Day 21: Guest Blog Post - Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

During my time in college, I spent a semester studying abroad in Italy. It was there that I became in love with fine food, wine, and all things seasonal. Italians love to use produce that is in season, and when Pumpkins are for the picking, you'll find "zucca" in many dishes! In Rome, where I studied, they have a regional pasta known as Cacio and Pepe (Cheese and Pepper). The dish is very simple yet extremely satisfying and comforting. Sounds like America's version of Mac and Cheese! I personally had never been a mac & cheese gal (especially not of the blue box!) but in Italy, I finally turned into a believer. So in true Italian fashion, I'm putting a seasonal twist on a classic: Pumpkin Mac and Cheese!

This dish is great for so many different reasons and it appeals to everyone across the board. It'll still "hit the spot" for die-hard mac and cheese fans, yet be sophisticated enough for the refined foodie crowd. The ingredients are basic and instructions are so easy, you can whip this up quickly. The taste will definitely impress and leave everyone asking for the recipe. It's the perfect ratio of cheese to pumpkin, and countered by some great use of spices to prevent the dish from being sweet like pumpkin pie while still preserving the flavor. I'll use this dish for a rainy day in, or take it to the next dinner party at a friends. Mangiamo!


  • 8 oz Macaroni Shells (rigatoni is my other favorite)

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 tsp. olive oil

  • 1 tsp black pepper

  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 3 cups shredded white cheddar

  • 2 cups of milk

  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree

  • 1/4 cup of pasta water

1. boil a large pot of water over heat. Once boiling, add Macaroni shells, 1/4 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp of olive oil. The salt will add flavor, and the olive oil will prevent the pasta from sticking together. Stir occasionally. After 8-10 minutes (or once al dente), remove from heat and strain the pasta. Save 1/4 cup of the pasta water to use for later.

2. Heat a sauce pan on low to medium heat. Add the 2 cups of milk along with the 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree. Once well blended, slowly add the 3 cups of white cheddar until all ingredients are fully melted and combined. Sprinkle 1 tsp of black pepper and 1 tsp of cayenne pepper into the mixture as well and incorporate.

3. Pour pumpkin cheese mixture completely over the pasta. If the mixture is too thick, add the additional pasta water (1 tsp at a time) to thin the mixture. Finish with pepper to taste, and garnish with shaved Parmesan.

By Stephanie Ainza

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