Meatless Monday: Pumpkin mac and cheese

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Fall is here! And I’m all in. I love summer as much as the next gal (tomatoes! the beach! relaxed schedules! sunshine! longer days!), but I can only take so much sweating before I’m ready for fleeces and squash (leaves changing! fires! apple picking! Halloween! schedules!).

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This mac and cheese is warming, cheesy, and chock full of veggies. It also works as dinner or lunch (or both!). I’ve made this with some sausage on the side for an even heartier meal, but it’s very filling on its own.

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A couple of notes:
- I use half roasted squash and half pumpkin (butternut or acorn squash is my favorite, but you could use kobocha or delicata) because I don’t always love straight pumpkin pasta sauces. There is something heavy and somehow both flavorless and overwhelming about a sauce made with just pumpkin.
- The most time consuming part of this recipe is cooking the onions. A longer, slower cook yields much better flavor that significantly improves the final dish. I recommend taking the time.
- This recipe makes twice as much sauce as you need. You can either freeze half, or make two boxes (2 lbs) of pasta for a large family. We’ve found that using 1 box of pasta and freezing half of the sauce yields one dinner for the three of us and two lunches for M (and some late-night picking for us).

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Pumpkin mac and cheese

1 Tbsp olive oil, butter, ghee, or your fat of choice
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
10 large sage leaves (about 1 Tbsp), minced
½ tsp kosher salt
½-1 can pumpkin puree
½ small acorn squash (or about 1 cup any type of squash), roasted
½-1 cup milk
½ cup gruyere, shredded
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 lb pasta
1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Preheat the oven to 425. Cut your squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake until fork tender, about 20-30 minutes.  


Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil. (I add 2 heaping tsp of salt to my pasta water and that usually does the trick.) Cook your pasta according to package directions (towards the end of cooking your onions). Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the thinly sliced onions. Brown, stirring often, until caramelized, about 25- 30 minutes. Don’t worry if your onions become a little frizzled or fried instead of caramelized. I tend to forget them or have the flame up too high for a minute. Either way, they’ll taste delicious as long as they’re well cooked.

Add the garlic and sage to the onions and cook for one minute, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat.

In a blender or food processor, combine the cooked onions, garlic, sage, acorn (or other) squash, pumpkin puree, and cheese. Blend on high. Slowly add the milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency.* Scrape down the sides as needed.

Pour about 1/2 of the sauce into a large container for another time.

Drain your pasta, but reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Put the pasta back into the pasta pot, top with ½ of the sauce, and thin out as needed with the reserved pasta water. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

*The amount of milk you’ll need depends largely on your squash. Some squash have more water in them, so you’ll need less milk. Start with ¼ cup and add more as needed.

Yield: 4 adult-sized dinner servings, 6 kid-sized dinner servings, or more if you’re serving this for lunch

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Pumpkin energy bites

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I refuse to call these "Pumpkin spice" energy balls because I am now and have always been, anti pumpkin spice. I understand it in theory, but the ubiquity of this spice combo is out of control. However, these guys are technically speaking, a combo of pumpkin and spices. They're also yummy and easy and perfect for lunchboxes because they're nut, dairy, soy, gluten, and egg free.

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Also, they're basically no cook. You must toast the pepitas in either a toaster oven, regular oven, or in a pan on the stove because the flavor is so much better, but this step only takes about 5 minutes. You want some browning and some "popping" sounds, which happens quickly.

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I fiddled with the ratios here for some time before settling on my favorite. Too much pumpkin and they're too wet, but not enough and they don't look orange and mostly taste like dates. The final product is a bit sticky, but they hold together completely and, once chilled, firm up quite a bit. You could also roll the balls in unsweetened shredded coconut to make them less sticky for kids who don't like that sensation on their fingers.

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Pumpkin energy bites


½ cup toasted pepitas
½ cup pumpkin puree
10 pitted dates
¼ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (I like this brand)

Toast the pepitas in the toaster oven or in a pan on the stove just until the seeds start to brown and pop lightly.

Add the seeds and the rest of the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to a food processor. Pulse until the dates and seeds are broken up and everything is well combined. You'll need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. I like to look for the mixture to form a large ball and spin around all together to know that I've mixed enough. 

Turn the batter out into a bowl. Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

With wet hands and a bowl of water to re-wet as needed, scoop 1 Tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the batter until 12 balls are formed. To make them look more like pumpkins, chop up your favorite dairy, soy, and nut free chocolate bar (like this one) into chunks and stick them into the tops like stems.

Chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 12 1 Tbsp balls

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