Harvest Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Roasted Poblanos and Pancetta

Happy day after Thanksgiving, friends! I hope that your turkey day was a fun and relaxing as mine. We spent the holiday with some dear people who are basically family to us (minus the actual relation part). We ate and ate some more, enjoying each other’s company. The only thing that would have made it better would have been adding my Nashville family to the mix. Maybe someday.

Today I bring you part two of the Whole Foods Clash of the Cooks Challenge. They will be picking two winners from these first two challenges to move on to the live cook-off. I’m crossing my fingers that I win this thing!

Please help me win by tweeting this recipe and pinning the photos (include #WFMClash)! Commenting on and liking the recipe at the bottom of this post probably helps, too.

I’ll admit, when I picked up the bag of secret ingredients on Monday I groaned and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” In the bag I had Whole Foods Parmesan crisps, a bag of coffee beans, a can of pumpkin puree and hot sauce. It was the strangest combination of ingredients yet.

Thankfully, my creative cooking brain kicked into action and I started thinking of all kinds of recipes that could work. In the end I decided on a fancy mac and cheese with a bit of a kick. I had made a mac and cheese with butternut squash before, so I figured I could use the pumpkin in a similar way and I was right! The pumpkin gives a nice creaminess to the sauce, helped by some lovely marscapone cheese. We added a little spice with a roasted poblano pepper, paprika and some hot sauce, sauteed the pancetta (one of my favorite ingredients) with some fresh-brewed coffee and topped it all with a Parmesan bread crumb mix.

Let me tell you — I was afraid this recipe would be weird. Lucky for us, it was DIVINE. Seriously, this might be the best mac and cheese I’ve ever made (and I’m always trying to make better mac and cheese). The sauce was perfectly creamy, the peppers added a nice depth and hint of spice, the pancetta gave everything a smoked coffee breath and the topping was just out of this world. J and I fought over the leftovers yesterday for lunch! Who knew that such a random recipe would be such a hit!

Ingredients:

1 poblano pepper
2 oz diced pancetta
2 tsp fresh brewed coffee
1 lb box of macaroni or other small noodles (I used gnocchi shaped noodles because I like how the cheese can get all inside and around it)
1/2 C plain bread crumbs
1/2 C Whole Foods Parmesan crisps, crushed
2 T plus 1 T butter, divided (2 T for topping, 1 T for sauce)
1 shallot, minced
1 T plus 1 tsp flour
1/2 C whole milk
1/4 C canned pumpkin puree
1/4 C marscapone cheese
1 C shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
pinch of Paprika
1-2 tsp of hot sauce

Get Cooking:

1. Start by roasting your poblano pepper. If you have a gas range, you can cook the pepper directly over the flame. We don’t have gas, so option 2 is to broil the pepper in the over, turning it after about 2 minutes until all sides are toasted brown. Take the roasted pepper out of the oven and put it in a sealed plastic baggie for a few minutes. The steam will help separate the skin from the pepper. Peal off the skin and dice the pepper, removing all the seeds. Set aside. Turn oven down to 350 degrees F.

Diced shallots and the pepper after roasting

2. Now that your pepper is roasted, start heating up a big pot of water. Once it’s boiling, add 8 oz (half the package) of pasta noodles. Cook according to directions (usually around 8-10 minutes). Drain.

While the water is waiting to boil, make the crumb topping. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, crushed Parmesan crisps (we crushed them with our hands inside a baggie) and 2 T melted butter. Set aside.

3. Next, saute the pancetta for a couple of minutes over medium high heat. You don’t want the pancetta to get too crispy, just a little golden. Stir in your fresh brewed coffee and let it cook down. It will smell divine. Once the coffee is almost completely cooking into the pancetta, pour your mixture onto a place with folded paper towel to let any extra grease drain off.

4. Now let’s make the sauce. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add your 1 T butter and shallots and saute for about 2 minutes. Add in the flour and whisk until it forms a roux. Whisk in the milk, pumpkin puree and marscapone cheese, stirring constantly until the sauce is smooth. Add the white cheddar and stir. If the sauce gets too thick and less creamy, add a little extra milk a few tablespoons as a time until you get the desired consistency. Add in your pancetta, diced peppers, a pinch of paprika and hot sauce to taste (we used about 1 tsp but next time I think I might use 2 tsp for a bit more kick).

5. Combine your cooked pasta noodles with the cheese sauce and top with the Parmesan crumb topping. Sprinkle with paprika for extra color. Place in a medium sizes oven safe dish and bake for about 12 minutes, until the topping is golden and the sauce is bubbly. Enjoy!

Serves 4 as a side.

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