When it was announced that this month’s 5 Star Makeover would be tailgate food, immediately I thought of doing a take on Mac and Cheese. It’s one of those perfect tailgate foods in my mind because it can easily be stretched to serve more people than its original intent, which is perfect if your tailgate attracts more company than expected. It’s also a great dish for a makeover challenge because it offers up almost a blank canvas that can be dressed up and innovated upon with whatever flavors strike your fancy.
In my case, that flavor was pumpkin.
I have to say, for someone who’s never gotten giddy about the return of the Pumpkin Latte and has a “take it or leave it” attitude about pumpkin pie, I’m definitely warming up to it.
This hearty dish combines, among other things, pumpkin, Brie and Bacon for a sumptuous sauce that is the perfect marriage of sweet and savory, not to mention rich and creamy. It’s a slight nod to some Pumpkin Bacon Wontons I made last February. I so loved the way all the flavors came together that they served as my loose inspiration for this dish.
In fact, if you like the sweet and savory together, this is a great dish. It has just a bit of brown sugar in it, which balances out the umami from the bacon and the worcestershire sauce quite nicely. Add in a few spices for good measure – in this case, the expected cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as some mustard powder and cayenne for the slightest of kicks – and you get layers and layers of flavor. Combine that with a crispy top of panko and Parmesan and you’ve got the kind of dish I finish, by myself, in its entirety in two days. (Yes, I really did that.)
But let’s be clear about one thing, this is not a pasta dish in the style of Deceptively Delicious, by which I mean the flavor of the pumpkin is in no way hidden. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s the main attraction in this dish with the Brie playing more of a supportive role. The Brie lends creaminess, a bit of depth, and of course, contributes to the savoriness, but in a subtle way. And even though am an unapologetic cheeseaholic, I didn’t mind this fact. In fact, it’s the kind of dish that could make me a pumpkin lover out of me after all.
Loosely inspired by this recipe
Serves 4 as a main dish and 6 as a side
-1/2 pound campanelle pasta
-2 slices of bacon
-1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 ½ cups pureed pumpkin
-1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/8 teaspoon cayenne
-1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
-1/2 cup half and half
-6 ounces Brie, rind removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
-3/4 cups bread crumbs (I prefer homemade or panko)
-1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package instructions, until just al dente. (You’ll want to be careful not to overcook it as it will continue to cook in the oven in the sauce.)
Lightly spray a skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat with cooking spray. Cook bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon, reserving about one tablespoon of drippings in skillet. (If drippings are less than a tablespoon, add olive oil to make up the difference.) Drain bacon on paper towels. Crumble and set aside.
Return pan to the heat and add onions. Saute until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute a minute more. Add the pumpkin through half and half. Stir well to combine and cook until the mixture is heated through and some of the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Brie and crumbled bacon. Cook until the Brie has melted and is well combined. Mix together the pasta and pumpkin mixture.
Toss together the butter, bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano and set aside. Grease a baking dish with cooking spray (Mine was a 14″ oval that held about 3.75 quarts). Spoon the pumpkin mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, approximately 20 minutes. Serve.
Haven’t had your fill of pumpkin and other squash pastas yet? Check out some of these other delicious versions:
P.S. I am admittedly not the hugest of football fans, though I did pull out the purple linens and baking dish in honor of the Minnesota Vikings, my hometown team.