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The easiest, creamiest homemade pumpkin mac and cheese is ready for the table in just 30 minutes! Whip up this stovetop pasta for a decadent side dish at your next family dinner, or serve it as an entrée with a side salad and bread. You can even add diced ham, peas, bacon, caramelized onions, or broccoli for a heartier meal. With cheddar, Parmesan, gouda, and pumpkin in the sauce, this ooey, gooey mac and cheese recipe is perfect for Halloween, Thanksgiving, or cozy weeknight fall suppers!

Overhead shot of pumpkin mac and cheese in a white bowl on a white wooden table

Mac and Cheese with Pumpkin

You can’t beat the rich, creamy taste of this easy pumpkin mac and cheese! Inspired by Trader Joe’s butternut squash mac and cheese, it’s simply a classic stovetop mac and cheese with some pumpkin puree added into the sauce. A can of pumpkin is so much quicker than roasting and pureeing a whole butternut squash, and you get that same hint of sweetness and beautiful orange color. It’s a savory pumpkin recipe, finished with earthy fresh herbs like thyme and sage, for a true taste of fall!

Process shot showing how to make a cheese sauce for pumpkin mac and cheese

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a homemade pot of pumpkin mac and cheese. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Short pasta: I used mezzi rigatoni here, since that’s what Trader Joe’s uses in their recipe. You can substitute with any short cut pasta shape, such as medium shells, elbows, farfalle, or rotini.
  • Salted butter: for the base of the sauce, which combines with the flour to make the roux.
  • All-purpose flour: to thicken the sauce.
  • Whole milk: the creamy base of the sauce. Feel free to substitute with half-and-half for an even richer taste and texture.
  • Pure pumpkin puree: make sure that you don’t accidentally grab a can of pumpkin pie filling, which has added spices and sugar. Just 100% pumpkin is all you need.
  • Ground mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground nutmeg: for more flavor.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: enhance the other flavors in the dish.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese, gouda cheese, and Parmesan cheese: three different types of cheese give you the best of all worlds — the flavor of cheddar, the rich, nutty taste of the gouda, and the sharp, salty Parmesan. These are the cheeses that you’ll find in the Trader Joe’s butternut squash mac and cheese, which inspired this recipe.
  • Sage and thyme: these fresh herbs add delicious fall flavor that pairs beautifully with the winter squash. Feel free to omit them if you don’t have any available.
Stirring pasta into cheese sauce

How to Make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

This tasty pumpkin mac and cheese comes together quickly and easily, making it an ideal meal for busy fall evenings. The perfect comfort food!

  1. Cook the pasta, then drain.
  2. Make the pumpkin cheese sauce.
  3. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce, then stir to combine.
  4. Sprinkle the fresh herbs, such as a chopped sage leaf or thyme leaves, over top.
  5. Pour into a bowl and serve immediately!
Close overhead shot of a bowl of pumpkin mac and cheese

Do you need to bake mac and cheese?

Creamy mac and cheese recipes that start with a roux-based sauce (like this one), do not need to be baked before serving. Stovetop mac and cheese is designed to go straight from the pot to the plate — no oven necessary. By contrast, Southern-style mac and cheese recipes must be baked in order to cook the egg and help the dish set.

Serving Suggestions

Pair the creamy pumpkin mac and cheese with any of these easy sides:

Square front shot of pumpkin mac and cheese

What to Add to Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Here are some delicious add-ins that give the dish even more flavor, texture, and hearty staying power:

  • Diced ham
  • Chopped hot dogs
  • Canned tuna
  • Cooked Italian sausage or smoked sausage (like kielbasa)
  • Shredded rotisserie chicken or leftover Thanksgiving turkey
  • Taco meat or other ground beef
  • Crispy cooked bacon
  • Frozen peas, carrots, corn, or green beans
  • Steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Roasted root vegetables
  • Diced tomatoes (fresh or canned and drained)
  • Spinach
  • Fresh herbs
  • Toasted breadcrumbs like these
Horizontal overhead shot of a bowl of pumpkin mac and cheese

Storage

  • Homemade mac and cheese is best when served immediately, so I do not recommend preparing the dish in advance.
  • Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Stove top mac and cheese does not freeze well, since the cream-based sauce has a tendency to “break” or separate when thawed.

How to Reheat

Place the mac and cheese in a saucepan. The pasta and sauce will dry out a bit as it sits in the refrigerator, so you might need to add a splash of milk and/or a little bit of butter to the pan. Then warm over low heat, just until it reaches the desired temperature. Stir regularly and the sauce should become smooth again!

Close up side shot of a big bowl of pumpkin mac and cheese

Recipe Variations

  • Don’t have mezzi rigatoni? Other small pasta shapes such as medium shells, elbows, rotini, farfalle, or cavatappi will also work.
  • Swap out the pumpkin for a can of butternut squash puree.
  • Try different types of cheese. For instance, use white cheddar, Monterey Jack, or gruyere.
  • Add toasted breadcrumbs (like these) for a buttery, crunchy topping.
  • I typically use whole milk, but you can substitute with 2% milk, half-and-half or heavy cream. Just don’t use a lower fat milk like skim, or your sauce won’t have that creamy mouthfeel.
  • Add toasted pumpkin seeds on top for crunch, garnish with crispy bacon, or stir in plenty of fresh herbs like sage leaves, thyme, and rosemary for extra flavor.
Square overhead shot of pumpkin mac and cheese

Tips for the Best Pumpkin Mac and Cheese Recipe

  • To cut down on the prep time, get the pasta water boiling while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (such as grating the cheese). Then, as the pasta cooks, you can whisk together the cheese sauce. This way the pasta isn’t sitting around getting cold while you prepare the sauce, and everything comes together quickly at the end.
  • Use cheese that you grate by hand. Do not use pre-shredded cheddar cheese in a bag or a can of pre-grated Parmesan, because those packaged cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly into the sauce.
  • Salt the water before boiling your pasta. This is your chance to season the noodles for a flavorful dish!
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cheese (or keep the flame very low) so that the sauce stays creamy and smooth. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
  • Cooking for a smaller family? You can scale the recipe down to serve just 2 or 4 people. For instance, cut the recipe in half for 4 people, or cut the ingredients in fourths for 2 people.
Close up side shot of a bowl of pumpkin mac and cheese

More Mac and Cheese Recipes to Try

Square overhead shot of pumpkin mac and cheese

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 559 kcal
The easiest, creamiest homemade pumpkin mac and cheese is ready for the table in just 30 minutes!

Ingredients
  

  • 16 ounces mezzi rigatoni (or other short cut pasta shape)
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk or half-and-half, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • Dash of ground nutmeg
  • Dash ground black pepper
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pure pumpkin puree
  • 2 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 10 ounces)
  • ½ cup grated gouda cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
  • Optional garnish: fresh sage and thyme; additional Parmesan; crispy bacon; toasted pumpkin seeds; additional ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes

Instructions

  • Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain.
  • Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, stirring until the mixture is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk, salt, ground mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, ground nutmeg, and black pepper. Reduce heat to medium; whisk continually until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat; gradually whisk in the pumpkin, cheddar, gouda, and Parmesan until the sauce is smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Add cooked pasta; stir to coat. Garnish with fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.

Notes

  • To cut down on the prep time, get the pasta water boiling while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (such as grating the cheese). Then, as the pasta cooks, you can whisk together the cheese sauce. This way the pasta isn’t sitting around getting cold while you prepare the sauce, and everything comes together quickly at the end.
  • Use cheese that you grate by hand. Do not use pre-shredded cheddar cheese in a bag or a can of pre-grated Parmesan, because those packaged cheeses include a powdery coating with stabilizers that prevent the cheese from melting as smoothly into the sauce.
  • Salt the water before boiling your pasta. This is your chance to season the noodles for a flavorful dish!
  • Remove the pot from the heat before adding the cheese (or keep the flame very low) so that the sauce stays creamy and smooth. When cheese gets too hot, it separates and gives the sauce a grainy texture.
  • Cooking for a smaller family? You can scale the recipe down to serve just 2 or 4 people. For instance, cut the recipe in half for 4 people, or cut the ingredients in fourths for 2 people.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the recipeCalories: 559kcalCarbohydrates: 56gProtein: 24gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 15gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 784mgPotassium: 432mgFiber: 3gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 9062IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 522mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: mac and cheese with pumpkin, pumpkin mac and cheese
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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