Pumpkin and Thyme Mac & Cheese

I saw this recipe for mac & cheese with a can of pumpkin mixed in a while ago on this blog and thought it sounded awesome.  So I made it, and it was awesome.  The boys liked it as well!  Pumpkin is also surprisingly nutritious.  It's full of Vitamins A, C and E, and also has fiber and a bunch of antioxidants.  It also added to the creaminess and earthiness of this mac and cheese.  Definitely a good seasonal twist on a traditional recipe.  

Pumpkin & Thyme Mac & Cheese

2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1 lb dry fusilli pasta (can substitute elbow macaroni)
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons minced thyme
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces smoked gouda, shredded
1 ounce white extra sharp cheddar
salt and pepper to taste
lightly toasted/buttered panko breadcrumbs

1. Place milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium saucepan and stir together. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil add a generous amount of salt (2½ – 3 tablespoons) and then the pasta.
3. Boil pasta for 10 to 12 minutes or until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta and set aside.
4. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Sprinkle flour over melted butter and whisk together. Allow mixture to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in thyme.
5. Whisk pumpkin-milk mixture into flour mixture and continue to whisk until fully incorporated. Allow mixture to simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Place shredded cheese into a mixing bowl and toss together with lemon juice.

7. Stir cheese into the b├ęchamel sauce and stir until cheese just melts. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and gently stir pasta into the sauce, ½ cup at a time until all of the pasta has been added and is fully coasted in sauce. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately. 

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