I wanted to make this post the last of my ten pumpkin posts because there is something momentous and meaningful about being last, something that suggests "you've been waiting for this" and screams, "this is the best!" And, well, in a word, the recipe herein is... (drum roll)... the... (escalating drum roll)... BEST. (And that's saying a lot, right? The others weren't half bad.)
This recipe is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. So wonderful that is has been really really really hard for me to hold out on your guys while we worked our way through the nine other posts of pumpkin. Seriously this is so, absolutely, worthy-of-expletives-of-the-favorable-complimentary-variety DELICIOUS. The only thing that kept me going - kept me restlessly mum, rather - was my foresightedness and dedication to making this post all it can be. By which I mean: I froze some and tested out some different thawing methods so that I can offer you not only the best mac & cheese recipe ever, but also a surefire way to freeze and reheat it in the event that you, like me and my husband and baby daughter and fetus, can't eat a giant pan of rich, decadent, super cheesy, delightfully pumpkiny mac & cheese all by ourselves, and accordingly have to freeze it before getting on a plane the next morning.
Man, I go the distance for you people. Or for my bottomless pit of a stomach anyway.
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Adapted (generously) from Lottie & Doof
Yield: about 8 servings
2 tablespoons bacon fat (or butter)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped (these will wilt down to about half original amount)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk (or a combination of cream and milk)
1 1/2 cups homemade pumpkin purée (or a 16-ounce can of pumpkin)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)
3 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread, pulsed in food processor or blender to make breadcrumbs
1/2 cup minced scallions, white and green parts (approximately one bunch)
1 pound fusilli or penne or other comparably sized pasta
Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain well.
Melt 2 tablespoons bacon fat or butter in a large pot (I used a dutch oven) over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until tender, about ten minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic, stir for 1 minute. Stir in 2 more tablespoons butter, allow to melt, and then add the flour and stir for a minute. Gradually whisk in milk and then pumpkin. Simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in 2 cups of cheddar, the Parmesan, and the ricotta cheese. Stir in worcestershire sauce and dijon; taste, smile and be impressed with yourself, and season sauce with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter one 13X9" glass baking dish, or a similarly sized gratin or casserole dish, or two 8X8" or 9X9" dishes (you can freeze one of them*).
In a large nonstick skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and scallions and stir until bread smells and looks toasty, and scallions are crunching up a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Toss the pasta with the pumpkin-cheese sauce and transfer mixture into prepared baking dish(es). Top with remaining cup of cheddar cheese and the breadcrumb-scallion mixture. (You can follow freezing instructions below at this point, if you'd like.) Bake for about 30 minutes uncovered, until the meal is hot all the way through and the topping is golden brown and bubbling. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
* To freeze, allow mac & cheese to cool. If you have a sealed lid for your pan, go ahead and just cover it with that and stick it in the freezer. If you don't, either cover the pan with plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil, or transfer the mac & cheese into a freezer-safe container with a sealed lid.
To reheat pasta, whether or not it's been baked already, remove lid or plastic wrap and replace with a sheet of aluminum foil. Place in 400-degree oven (or 375-degree, using convection bake setting) and cook for about an hour. Check halfway through and if the mac & cheese looks dry, add enough milk to fill any crevices - I used about a half a cup of milk for my 8X8" pan's worth of pasta - re-cover with foil and continue baking. Once heated through, remove the foil and broil for 5-10 minutes, to recrisp the top. At all stages, keep a close eye on it. Note that the reheated mac & cheese won't be quite as attractive as the freshly baked one, but it will taste just as good. (And it's not that unattractive. Could be served to people you love, easily.)