Enjoy the perfect fall dish with this creamy pumpkin mac and cheese! Made with cheddar and Gruyère, this pumpkin pasta features a luxurious, decadent cheese sauce and is finished with a buttery Ritz cracker topping and fresh sage for an extra touch of fall flavor. Comfort food doesn't get better than this.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Ultra creamy goodness: Sure, mac and cheese is already a creamy delight, but the addition of real pumpkin purée makes for an even more decadent texture. What better way to celebrate pumpkin season?
Makes a festive Thanksgiving side dish: Everyone loves a classic mac and cheese at the Thanksgiving table, but you can enjoy that any time of year. This pumpkin macaroni adds an extra fun touch to the holiday.
Comes with a make-ahead option: Anyone who's hosted Thanksgiving knows make-ahead dishes are true life-savers. We have an option to make this dish two days ahead for easy entertaining.
Super versatile: Make it a stove-top or baked pasta. Use your favorite blend of cheeses or my recommended cheddar and Gruyère. Keep it vegetarian or add chicken or bacon. You have so much flexibility if you want to get creative, or you can stick to the recipe as is and enjoy a wonderful dish.
Surprisingly simple: If this is your first time making homemade mac and cheese, don't feel intimidated. We'll walk through the process and show you how truly easy this recipe is.
And now for a couple notes about our homemade pumpkin mac and cheese ingredients.
Elbow macaroni: Obviously, the mac stands for elbow macaroni, but don't feel like you have to stick to that pasta shape. Penne, ziti, rigatoni, shells, cavatappi and other short-cut pastas all make good substitutes for traditional macaroni.
Cheese: I used equal parts of white cheddar and Gruyère, but you have some flexibility here as well. Yellow cheddar works just fine, and if you can't find Gruyère, you can switch it for the more commonly found Swiss cheese.
You could even go in a totally different direction and use your own blend of cheeses, such as fontina, Gouda, mozzarella, Havarti or muenster. As long as it's a good melting cheese, you're all set.
Pure pumpkin purée: I used canned pumpkin purée. It makes for a super creamy mac and cheese and couldn't be more convenient. That said, you're welcome to use a homemade pumpkin purée.
Ritz crackers: We use crushed Ritz crackers to make a crunchy topping. I love the buttery quality with the pumpkin flavor, but you're more than welcome to swap the crackers for dry bread crumbs or panko.
Fresh sage leaves: This adds a delicious savory flavor that's reminiscent of fall. I definitely recommend fresh sage over dried sage — you just can't beat that fresh flavor.
Step 1: We begin by cooking our pasta in a large pot just shy of the box directions. Since the mac and cheese will finish in the oven, we don't want the pasta at a perfect al dente just yet. Then, we drain the pasta and reserve (photo 1).
Pro tip: As the water boils and the pasta cooks, this is the perfect time to peel your other ingredients to make the process as seamless as possible. It’s all about consolidation!
Step 2: In that same pot (yes, this is a one-pot pumpkin pasta!), we melt butter and then whisk in some flour (photo 2) until it turns smooth (photo 3). This is our roux.
After about three minutes of whisking, we add some garlic and stir constantly to add that wonderful flavor (photo 4).
Step 3: Now we pour in our milk and heavy cream while whisking constantly to create a smooth sauce (photo 5). Once we get that silky texture, we stir in our Dijon mustard, salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg (photo 6).
Step 4: From here, we bring the cream mixture just to a simmer over medium heat, stir in the cheese until it melts into a velvety sauce and add the pumpkin (photos 7-9).
Step 5: Now we take the cooked macaroni and stir it into the pumpkin cheese sauce (photo 10), pour it into a baking dish and top with more grated cheese and a mixture of melted butter and crushed Ritz crackers (photo 11).
I like to use a 12-inch cast-iron skillet for a rustic look, or we can use a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish.
Note: If you prefer a stove-top pumpkin Mac and cheese, there's no need to pour it into a baking dish. Serve from the stove-top immediately.
Step 6: For our final step, we place our fall pasta dish into the oven and bake until the pumpkin sauce is hot and bubbly on the sides and the Ritz crackers are beautifully golden brown, about 20 minutes.
After baking, we give the pasta a few minutes to cool, top with fresh sage and then scoop ourselves a big bowl and enjoy.
Bonus: If you love this pumpkin pasta, make sure you also try my pumpkin baked ziti with chorizo during these festive fall months!
With a couple tricks for baked mac and cheese, you can make this dish ahead of serving time.
First, it's extra important to make sure we cook the noodles slightly under the package directions' recommended time and then rinse them with cold water after cooking and let them cool completely before adding to the sauce. Hot noodles better absorb sauce than cold noodles, so this will prevent the dish from drying out. We also want to make sure we let the sauce cool before adding the pasta.
Once we combine the cooked pasta and pumpkin cheese sauce in our baking dish, we tightly cover it with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate it for up to two days.
Before baking, we remove the dish from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two and plan for a little extra baking time, about 10-20 minutes. We don't want to put a cold baking dish into a hot oven, and this allows the macaroni to come down to temperature.
For stove-top Mac and cheese, I recommend serving it fresh. The saucy texture won't be quite the same after refrigerating — still delicious for leftovers, mind you, but it wouldn't be something I'd want to serve for guests.
That said, we can significantly speed up the cooking process by preparing the macaroni ahead of time and pre-measuring all the ingredients.
Variations and Substitutions
Make pumpkin mac and cheese bites: You can turn this into a fun fall appetizer by spooning the mac and cheese into greased mini muffin tins and baking in a 375-degree F oven until they're hot and bubbly, about 12-15 minutes. Give them a few minutes to set in the muffin tins before serving.
Use another purée: Butternut squash or sweet potatoes would also make for a fun fall pasta.
Add your favorite mix-in: You could go with a protein and add chicken, bacon, shrimp, shredded beef or pull pork. Vegetarian mix-ins also work, such as spinach, mushrooms or caramelized onions.
How to Store Leftovers
Have leftover mac and cheese? Allow it to cool completely and then keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should keep for up to five days.
When you're ready to reheat it, you can pop it in the microwave or cover the pasta and reheat it in a 350-degree F oven.
As the noodles sit in the refrigerator, it they will absorb some of the sauce, so I like to stir in a splash or milk to ensure we get a nice and creamy pasta. Make sure you also let the pasta sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to heat the dish more evenly.
Fall Serving Ideas
Of course, this pumpkin mac and cheese makes for a fun seasonal side dish, especially for Thanksgiving. That means we need more comforting dishes to accompany our pasta.
- Turkey: My maple-braised turkey legs are the perfect star of the show for Thanksgiving.
- Chicken: If you're planning a smaller get together, this holiday roast chicken is a beautiful way to celebrate.
- Other meats: Or perhaps you'd like something different — enjoy this smoked duck, smoked prime rib or smoked leg of lamb.
- Side dishes: For a true holiday feast, we need loads of sides, like this croissant dressing, brown butter mashed potatoes, spiced cranberry sauce, sweet potato cornbread and fresh green bean casserole.
- Desserts: End your meal with a slice of bourbon pumpkin pie or pumpkin pound cake.
- Drinks: You might enjoy a cocktail on the side that celebrates all things pumpkin. Try this pumpkin spice margarita.
A stove-top mac and cheese has much saucier texture. Baked mac and cheese, however, has a crisp topping with more of a custardy texture.
Honestly, I love both, but baked mac and cheese is my favorite of the two. It truly comes down to personal preference.
Pumpkin has a light flavor here, but it's not overwhelming. The predominant flavor comes from all those wonderful cheeses.
Canned purée is convenient, but you're more than welcome to make your own pumpkin purée.
Grate your own cheese: I recommend freshly grating your own cheese gather than buying grated cheese in a bag. The pre-shredded cheese is coated in a substance that doesn't melt quite as well as freshly grated cheese.
Do not let the milk mixture boil: This can cause the milk to separate.
Let the milk and heavy cream sit at room temperature: For best results, don't use cold milk and cream straight out of the refrigerator. Room-temperature milk melds more effectively into the roux. I like to warm the milk and heavy cream in the microwave for about a minute, or you can let it sit out for 30 minutes before using.
Freshly grate the nutmeg: You can buy ground nutmeg, but the flavor is so much better if you take just a few seconds to grate it yourself.
Do not mix up pumpkin pie mix for pumpkin purée: In the baking section, you'll see both a pumpkin purée and pumpkin pie filling, which has added sugar and spices. Double check to make sure you get pumpkin purée.
This may seem obvious, but you can't go wrong with a classic pumpkin ale here. The malty backbone is lovely with the Gruyère, and those fall spices are a nice match for the fresh sage.
With our creamy sauce and buttery cracker topping, I love a chardonnay with this dish. Chardonnay pairs well with rich sauces because it has a similar buttery mouthfeel, and it's a classic match to that nutty Gruyère.
For the ultimate fall comfort food, I hope you try this pumpkin mac and cheese. This creamy, dreamy fall pasta dish is sure to be a new favorite.
Need More Savory Pumpkin Recipes?
If you love this recipe, please leave a comment with a five-star rating — or simply hit the five-star button in the recipe card. Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter, and you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok.
Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
- Large pot
- 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish
- 1 pound dried elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 4 garlic cloves minced or grated
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Pinch of ground nutmeg preferably freshly grated
- 1 ½ cups shredded Gruyère divided
- 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar divided
- 1 cup pumpkin purée not pumpkin pie filling
- 1 cup crushed Ritz crackers
- ¼ cup melted butter
- Chopped fresh sage
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the macaroni two minutes less than what the package directions dictate. Drain and reserve.
- Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk constantly for two to three minutes. In the last 30 seconds, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly.
- Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly to create a smooth mixture. Stir in the Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in 1 cup Gruyere and 1 cup cheddar until melted, and then stir in the pumpkin purée until it becomes one cohesive mixture. Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and stir to coat. If you prefer a stove-top Mac and cheese, serve immediately. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.
- In a small bowl, stir together the crushed Ritz crackers and melted butter.
- Pour the mac and cheese into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Top with the remaining ½ cup Gruyere and ½ cup cheddar and then sprinkle the Ritz cracker mixture on the cheese. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let the macaroni sit for five minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- I recommend freshly grating your own cheese gather than buying grated cheese in a bag. The bagged cheese is coated in a substance that doesn't melt quite as well as freshly grated cheese.
- Do not let the milk mixture boil. This can cause the milk to separate.
- For best results, don't use cold milk and cream straight out of the refrigerator. Room-temperature milk melds more effectively into the roux. I like to warm the milk and heavy cream in the microwave for about a minute, or you can let it sit out for 30 minutes before using.
- Love mac and cheese bites? You can turn this into a fun fall appetizer by spooning the mac and cheese into greased mini muffin tins and baking in a 375-degree oven until they're hot and bubbly, about 12-15 minutes. Give them a few minutes to set in the muffin tins before serving.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.