flavor of fall

winter squash

Working at a pumpkin market down the street this fall, I’ve had a chance to taste my share of different pumpkin and squash varieties (the farmer grows over 30). They range in color – from steel blue to burning hot orange – size, shape, ugliness, skin type – pimply and lumpy to smooth as plastic – and of course the taste and texture of their nutritious flesh. I did a taste test of a few that I had never tried, but my preference still goes back to my all-along favorite: the kabocha type.

Kabocha or Japanese pumpkins have a dense, dry yet silky texture and sweet but mild taste, resembling to me a pumpkin and sweet potato combined. They make the creamiest hearty soups when pureed and melt in your mouth when roasted or baked in chunks. My favorite way to enjoy it remains the simplest: chunks of baked squash drizzled in good olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. As simple as possible to let the flavor and texture of the squash shine.

pumpkin varieties

When talking pumpkin recipes with David (the farmer), he said he likes to stuff acorn squash with mac n’ cheese and bake it. Uh, why hadn’t I ever thought of that? Homemade macaroni + cheese is something I allllways look forward to in the fall (but secretly wish included more vegetables :), and I can never get enough of winter squash. So combine the two? Done.

mac n cheese ready for the oven

I decided to use a kabocha as the edible bowl for my mac n cheese, but the possibilities are as endless as the varieties of squash. I threw in some kale and broccoli with the whole wheat macaroni as well so the whole dish is a cheesy, hearty, nutritious veggie medley. Talk about comfort food….

mac n cheese ready for the oven

pumpkin mac + cheese ready for the oven

For our trial recipe, mom and I used one medium sized kabocha and put the rest of the macaroni mixture in a dish to freeze and bake later. But if you’re cooking for a crowd (thanksgiving..?!), you can use a larger pumpkin like Long Island Cheese, Jarrahdale, Sweet Meat or Cinderella, or just use two smaller ones – of which I recommend kabocha, of course :).

Mac + Cheese Baked in a Pumpkin

adapted from Health Beauty Life

  • 12 oz whole-wheat elbow pasta
  • 1 1/2 T butter or earth balance
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 3 T whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups milk (non dairy is fine)
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar, chopped or grated
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
  • 2 cups chopped fresh kale
  • 1 t chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 t chopped fresh sage
  • 1 t chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar or parmesan, for topping
  • 1/4 cup crushed pumpkin seeds or panko bread crumbs
  • 2 kabocha-type winter squash or sugar pumpkins, or 1 large pumpkin such as Jarrahdale, Cheese, Sweet Meat or Cinderella

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a wide circle from the top of the pumpkin(s) like you’re making a jack-o’-lantern, and scoop out the seeds and strings. Salt + pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish and bake for 40 minutes or so, or until flesh is just barely tender (it will go back in the oven for an hour with the mac n cheese, so you don’t want it too soft yet).

Cook pasta and broccoli (if using fresh) together in a large pot of salted water, according to package directions for al dente (slightly under cooked). Once pumpkin is done, preheat oven to 375°. In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter. Add onion and cook over medium heat about 2 minutes, add flour and cook another minute, or until the flour is golden and well combined. Add milk and broth and whisk, raising heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil; cook about 5 minutes or until sauce becomes smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce is thick, remove from heat, add cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add to cooked macaroni and broccoli (add frozen broccoli now if using), add kale + herbs and mix well. Pour into prepared pumpkin(s) and into a greased baking dish if there is any left over. Top with grated cheese and pumpkin seeds/breadcrumbs. Bake for 40-50 minutes – or until cheese is thickened and bubbling and squash is tender – then take the top off pumpkin and broil for a few minutes to get the cheese + seeds/breadcrumbs golden.

Be careful moving the dish as the pumpkin may be fragile. Scoop out each serving, making sure to scrape the side of the pumpkin to get some squashy goodness on each plate :)

mac + cheese baked in a pumpkin: devoured
* I apologize for the photos of the half-devoured dish once it was baked. It was too dark to get a photo the night of, so I had to photograph the slightly less appetizing leftovers the day after. But trust me – despite the looks – it tastes amaaaazing. *

mac + cheese baked in a pumpkin

Enjoy and happy autumn! -mich

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