Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

At the risk of inundating the blog with pumpkin posts, no matter how seasonally apropos they might be, I'm going ahead with this entry for one of my favorite personal recipes, one for pumpkin mac & cheese. A couple years back, I came across a tasty pumpkin mac & cheese dish at The Institute in Philadelphia which inspired me to create my own version, as it saved me oh, a good 50 minute drive and parking woes whenever a craving would come up. After numerous tweaks, I finally achieved a dish that I'm proud to say trumps other pumpkin macs I have had since, which unfortunately seem to be widely overspiced and sweet - a problem that plagues other savory gourd-based dishes I've had whilst eating out in autumn. Open note to all area chefs: easy on the nutmeg...!

(The Institutes's remains absolutely delicious, though - I go pay homage to the source every autumn).

This version made with habanero cheddar & gouda, with Parm-reg and  manchego on top

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Makes 8-9 servings

*1 lb of any short ‘n stubby pasta shape. I like cavatappi or shells.
*6-7 slices of bacon (optional)
*A couple tablespoons of butter (4, to be precise, if you’re not using bacon fat)
*3 tablespoons flour
*3/4 cup pumpkin beer at room temperature. I recommend Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout or Schlafly's Pumpkin ale. Alternately, a roasty porter would work nicely. If you want to nix beer altogether, chicken stock’s your sub
*2 cups milk (whatever % you have on hand, but whole is best)
*A couple of shakes a'piece of: allspice, curry powder, cayenne. I go heavier on the curry, about 1/2 teaspoon's worth
*Salt and pepper
*12 oz of pure pumpkin purée, or MOST of a 15 oz can. (I like to have a bit of leftover pumpkin to stir into yogurt or oatmeal the next day, or to make the Pumpkin French toast I posted about earlier)
*2 3/4 cups grated cheese(s) of your choice plus extra cheese for topping. I usually use about 1 cup of extra sharp yellow cheddar, 1 cup of smoked gouda, and 3/4ths cup of a delicious habanero cheddar from the local Shadyside Farm, Parm-Reg and manchego for the topping. But feel free to use any combo of good melting cheeses you like
*Sprigs of thyme (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 and set a large pot of water on to boil. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. Fry the bacon in a pot over medium until crisp and then set pieces to drain on a paper towel, reserving the rendered fat. Supplement the drippings with butter to have 4 tablespoons of fat sizzling away in the pot (I usually render about a tablespoon, so I add 3 tablespoons of butter). When the added butter froths and begins to brown, sprinkle in the flour and cook for a couple minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually pour the pumpkin beer into the roux and continue to whisk very frequently for 4 to 5 more minutes before gradually adding in the milk, stirring all the while. Speckle the mixture with shakes of allspice, curry, cayenne, salt & pepper. Adjust seasoning as you see fit. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook a couple more minutes or until the sauce leaves a luxurious coat the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in the pumpkin purée and then stir in the cheese until everything is melty, orangy goodness. Mix the pasta into sauce, crumble the bacon in, and dump it all in a large casserole dish. Add a good carpeting of the extra cheese and dot the top with small nubbins of butter. Throw in the oven uncovered for 15 minutes or so and then flick on the broiler for 1-2 minutes, keeping careful watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. Garnish each serving with tiny green flecks of thyme leaves, if you so desire.

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