Oh yes, I did. Working on Comfort du Jour has inspired me to new levels of creativity, and I’m having a great time throwing playful twists onto foods everyone already loves. I have been thinking about the humble pumpkin, and how it has been unfairly pigeonholed into the category of “sweet” foods. Does anyone even remember what pumpkin tastes like without the “spice?” This edible gourd has so much going on, nutritionally and flavor-wise, and I wanted to remind my friends that pumpkin can be enjoyed without all that sugar. My goal with this post is kind of like the old Sears campaign, except that here I’m elevating “the savory side of pumpkin.”
For some time, I’ve imagined making a showstopper like this—I’ve taken the quintessential comfort food, macaroni and cheese, and merged it with the best flavors of Thanksgiving—sausage, dark greens, onions and sage, and then stuffed the whole thing into a sweet little pumpkin. The result is as delicious as it is delightful to look at, from the creamy and comforting texture of a gruyere cheese sauce that’s been spiked with pumpkin and savory roasted garlic, to the warm and rustic flavors of pork sausage, sautéed leafy kale and twice baked seasonal pumpkin.
To be fair, you could make this recipe with half as much mac and cheese filling as the instructions describe. I only used a third of it in my small-ish pumpkin and poured the rest into a separate casserole dish for later. On my first try, I was leery of using a larger pumpkin, though I will surely try it again. If you don’t feel up to the task of messing with the pumpkin at all, I promise the mac and cheese is worth its weight all by itself. Yum.
This was SO much fun!
These were the star ingredients of the dish, but it was the combination of all the ingredients that made it so special!
1 small pie pumpkin (mine was about 3 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped and divided between cheese sauce and sausage filling
3 Tbsp. salted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
3 oz. (6 Tbsp.) mascarpone (or full fat cream cheese)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 cup freshly shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup freshly shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1 whole bulb roasted garlic
12 oz. box elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente stage
8 oz. seasoned bulk pork sausage (mine had sage and black pepper)
2 heaping cups fresh kale leaves, washed and chopped
2 Tbsp. parm-romano blend to top the filling mixture
First, I prepped the pumpkin for roasting, which was pretty simple. I followed the same steps as when making roast acorn squash.
The next step was the béchamel, my go-to base for any mac and cheese recipe. You may remember this part from my first recipe post, or from one of my leftover creations, such as my version of “mac and greens“ or the ultra-decadent “mac and cheese waffles.“ Once you master a béchamel sauce, the possibilities are endless. 🙂
My cheese sauce made me very happy. I took a spoonful into the den for my husband, Les, to taste, and he immediately loved it as well. But here’s where things took a slightly disappointing turn. Remember the cute little pumpkin pastas? Well, they were pretty much a mess. In addition to their thick, heavy texture (and the fact that all the pieces fell apart), the primary flavor was starch. I was not having it. You guys know I get pretty excited about the specialty items at Trader Joe’s, but this one was decidedly not a winner. Thankfully, we have another supermarket very near the house, and I hightailed it over there for some dependable elbow macaroni. I’m not willing to “settle” when I’m trying to make a special dish, you know what I mean? 🙂
Moving along to the sausage, and this part was easy! I browned the sausage in a skillet, using a little vegetable broth to assist with breaking up the larger pieces. I added the chopped onion and then the kale, and cooked until the onions were tender and the kale was wilted, but still bright green. It smelled amazing in my kitchen!
From here, the assembly was a cinch. I cooked up my elbow macaroni to al dente stage, which is just shy of done, and still a little resistance to the bite. Thankfully, this pasta came out perfect! Fold in all of the creamy cheese sauce (even if it seems like too much), and then fold in the sausage mixture. I spooned as much of the mac and cheese as would fit inside the roasted pumpkin, and the rest went into a casserole dish for another meal. How much do you wanna bet I end up putting the leftovers in the waffle iron?
The stuffed pumpkin went back into the 350° F oven. It roasted for about 45 minutes, then I turned off the oven and left it alone while we finished a Zoom call with friends. Honest to goodness, this turned out better than I dreamed it would. The flavor was exceptional, and it was so pretty and just plain fun!
Want to make this fun fall recipe?
Follow the steps and instructions above, or download and print a copy for your recipe files.