Bring the noodles and water (and any flavorful add-ins) to a boil and cook, stirring often, until al dente. For this over-the-top version, I finish it off with a decadent mix of pumpkin, cream, and Parmesan for an elegant twist on stovetop mac and cheese. This pasta is definitely rich, and needs plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper to keep it from falling flat, but at the end of the day, raiding the pantry has never tasted so good.
I like to play around with the noodle shapes to “fancy it up” a bit, but this recipe will work with any dried pasta you have on hand. The other ingredients aren’t definitive, either; feel free to mix and match cheeses and any other ingredients you can think of. Hazelnuts and walnuts both offer a nice crunch on top, and a handful of herbs would brighten things up. If you can’t leave well enough alone, a squeeze of lemon or splash of sherry vinegar can offer another layer of flavor!
Creamy One-Pot Pumpkin Pasta
12 ounces dried pasta, such as garganelli, gigli, campanelle, or gemelli
4 1/2 cups water
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, pressed or finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup pumpkin purée
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to garnish
For serving: Toasted pumpkin seeds, grated Parmesan, good-quality olive oil, or freshly chopped herbs, such as sage or parsley
Place the dried pasta in 3-quart straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven. Add the water, garlic, olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of black pepper, and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat. Using tongs, stir and turn the pasta frequently to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente, approximately 9 to 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. (If there is still a little bit of cooking water, pour some — but not all — into a separate bowl.
Add the pumpkin purée, cream, and Parmesan, and toss with tongs until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed (it will need lots of both). The sauce will naturally thicken up after a couple of minutes. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds, grated Parmesan, and a swirl of good olive oil. (If the pasta does seem to need liquid, add back a few splashes of reserved cooking liquid.)