Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese with Garlicky Bread Crumb Crust

A simple bechamel turns magical ✨ when you whisk in pureed pumpkin and two kinds of cheese. Perfectly al dente pasta gets smothered in sauce, then baked up with a garlicky breadcrumb crust – say HELLO to comfort!

Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese in a Key Lime Lexi ceramic baker

I had a vision for this dish. Something super fall, super comforting, and oh so ooey gooey. Silky pumpkin + mac ‘n cheese – the combo couldn’t be more perfect I thought.

Why had I not yet done a bechamel like this? I was sure I was onto something.

As you can imagine, creating, testing and tweaking a recipe is generally an iterative, multi-stage process. Rarely is it once and done – so I save the polish for last.

But it was a crazy week and I just had to go for it. Having worked it out in my mind, then on paper, I was feeling good. I took a leap of faith that the recipe was written well enough to photograph.

Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese on a plate with a blue and white striped Key Lime Lexi ceramic baker

My youngest, Miles, came into the kitchen right as we were beginning the photo shoot.

“Oooh! Pasta! Can I have some?” he exclaimed, reaching for the baking dish.

“Nope!” I said. “You know the deal. We’re shooting photos.”

Long pause. “Well maybe just one little taste. Let me know how you like it since you’re taking the first bite. What do you think, any tweaks?”

“Mom! This is the BEST pasta you’ve EVER made. I love it!”

I adore the kid, he might be my biggest fan 🥰.

Close up of Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese on a brown plate with cutlery hot pepper flakes and salt in background

Granted, we are talking about an eight year old… and pasta! BUT after the big family taste test that night, we all agreed, no tweaks were necessary. It hit all the right notes!

The pumpkin is there, but is not overwhelming. Bechamel proves the perfect dance partner, mellowing the orange squash’s otherwise bold, vegetal flavor.

And the cheese. I was after an earthy nuttiness from gruyere, but not so much that it dominates. I opted to use a creamy mozzarella as the base, and it balances just right.

Close up of Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese

With its fun and festive orange hue, this pasta bake will be dressing up our table on Halloween. All cozy and warming, it’s also sure to make rounds on particulary crisp winter nights.

Pair it with a simple and light salad to offset the richness. I like the idea of a bed of mixed greens with halved grapes, hazelnuts, shaved parmigiano and a lemony balsamic vinaigrette. This just gave me an idea… BONUS recipe!  I’ve added my Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette recipe below. Oh do I love you guys?

Now go forth, and eat pasta 😋.

Scoop from baking dish of Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese in a blue Key Lime Lexi serving spoon

Any Tips or Tricks?

  1. The sauce is not going to become as thick as you think it should in the pot, and it is going to look like you have WAY too much. Don’t worry! This is on purpose. It’ll set up in the baker and create a super cheesy, super saucy mac ‘n cheese – one that drips off your fork.
  2. You definitely need to keep stirring the bechamel the whole time until it comes to a simmer, otherwise it can scorch on the bottom and lumps can form. It takes about 10 minutes of constant stirring, so be patient because it’s so worth it!
  3. If you don’t have a scale to weigh the cheese, don’t worry. Usually when you buy cheese the weight is indicated on the package – it’s okay to cut a hunk and guesstimate!
  4. Don’t use the Italian breadcrumbs that come in a can, and this isn’t time for Panko either. Real breadcrumbs make all the difference here. You can make your own very easily by putting crumbled bread in a food processor, but grocery stores also often sell them in their bakery. Whenever I have a loaf that we don’t quite make it through and becomes a little stale (but not moldy!) I toss it in the processor, then put the crumbs in a bag and freeze them.
  5. I love a few red pepper flakes sprinkled on mine, but my husband opted to go pure and leave them off. Your choice!

Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese on a brown plate with cutlery hot pepper flakes and salt in background

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Make Ahead Dinner Party Quick & Easy

Pumpkin Bechamel Mac ‘n Cheese with Garlicky Bread Crumb Crust

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 4 cups whole milk slightly warmed
  • 4 tablespoons butter plus one tablespoon for buttering the pan
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 14- ounce can pumpkin puree not pumpkin pie filling
  • 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 ½ tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 5 ounces grated gruyere cheese
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 pound short pasta such as cavatappi or fusilli

For the topping:

  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large garlic cloves chopped fine or grated
  • ½ cup grated parmigiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375. Use 1 tablespoon of butter to coat a 9 x 12 inch baking dish.
  • Prepare your topping. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, and salt. Melt the butter and take off the heat. Add the garlic to the butter, then pour over the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil and season liberally with salt.
  • Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the warm milk, slowly, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps. Turn the heat up to medium and whisk constantly until the milk thickens and just comes to a simmer. Let it cook at a low boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring a few times, until it is the consistency of very thick cream. Whisk in the pumpkin, maple syrup, nutmeg, garlic powder, and salt and cook for another minute.
  • Remove from the heat, switch to a heat-proof spatula, and stir in the cheeses and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Boil the pasta according to package directions, draining it when it is al dente, about 2 minutes shy of being done. Combine it with the sauce and taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.
  • Combine with the pasta and pour into your pan. Scatter the bread crumbs over top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is toasted and browned. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Tips & Tricks

The dish can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake. Add on 10 minutes of baking time if coming cold from the fridge.

– –

BONUS Recipe

A simple salad is what I serve alongside this mac ‘n cheese. Homemade salad dressings are the best! Besides tasting fresh and vibrant, making your own means you can perfectly pair your vinaigrette flavors with the ingredients of your salad. To go with this mac ‘n cheese, I like the idea of a bed of mixed greens with halved grapes, hazelnuts, shaved parmigiano and this lemony balsamic vinaigrette…

 

Make Ahead Healthy Dinner Party Quick & Easy Mid-Week

Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette

Prep Time5 mins
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional freshly chopped rosemary

Instructions

  • Combine the shallot and lemon in a small bowl or jar with a lid. Let sit for 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk or shake in the jar.

Tips & Tricks

This dressing is great on a mixed green salad tossed with halved grapes, hazelnuts (or pistachios), and shaved parmigiano.

 

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2 Comments

  • Pam Hill says:

    I made the Carrot, Apple, Date Muffins, and they were delicious. I added in some toasted coconut as well. I feel they are a great snack or addictive to a meal that is healthy and satisfying. I look forward to having mine with my afternoon coffee. Thanks from Canada Lexi, for your wonderful recipes. I look forward to them each week.

    • KeyLimeLexi says:

      Hi Pam! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the muffins! And love hearing that you enjoy receiving all the recipes!

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