into the cheese, leaving its voluptuous texture and sweet flavor, and the cauliflower gets disguised into the white of the noodles. (Kale haters: you’re on your own.)

The mac is best when fresh, as the noodles continue to absorb moisture from the sauce as they sit, but leftovers are still delicious when re-heated.

Oodles of noodles:

Winter Squash Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Collard Greens, and Caramelized Onions
Pasta Alla Carbonara with Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon
Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower

Adapted from Martha Stewart

I like to make my own squash puree with butternut and/or kabocha squash, both of which have sweeter, more dense flesh than pumpkin. To do this, slice a medium-sized winter squash in half lengthwise with a sharp, large chef’s knife. Leave the seeds in for now, and place it cut-side down on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 350ºF until very tender and collapsing slightly. Let cool, scoop out and discard the seeds and strings, then puree the flesh in a food processor. Alternately, you can use a can of pumpkin or butternut squash puree. I used corn and quinoa macaroni here, but penne works well, too. I used sprouted wheat bread for the breadcrumbs, but you can use any bread you like.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes a 9×13-inch pan; 8 main-dish servings

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a bit for greasing the pan
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting the water
1 medium head cauliflower (1 pound / 450 grams)
1 bunch kale (such as lacinato)
12 ounces (340 grams) dry pasta (I used corn and quinoa macaroni)
2 cups (16 ounces / 450 grams) roasted winter squash puree
1 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
a good grating of fresh nutmeg
2 cups packed grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces / 225 grams)
1/2 cup (4 ounces / 115 grams) ricotta cheese (preferably whole milk)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs from 1-2 slices of bread
1/4 cup packed grated parmesan (1 ounce / 30 grams)
chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Be prepared:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Lightly rub the inside of a 9×13-inch (22x33cm) baking pan with olive oil and set aside. Bring a large pot of water well-salted water to a boil.

Prepare the vegetables and pasta:

Break and cut the cauliflower into small florets. Tear the kale off of its stems and discard the stems. When the water is boiling, carefully add the cauliflower and cook until crisp-tender, 2-3 minutes. Scoop out the cauliflower with a slotted spoon, drain well, and place in a very large bowl.

Add the kale, cooking it until it’s bright green, 1-2 minutes. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water and chop the kale roughly. Add the cooked kale to the bowl with the cauliflower.

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook, stirring frequently, until it’s just a little firmer than you would want to eat. (It will continue to cook and absorb moisture during the baking process.) Drain the pasta well and add it to the bowl with the vegetables.

Make the sauce:

In a large saucepan (or the now empty pot in which you cooked the veg and pasta), combine the squash puree, vegetable stock, milk, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a bare simmer, stirring frequently, then remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar and ricotta to melt the cheeses. The sauce will seem thin, but it will thicken up during the baking process.

Make the breadcrumb topping:

Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until crisp, 5 minutes. Scrape into a small bowl, and stir in the Parmesan and a pinch of salt.

Assemble and bake the goodness:

Pour the sauce over the pasta and vegetables, and stir to combine. Scrape the mixture into the greased baking pan and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake the pasta until bubbling and golden on top, 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.

14 thoughts on “Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower”

  1. This sounds so good. I am just about to go into the kitchen and make this one work with what I have. Sensitive to dairy, I will curb some of the ingredients, as well as using rice pasta. Thank you so much for this blog, it is in the direction of how I love to cook, with the seasons. Kale and cauliflower grow locally and are beautiful right now.

  2. It was oh so delicious! The cauliflower is creamy, the kale adds great color and underneath it all it's still a mac and cheese. Alanna, I have to vote with you on a bit more sauce – not that it was by any means dry.

    Everything came together quickly – and efficiently using one pot. Thank you food processor for the pureed squash, grated cheese and fresh breadcrumbs. You are an amazing kitchen companion. Bye bye last year's leftover Delicata squash you were delicious. Thanks for staying frozen.

    1. What a sweet note – thanks, Katherine. I'm so glad you gave this dish a go and liked it. You've reminded me of the frozen squash puree in my freezer. Maybe it's time to work out a saucier version…

  3. I made this and it was SO good! I used a can of pumpkin puree instead of squash and orange cauliflower! It was cheesy and delicious. Thanks! :)

  4. Hi Alanna! I am obviously obsessed with your recipes and work on this blog…I am making this for a vegetarian friend on Friday and am interested in the more saucy version- would you say your suggested 2 cups milk & goat cheese go in at the same time and in place of ricotta in the recipe?

  5. Thank for the recipe. I adapted it ever so slightly. I roasted my cauliflower, and used more italian spices and cheese. It came out so good! Thank you again! Also I used pumpkin!

  6. Made this again last night for the neighbors (and their 4 kids) and it went over very well! The only exception was the one child who is apparently in an anti-green color phase. Their 7 year old was the chef – I prepped but she did all the cooking…I may have assisted a little bit ;-)

  7. Can I make ahead (2 weeks) and freeze? I have 32 people coming for Thanksgiving including 5 vegetarians and 10 children. Should I triple the recipe?

    1. Yikes, that’s a lot of people! Tripling the recipe sounds about right. I haven’t tried freezing this, but since one can buy frozen mac and cheese, maybe it’ll work just fine? Let me know if you try!

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