With earthy sage adding a holiday feel to this classic dish, this pumpkin sage mac & cheese brings a glow up to your holiday menus.
We are one of those families who only makes winter holiday food at winter holiday times. I love green bean casserole, but I never want to make it in February, for some reason. Keeping it to a couple of times a year makes it more special to me. When those times roll around, though, there are some classic favorites that everyone wants at the table, dishes that are just generally feel-good party favorites no one’s going to turn away. Macaroni and cheese has to top that list. It’s good piping hot, room temp, or leftover the next day.
Because it’s such a gold star party food, I wanted to give it a little refresh in time for the holiday season. This Pumpkin Sage Mac & Cheese pairs well with all those deep winter flavors and feels a little bit special on its own.
Baking Pumpkin Sage Mac & Cheese
This is essentially a baked casserole, but it takes time to prepare. I like to do this in stages.
First, make the pasta. Use a bigger pot for this so you can reuse the pot for the sauce stage. Cook it until it’s just barely done because in the oven it will soak up some of that sauce and become softer. Reserve some of the pasta water and set the pasta aside in a separate bowl.
Return your pot to the stovetop to build your sauce. Preheat your oven during this time, too. I prefer using a Dutch oven for making this because you can easily boil the pasta, wipe it out, and build your sauce in the same pot.
Make your sauce layer by layer. Once you’re done, add the pasta back to this pot and stir it to completely coat the pasta with the sauce.
Butter your casserole dish, and use the smallest dish you can. I built this recipe around a 1 pound box of pasta, and I used a 9×9 ceramic dish for baking. Press your noodles into the dish to really utilize that space. If you leave it all loose, it will just dry out. The dish should feel “heavy for its size” when you pick it up.
Tips for Making the Pumpkin Sage Sauce
The sauce is the star of this dish, for sure. Here are a few tips to troubleshoot this kind of creamy sauce, especially if you’ve never made this kind of thing before!
- Fry your herbs. Before you add any dairy to the onions and olive oil, add your sage for a minute or two. Letting your herbs lightly fry in that oil will wake them up, releasing all that flavor.
- Have your mise en place in place. Once you start building the sauce, you won’t be able to stop. Have all your ingredients ready to go before the onions hit the oil.
- Preheat the oven. The oven should be thoroughly heated before you slip in this dish, so while the sauce is going make sure you have your oven on. This will help keep the dish hot the whole time without cooling down in between the sauce and baking stages.
- Taste your sauce. You have to taste the food you’re making! YOU and your family are the judges here. This isn’t Chopped, honey, so you have to taste this sauce and make sure you like it before you mix it all up and send it on its way. For this dish, you especially want to gauge the salt and sage ratios to see if you like them.
Make this Pumpkin Sage Mac & Cheese Your Own
I made this specifically with that pumpkin and sage combo in mind, but really you can switch it up. Any of those heartier herbs will hold up here. Some examples are rosemary or thyme. Use another cheese or a blend of cheeses. Definitely check your salt and sage levels to make sure they are right for you and your family. You could easily make this a vegan dish by subbing vegan cheese and any plant milk for the sauce, but keep the ratios for herbs and flavoring.
If you make this dish, tag me on Instagram and show me what you made! Most important of all, just remember that it’s supposed to be tasty and fun! Perfectly imperfect, my loves.
Check out these other pumpkin recipes from the Bad Wife!
- Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach
- Pumpkin Spice Snacking Cake
- Soft Pretzels with Pumpkin Beer Cheese
For more photos of this recipe and all the other homemaking projects I’m doing, including recipes, knitting patterns, and other fun stuff, find me on Instagram!
Pumpkin Sage Mac & Cheese
- 1 pound pasta (elbows, fusilli, or another shorter noodle)
- 5-6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko
- 4 ounces pureed pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon AP flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast Optional
For the Pasta
- Choose a larger pot so you can use it later to build your sauce.
- Bring a large amount of generously salted water to a rolling boil.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, making sure to cook it to the minimum time suggested. Do not overcook your pasta; it is going to cook again in the oven.
- Drain the pasta. Set aside the pasta and cover with a light tea towel or lid. Wipe out the pot and return it to the stovetop to build the sauce.
For the Sauce
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Turn the stovetop burner to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same pot you used to cook your pasta.
- Add your diced onions, sprinkle with salt, and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring as needed.
- Add your chopped sage and stir to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Sprinkle the mixture with the AP flour and cook for 2-3 minutes while continuously stirring.
- Pour in your cup of milk, stirring to thoroughly combine with the flour mixture. You do not want to see any lumps.
- Add the 4 ounces (half a small can) of pureed pumpkin. Stir into the mixture.
- Small handful by handful, add the grated cheese, stirring to completely incorporate it before adding the next.
- Once all the cheese is added, taste your sauce. Add salt, pepper, and any additional sage as needed. Add the nutritional yeast if you are using it.
- Turn off the burner and remove the pot from the heat.
- Add the pasta back to the pot and stir to completely coat the noodles with the sauce.
For the Baked Mac & Cheese
- Butter your 9×9 casserole dish.
- Add your noodles to the dish. Press the noodles down with your clean hands if need be.
- Sprinkle the top with your panko or breadcrumbs. You may want to add more cheese, too.
- Cook your mac & cheese for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
- Remove from the oven and serve hot. Enjoy!