This scenario is exactly what happened to my husband and I over the summer on a trip to Orlando. We had spent the previous few days frequenting a decently mediocre eatery down the street. Looking to have a quick brunch before catching our flight home, we ambled over to a restaurant directly across from our hotel. A short time later, we found ourselves absolutely dying over a dish of smokey gouda macaroni and cheese topped with bbq pulled pork, and wondering why, OH WHY hadn't we gone there sooner?!
I think about that meal often, mulling over creative alternative toppings. What I love about this recipe is that it allows me to enjoy cheese, while limiting the excess fat and cholesterol found in traditional mac and cheese dishes, like the version I ate on vacation. The trick is to pair a creamy vegetable, in this case pumpkin, with a boldly flavored cheese like smoked gouda and a touch of salt because a little goes a long way. And if you serve this as a side dish, it is hard to overindulge. The sautéed vegetables pair nicely with the pumpkin, but if yours is a carnivorous family, I won't blame you one bit if you swap it for bbq pulled pork.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sliced cipollini onions
2 cups baby bella mushrooms, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crushed sage
1/4 cup frozen peas
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as orecchiette, elbows, etc.
1 cup roasted pumpkin
1/3 cup skim, unsweetened nut or soy milk
1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda
In a sauté pan, heat the oil and cook the onions until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the sage and peas. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the water before draining the pasta and returning to the pan.
Purée the pumpkin using a blender or food processor, adding the milk as needed. Gently mix the pumpkin and cheese with the pasta, adding the reserved pasta water a little at a time to thin it out. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Transfer the pasta to a baking dish. Top with the onion and mushroom mixture. Bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings