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This pumpkin macaroni and cheese is kicked up a notch using bacon and caramelized onions but kept healthy but reducing the amount of fat and using whole grain pasta. Win-win!

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Caramelized Onions on RachelCooks.com

Does pumpkin stop being cool immediately after Thanksgiving? Not in my book. Especially when it’s involved with one of my favorite things — macaroni and cheese. Throw in bacon and caramelized onions and we’re pretty much in heaven here. Caramelized onions, you guys! I think they definitely make my list of all-time favorite foods. I could eat them on their own. Give me a fork and I’m all set. Heck, maybe I’ll just use my fingers.

Another great thing about pumpkin in this recipe is that it gives you the creaminess every good macaroni and cheese recipe needs but without the added fat. Not only does it not add fat, but it’s also lending some great nutrients. Pair it with hearty whole wheat pasta and you’ve basically got health food. If you can look past that pesky totally-worth-the-splurge bacon.

I adapted this macaroni and cheese recipe from Erin of The Law Student’s Wife. If you haven’t been to Erin’s site, you need to check it out, stat. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it would be happening asap in my kitchen. I made it for some of my friends for a play date. Now they won’t come over unless I cook. But I can’t say that I blame them. I ate about as much macaroni and cheese as all of them combined.

For this recipe, I used Pacific Foods Organic Pumpkin Puree and Pacific Foods Chicken Simply Stock, both of which come in Tetra Pak packaging rather than cans. I’m really excited to tell you about Tetra Paks but also to offer this amazing giveaway (read on for more details on that).

I love that with the Tetra packaging you don’t get that tinny taste of food that is packaged in cans. And I love that when it falls out of my cupboard it won’t break my toes. And it doesn’t fall because it is smartly packaged in a rectangular shape that stacks. For someone who is low on space, this is nearly as (or more) important as the fact that they are recyclable and even if you choose not to recycle, these take up less room in landfills.

PUMPKIN MACARONI AND CHEESE WITH BACON AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS

This pumpkin macaroni and cheese is kicked up a notch using bacon and caramelized onions but kept healthy but reducing the amount of fat and using whole grain pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces thick-cut bacon (4-5 slices)
  • 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • one 16 ounce Tetra Pak container of Pacific Foods Organic Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 13 ounces whole wheat macaroni
  • 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated or cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil and place bacon slices in a single layer on lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy. Remove from oven and place on a paper towel to cool and remove grease. When cool, chop into bite-size pieces.
  2. Meanwhile in a large, deep skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt and saute until onions begin to soften, or about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook until caramelized and brown in color, at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. When finished caramelizing, place in a bowl and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking continuously. While whisking, add stock, milk, and pumpkin, nutmeg, cayenne, and dried mustard. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese until melted.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta as directed on package.
  5. Drain pasta and return to pan. Pour cheese sauce over pasta and fold in onions and chopped bacon.
  6. Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour pasta into this dish. In a small bowl, combine pecorino cheese, Panko breadcrumbs and 1 teaspoon olive oil until everything is well coated with oil. Sprinkle evenly over the pasta. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 35 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let rest 5 minutes prior to serving.
All images and text ©Rachel Cooks.

Verdict: Loved this. Definitely will be making again.

Husband’s take: He was lucky enough to get some leftovers (my friends eat like birds, seriously) and he loved it as well!

Changes I would make: None are necessary at all!

Difficulty: Moderate — only because of slightly increased prep time and orchestrating everything. Read the recipe through before beginning and you’ll be all set!

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