I don’t make macaroni and cheese often, almost never. Not because it is not divinely delicious. Oh no, quite the contrary. It is magical. Sensational. So sensational I can not be trusted around it. There are 2 foods that I do not have self control over. I can not eat them in small amounts. Portion control doesn’t exist if they are involved: Pasta and cereal.

I can have my single serving (16 ounces) of frozen yogurt and move on with life. Yes, I consider a single serving 16 ounces, that’s 1 lb. But if I pour a bowl of cereal, I will inevitably pour another, then refill it with milk, then refill with cereal. And the cycle continues until the entire box of cereal is GONE. I have the same problem with pasta and parmesan cheese. Fill my bowl with pasta. Then drench it in parmesan. Eat the entire bowl, but there are 2 sprinkles of parmesan left on the rim of the bowl. So I HAVE to refill my bowl with pasta to absorb that minuscule amount of parm…and so the cycle continues. Can I get an Aaaaaaaamen!

I’ve been craving macaroni and cheese for weeks. Maybe because the weather is getting cooler and comfort food is popping up all over food world?!?! I finally caved and made some, but I went into it with a plan.
My plan: buy 2 8×8 inch disposable tin pans and fill them each with half a batch of the mac and cheese. I’ll give one of the tins away to a friend who just had a baby and freeze the other. The tins are kinda shallow, which means some of the cheesy noodly goodness will be oozing over the sides. I’ll just scoop that part right out for me, thank you very much. And that my friends is how I attempt to have portion control with macaroni and cheese.

Want to know another secret? I photograph the food before I give it away. How? I scoop some out and take a picture.

Scoop it BACK in the tin.

Sprinkle it with breadcrumbs to hide the scoop marks.

What, they’re gonna reheat it anyway, so all the sauce will melt back together. This is just one of the many secrets that food bloggers do…Um, right, you do this too, don’t you? Oh dear, maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe I’m the only slightly crazy one.

Write the baking instructions on the tin, it’s helpful when they pull it out of the freezer. These instructions (350 degrees for 30-35 min) are assuming the dish is NOT frozen..

Everyone has a particular way they like their mac and cheese. No one recipe will please everybody. So I’m not gonna sit here and claim this is THE macaroni and cheese recipe you’ll live and die by. BUT, I will say, for a pumpkin macaroni and cheese that is SO easy to prepare, and can be made stove top or baked, it’s THE recipe. It isn’t dry, or overly soupy. The cheese sauce is thick, and gooey, and scrumptious. The nutmeg pairs so perfectly with the pumpkin and cheese. The spinach gives it a little ‘healthy’ flavor, And if you use a whole wheat noodle, it’ll give it a little nuttiness too. The bread crumbs on top are optional, but who doesn’t like a little crunchy topping?

Do you ever notice that pasta leftovers are always SO much tastier? It’s because the pasta noodles have had time to absorb the flavors of the sauce. If you make this the day before, that’s 24 hours for the pasta to absorb the cheesy pumpkiny goodness. For best results, make this the day before and reheat it in the oven before serving. But, serving it right after you make it is obviously great too :)

Pumpkin Spinach Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4-6
Time: 45 minutes (including prep)

16 ounces noodles (any kind you like: whole wheat, rice pasta, shells, penne, macaroni, cavatappi…)
2 cups pumpkin (15 ounce can)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt (more or less depending on your preference)
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 1 garlic clove)
3 1/2 cups milk (I used a combination of heavy cream and non fat milk, about half of each)
3 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used a colby/jack mix)
4 handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped

2 tbsp butter
3/4 breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
*If your going to be freezing it or giving it away, skip this step. You won’t be baking it yet.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package. Rinse and drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk (or combination of milk, heavy cream or half and half) in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Add the mashed pumpkin, cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Heat until it starts to thicken a bit, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot form the heat, add the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and and spinach and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish or 2 8×8 inch baking dishes.

Melt the 2 tbsp of butter and combine with the bread crumbs; sprinkle on the top.
*Stop here if you’re freezing or giving it away. Proceed if you’re making it for your meal.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the top is browned.

Freezer instructions:
Prepare up until your sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Cover with a lid, or tin foil and freeze. To bake, cover the baking dish with tin foil and bake the frozen macaroni and cheese at 375 degrees for 45 min – 1 hour. Remove the tin foil the last 20 minutes of baking to brown the top bread crumbs.

Note (updated 1/5/2012):
This is a great finger food for babies/kids over 8 months. Freeze smaller portions,about 1/2 cup servings, thaw in the microwave, then serve to your baby. Way better for them then the box stuff, and it’s packed with veggies!