Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in cold weather comfort food. It transports many of us right back to the pleasures of childhood. It’s tasty, creamy and filling. This recipe for healthy pumpkin mac and cheese is equally comforting and delicious, but it’s a more nutritious version. Oh, and it’s a lovely tangerine colour too.
I know, I know, three pumpkin recipes in a row seems a bit excessive. But it is that time of year and I’m keen to demonstrate how versatile pumpkin and winter squashes are. The three recipes are all very different though and you can actually make this mac and cheese recipe without pumpkin. But shhhh, you didn’t hear that from me.
Where Does Mac And Cheese Come From?
Although macaroni cheese feels very much as though it’s part of our British cuisine, we got the idea from Italian immigrants in the 18th century. Italian recipes for pasta and cheese date back to at least the fourteenth century.
The first recorded recipe that we now recognise as mac and cheese came from Elizabeth Raffauld. She included it in her book, The Experienced English Housekeeper which was published in 1789. Elizabeth made her macaroni cheese with cream rather than milk, but in essence, it’s the same.
It’s not only us Brits that grew up on mac and cheese, however, Americans did too. The recipe soon made its way to the USA, although it didn’t become popular there until the Great Depression of the 1930s. Americans tend to call it mac n cheese rather than macaroni cheese.
There is an argument that modern macaroni cheese actually emerged in Switzerland (ref: Adam H Graham). I lived in Switzerland for nearly two years and didn’t have macaroni and cheese once. I feel that I missed out.
Macaroni is a classic pasta shape made with durum wheat. It’s formed into narrow tubes and then cut into short sections. The tubes are sometimes straight, but more often curved these days. They are sometimes referred to as elbow macaroni.
Is Mac And Cheese Healthy?
To be brutally honest, traditional mac and cheese isn’t the healthiest of dishes. But if you’re short of calories, it can be a life saver. It’s full of carbs, protein and calcium. And above all it’s cheap and filling. Don’t knock it.
However, there are a number of ways to make mac n cheese a lot healthier.
Whole Wheat Pasta
The first and most obvious is to use whole wheat pasta. This immediately provides the dish with much needed dietary fibre as well as B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc. As the carbs are complex ones, it takes the body longer to digest them, which keeps you fuller for longer. (ref: Nicola Shubrook)
To make your macaroni cheese even healthier, use wholemeal flour to make the cheese sauce. Wholegrain flour has the same benefits mentioned above. It contains the endosperm, the germ and the bran. White flour, on the other hand, contains the endosperm only, which is the grain’s starchy centre.
The trouble with wholemeal flour is that it’s impossible to get a really smooth sauce. However, if you sieve out the largest pieces of bran, you still get a good nutritional hit, but a less bitty sauce.
Then of course, you can do, as I’ve done here and add additional nutrition to your mac and cheese in the form of pumpkin. It adds a little flavour and sweetness and gives a lovely colour, but it doesn’t impinge too much on the traditional macaroni cheese that we all know and love.
What it does do is power up the dish with various antioxidants, Vitamins A, C and E, fibre, iron and folate. As pumpkin is mostly made up of water, it doesn’t add too many extra calories to the dish either. (ref: Healthline)
You can use a tin of pumpkin purée or you can make your own. It’s actually really easy to do. You can find out how to in my pumpkin cake recipe post. Pumpkins and winter squashes are perfect for it, just make sure you use a good edible variety.
My mother always used to add sliced tomatoes to the top of her macaroni cheese. This is a tradition which I’ve continued. It not only adds another layer of flavour, but tomatoes are also little nutritional powerhouses.
The tomato topping is entirely optional, but somehow, its just not quite right without it for me.
The final thing I do to make mac and cheese healthier, is to serve it with leafy greens. You can see in the photos here that I served this particular rendition with steamed savoy cabbage and apple.
Leafy greens, such as cabbage and kale complement the nutritional makeup of mac and cheese very nicely. Cabbage, for example, is surprisingly high in both Vitamin K and Vitamin C. It also contains dietary fibre and various other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
What Type Of Pasta To Use?
Well, if you want to be really authentic, you need to make macaroni cheese with macaroni pasta. But when it comes down to it, most types of pasta shape will do. Penne are a particularly good alternative as they hold the cheese sauce inside just as macaroni does.
As a whole food blogger, I use whole wheat or other whole grain pastas. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get hold of any whole wheat macaroni when I was cooking the recipe you see here. So I went with penne pasta instead. It was just as good.
Pumpkin Mac And Cheese: Step-by-Step
So here is my healthy version of baked Mac and Cheese. It may look as though there is a lot to do, but it doesn’t really take a lot of time. And actually, it’s a really good make ahead dish. You can prepare the whole thing whenever it suits you, even the day before. Just put it in the oven half an hour or so before you’re due to eat.
If you do prepare the dish the day before cooking, keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it.
Step 1. Boil Pasta
Start by getting your pasta on to cook. Follow the pack instructions and cook until it’s al dente. That is to say, soft but with a bit of a bite to it. Soggy pasta isn’t the best.
Drain the pasta in a colander for a few minutes. Butter a large oven proof dish, then pour the drained pasta into it.
Step 2. Make a Roux
Whilst the pasta is cooking, make a roux with the butter and flour. That is to say, melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour until it forms a sort of dough.
Then pour the milk in, a little at a time, stirring well between each bout. If the sauce gets lumpy beat with a whisk to get it smooth.
Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring all the time to prevent it going lumpy or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook for three to four minutes, then remove from the heat. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Step 3. Add Smoked Paprika
Add the smoked paprika, salt and pepper and give a good stir or whisk.
Step 4: Add Cheese
Reserve a small handful of grated cheese for the topping, then add the rest to the still hot sauce. Give it a good stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy.
Step 5: Add Pumpkin
Stir the pumpkin purée into the sauce until it’s fully incorporated, then pour the sauce over the pasta and mix well.
A little more or a little less pumpkin isn’t going to hurt the recipe. Somewhere between 250 grams and 300 grams is fine. I had two thirds of a tin of pumpkin purée leftover from making these pumpkin scones.
Ensure that all of the pasta is fully coated with sauce.
Step 6. Add Toppings
I like to add some slices of tomato to the top of my macaroni cheese. It’s what my mother has always done and it’s what I do now. This step is entirely optional though.
Just slice a couple of tomatoes as thinly as you can and lay them over the top of the pasta.
Finally, scatter the reserved grated cheese over the top of the tomatoes. If you aren’t adding tomatoes, just scatter it over the top of the unbaked mac and cheese.
Step 7. Bake The Mac And Cheese
Bake in a preheated oven for thirty minutes until hot, bubbling and starting to brown on top. The tomatoes, if using, should be slightly charred around the edges. You can also place the unbaked macaroni cheese directly in a cold oven, turn it on and bake for forty minutes.
Either way, if the top isn’t done enough to your liking, bake for a further five to ten minutes.
Leave for five minutes to settle and cool down a little, then serve. If it’s an informal occasion, I like to serve mine in a bowl. It makes it even more cozy and comforting somehow.
Alternative Mac And Cheese Recipes
As always it’s good to have a few idea as to how you can make this mac and cheese recipe your own. You can use a mix and match approach to the suggestions I’ve made below, or just come up with your own adaptations. I won’t mind.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Mac And Cheese
These days you can get some really good gluten-free pasta alternatives. I’ve enjoyed wholegrain rice pasta, lentil pasta and multi-grain pasta to name but a few. They’ll all work well in this pumpkin mac n cheese recipe.
Likewise, you can make a roux with gluten-free flour, instead of wheat flour. Make sure you use an all purpose blend or rice flour as some flours will make the sauce gummy rather than silky.
Vegan Pumpkin Mac And Cheese
For a vegan version of pumpkin macaroni cheese use my vegan ‘cheesy’ cashew sauce rather than the actual cheese sauce stated in the recipe card. This will make this already healthier version, even healthier.
Plain Macaroni Cheese
If you don’t fancy the idea of a pumpkin mac and cheese, you can just leave it out. The quantities I’ve given for cheese sauce will work just as well without it.
Add two teaspoons of dijon or english mustard to the sauce instead of the smoked paprika. Alternatively stir in one teaspoon of dried mustard powder along with the flour.
Swap the smoked paprika for a good grating of fresh nutmeg.
Before you start, add a bay leaf to the milk and warm it up to near boiling. Cover with a lid and leave to infuse for an hour. Take out the bay leaf and use the milk as per the recipe.
For a bit of garlicky goodness, add a clove of finely grated garlic to the roux.
My mum always made mac n cheese with cheddar cheese and I’ve continued with that tradition. A mature, vintage or sharp cheddar is best for flavour, but any cheddar will do the trick.
You can, however, use any number of cheeses for this healthy pumpkin macaroni cheese recipe. The only caveat really is that it needs to be a cheese that melts, rather than crumbles.
Gruyère is always a good bet, though it can be expensive. Emmental, fontina and gouda work well too. For another British cheese option, Double Gloucester works surprisingly well, though it doesn’t carry quite as much flavour as cheddar..
If you fancy something a bit different, try stilton or another blue cheese. Obviously your mac and cheese will have a rather distinctive flavour, but if you like blue cheese you’ll love it.
Alternatively, use a mix of cheeses. Add a little Gruyère for example, to mostly cheddar and you’ll get a lovely flavour boost which won’t break the bank.
For a crisper topping, swap the cheddar cheese for a vegetarian Parmesan type cheese. In fact Elizabeth Raffauld’s original recipe did just this. She used cheddar cheese for the sauce, but Parmesan cheese for the top. I had no idea the Brits could get hold of Parmesan all that time ago.
Some people like to mix breadcrumbs with Parmesan, or similar to make a crispy crunchy topping. Swap the cheddar cheese topping for a vegetarian Parmesan type cheese and mix it with sixty grams of dry breadcrumbs. Bake until the topping is crisp and golden.
Other Pasta Recipes You Might Like
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you make this healthy pumpkin mac and cheese, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate the recipe. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #nanorecetas, so I can spot them.
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If you’d like more pumpkin recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them. All delicious and nutritious, of course.
Healthy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese. PIN IT.
Healthy Pumpkin Mac And Cheese – The Recipe
Healthy Pumpkin Mac And Cheese
Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in cold weather comfort food. It transports many of us right back to the pleasures of childhood. It’s tasty, creamy and filling. This colourful, healthier and more nutritious version is equally comforting and delicious. Perfect for autumn and winter meals.Prep Time20 minsCook Time40 minsTotal Time1 hrCourse: Main CourseCuisine: American, BritishKeyword: cheese, cheese sauce, pasta, pumpkin, squashServings: 4 peopleCalories: 657kcalAuthor: Choclette @ Tin and ThymeIngredients60 g (2oz) unsalted butter5 tbsp plain flour (or wholemeal flour with larger pieces of bran sieved out)600 ml whole milk1 tsp smoked paprika¼ tsp sea salt (or to taste)good grinding of black pepper170 g (6 oz) cheddar cheese – grated275 g pumpkin purée (homemade or canned)250 g whole wheat macaroni (or alternative pasta shape)2 tomatoes (optional)InstructionsStart by getting your pasta on to cook. Follow pack instructions and cook so that it’s al dente. That is to say, soft but with a bit of a bite to it. Soggy pasta isn’t the best.Pour into a colander to drain, then drop into a large greased ovenproof dish.Meanwhile make a roux with the butter and flour. That is to say, melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour until it forms a sort of dough. Then pour the milk in, a little at a time, stirring well between each bout. If the sauce gets lumpy beat with a whisk to get it smooth. Bring the sauce to a simmer, stirring all the time to prevent it going lumpy or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Let it bubble for three to four minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.Turn the heat off and stir or whisk in the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Follow with the cheese, keeping back a small handful for the top. Stir until melted.Stir in the pumpkin purée until well combined. Check for seasoning and add more if you think it needs it.Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir until all of the pasta is covered in sauce.Lay the tomato slices over the top, then scatter the remaining cheese over the top.Bake in a preheated oven at 180℃ (160℃ fan, 350℉, Gas 4) for 30 minutes until hot, bubbling and starting to brown on top. Alternatively place in a cold oven, turn it on and bake for 40 minutes. Either way, if the top isn’t done enough to your liking, bake for a further five to ten minutes.NotesUse a sharp cheddar cheese for the best flavour. Mature, extra mature or vintage are all good.A little more or a little less pumpkin isn’t going to hurt the recipe. Somewhere between 250g and 300g is fine. You can use tinned pumpkin purée or make your own. Head over to my pumpkin cake recipe to see how.Swap paprika for a good grating of fresh nutmeg.For plain macaroni cheese, leave out the pumpkin and swap the paprika for two teaspoons of English or Dijon mustard.Please note: calories and other nutritional information are per serving. They’re approximate and will depend on exact ingredients used.NutritionCalories: 657kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 92mg | Sodium: 487mg | Potassium: 682mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 12379IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 531mg | Iron: 4mg Tried this recipe?Please take a photo and mention @choclette8 or tag #nanorecetas on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
I’m sharing this recipe for delicious and nutritious pumpkin mac n cheese with Curly’s Cooking for #CookBlogShare.