This week, I’ve learned that if you want to take a “nap” at 7:30pm on a Sunday evening, then wake up at 10pm and decide that you should really go to sleep because it’s late, that’s perfectly fine. So, you accidentally-on-purpose sleep over 18 hours in one day. Who cares?
This week, I’ve learned that there are earthquakes in Boston, and that earthquakes are super weird. You want to blame the cat, until you realize that, once again, the cat is on the refrigerator breaking into his once-sealed cat food bag, and not, in fact, causing the walls to shake. That cat is determined to get diabetes on me.
This week, I’ve learned that apple picking in the crisp fall air is just about as good as it gets. Apples also taste dramatically different if you taste them back to back, and one can very quickly become an apple snob, saying things like “oh, no, this one is just too sweet for me. I prefer the Empire apple from those trees over there.” That lasts until you get home, because when they’re all in a bag and not labeled on trees, they all kind of taste the same.
This week, I’ve learned that there is really only one reason for shells and cheese to be bright orange, and that reason is pumpkin, and not the contents of a box. I’ve learned that there’s also a really great reason for people to go crazy for pumpkin this time of year. Are you all on that bandwagon? Can any of you tell me why it took me this long to jump on? Pumpkin is everything right now, and I’m a woman obsessed.
Serve with additional minced sage. If you live alone, and you want to eat only that crunchy top, I’d completely understand. If you don’t live alone, you should probably share. But what do I know?
So let’s discuss this. Sure, it’s creamy, and decadent, and comforting–everything it should be. But this dish goes beyond all that. It’s special. The pumpkin adds a depth of flavor that is complex and subtle and matches perfectly with the cheesiness. It’s rich, and with two cups of cheese, certainly not light, but the pumpkin sort of cuts through all that.
It’s a combination that I would never think would work. I’ve always associated pumpkin with pies, over-priced lattes, and various spicy baked goods. Here’s something though: pumpkin tastes like that largely because of the spices it’s paired with. When pumpkin is paired with savory ingredients, something magical and unexpected happens. It’s just good.
If, after all those gushing adjectives, you’re still skeptical about the merits of pumpkin shells and cheese, just think about all that crunchy topping. Crunchy, cheesy, pasta. How can you say no?
Here’s the recipe!
Baked Pumpkin Shells and Cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups milk–I used 1% because my corner store was out of skim, and it made me feel better about the literal handfuls of cheese I put in next
- 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar
- 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus more for topping
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, no additions or sweeteners)
- 1 tablespoon minced sage
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound large shells (you can use your favorite pasta, but I highly recommend using shells. There’s something so homey about it)
- 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs for topping
- cooking spray
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil and cook pasta until about 2 minutes from being done. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9×9 baking dish by lining with foil and spraying with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt butter. Add flour, whisking constantly, to form a smooth roux. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Slowly whisk in milk, avoiding lumps if possible. Bring milk to a simmer and let thicken slightly. Add cheeses, pumpkin puree, and sage. Carefully whisk together then add remaining seasonings. Let cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can also thin out the sauce if necessary with a little milk.
- Add cheese sauce to the cooked shells and stir to combine. Add pasta to a prepared 9×9 baking dish and top with additional grated Gruyere. Top with breadcrumbs then spray top with cooking spray to ensure browning. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the top is crunchy and golden brown. Serve with additional minced sage.