Pumpkin Up: Baked Pumpkin Pasta

by Rachel on September 15, 2009

After dabbling in pumpkin at breakfast, I was ready to make our little orange friend the main event. I had researched a few options, but I didn’t have anything planned just yet. Then, Monday night, I was debating what to make for dinner, when my aunt called to see if they could come over with the crew. Since I was now in charge of feeding a small army, I knew I had to turn out something both big and impressive. Well, really just big, but I was in the mood to amaze. And then, miracle of miracles (well, miracle of canned goods and freezers), I actually had everything on hand to make baked pumpkin pasta!

I found this recipe when my friend Maranda told me that the Libby’s Web site had really good recipes. It sounded so good and pretty healthy, so I was all about it. We don’t eat a lot of pasta or baked dishes in my house, but hey, up until two months ago, we didn’t eat a lot of organics or olive oil either. So hey, the times, they are a-changin’!

Baked Pumpkin Pasta

(adapted from Libby’s)

Ingredients

Serves 6-12, depending on how hungry they are

4 cups dry penne (whole-wheat, if possible)

One 15 ounce can of pure pumpkin

2 tbsp whole-wheat or all-purpose flour

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 can fat-free evaporated milk

12 ounces fully cooked chicken sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used Trader Joe’s garlic chicken sausage, which is always a win)

One 6 ounce package baby spinach

1 cup shredded part-skim or reduced-fat mozzarella

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. When i’ts time to drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. (This was my first time doing this! I just put a bowl under the colander, but I totally felt like a real cook.)

Meanwhile, spray a medium pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add pumpkin, flour, spices, and salt.

Slowly add evaporated milk.

It will start to smell good. Really cheesy and Italian even though there is no cheese or tomatoes involved. Within a few minutes, it will get really creamy and saucy.

Add the sauce to the pasta pot along with the sausage and the reserved pasta liquid.

Stir it all up! Spray a 4 quart baking dish with non-stick spray. Spread half the pasta mixture in the bottom of the pan. Then top with all the spinach.

Top with the rest of the pasta mixture.

Spray a piece of foil with nonstick and cover the pan (sprayed side down). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. While it’s baking, make a big salad or steam some broccoli for a little more green.

When the timer goes off, remove the pasta from the oven and top with the cheeses. (I left part of mine un-cheesed, since I lack lactose tolerance.)

Pop back in the oven, uncovered, for about five minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Despite the fact I’m cooking like it’s fall, it was way too hot to bake Monday night! I was sweating balls by the time I pulled this guy out of the oven. I made a salad to go with it to lighten things up, and we ate outside on the porch with the whole fam.

And…it was a big hit! The thing I’ve realized after cooking more with pumpkin is that it’s actually really mild. I think we’re so used to having it in Thanksgiving dishes, we expect it to have a lot of sugar and spice. But on its own, it’s pretty damn chill. And that’s how it was in this dish. Blended with the evaporated milk, it just makes for an excellent, really creamy base, kind of like alfredo. And who knew it was so good with garlic?!

I didn’t have cheese in my portion, but it was still really creamy. I didn’t miss the cheese at all. I also wouldn’t miss the sausage–definitely give this a try if you’re a vegetarian, dining with herbivores, or just all out of meat.

Libby’s says the recipe is meant to serve 12; 1/12 of the recipe has 200 calories, 4 grams fat (1.5 saturated), 3 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein. I would expect most people would eat more than 1/12 of the recipe. But even if you ate 1/6, which is reasonable, it’s still is a really healthy dinner!

The best part is that my family really loved this! They were very impressed, and I was happy because it was healthy. Plus, there was enough that we have leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and food like this always reheats well (and is so much better than a Lean Cuisine). It definitely can be filed under “comfort food,” but it’s not so heavy that you’ll feel like you ate a brick after you eat it. If you’re a big pasta-and-sauce person, this will be a nice little alternative.

This recipe officially hits everything on my list: healthy, whole foods, cheap, easy, adaptable, yummy. A win any night of the week!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alexandra September 15, 2009 at 6:43 pm

What would be a good vegetarian protein to replace the chicken sausage with? I would use whole wheat pasta, but I’d want an added protein that meat-eaters would not freak out about. I say this, because tomorrow I’m having a friend for dinner and while she’s a vegetarian, too, her friends are not, and I’m hosting them all. Suggestions?

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2 Rachel September 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Hmm….well there are vegetarian sausages on the market, as well as vegetarian meat crumbles, if you want to go with a faux meat. The crumbles are especially meat like, I like the Boca ones! It would also be relatively easy to do half the pasta with meat and half with a sub; you could set up the pan that way if your friend wouldn’t mind.

I don’t think it would be especially good with beans; if you went with tofu, I’d probably do the pre-seasoned/pre-cooked kind that you can get at TJ’s or Whole Foods. I am just not an expert tofu maker, and those are so tasty that I think the meat eaters could handle it.

I also don’t think it would be lacking if you skipped meat completely. I mean, it’s like fettuccine alfredo or Caesar salad. Good with chicken, good without, you know?

Let me know what you decide!

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3 Lauren O September 15, 2009 at 10:09 pm

I went to the grocery store today.. no canned pumpkin! Unbelievable! Maybe in a few weeks says the grocer. I want to make this, looks great!

Lauren O

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4 Rachel September 15, 2009 at 11:34 pm

So annoying! I read online this week that the shortage has ended, but I think it’s taking some time for stores to restock. I know the big grocery stores here are out too, but luckily I hit the corner store like nuclear war was coming. Do you want me to mail you a can?

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5 Lauren O September 16, 2009 at 8:27 am

I’ll find it! It’s my mission now!! I’ll let you know when I do! Thanks though.

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6 Tara September 29, 2009 at 7:18 am

Just have to say that I made this last night, left it to cool while I went to the gym, came home feeling virtuous and hungry and this was the best present to myself: delicious! and interesting! and went well with new Melrose Place! I left out the meat because I am veg but added the cheese because I am a glutton, and it was a big hit, both with me and my snooty foodie husband. So thanks for posting!

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7 Rachel September 29, 2009 at 8:22 am

Mmmm….I can imagine this is an amazing post-gym weeknight treat!! (It’s cold and rainy here though, so it’s 8 am and I already want a hot bowl of pasta.)

Thanks for sharing by the way!! I love hearing about how recipes turn out for other people and about any good modifications. And the cheese is not gluttonous haha…I just didn’t put it in my portion because I’m lactose intolerant.

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8 Katie December 1, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Rachel, I’m so in love with your website! I’m friends with Erica and randomly found your blog on her fb and couldn’t stop reading! I especially love this recipe and will have to try it out tomorrow for dinner :)

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9 Rachel December 1, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Ahh I just made it again last week…definitely a favorite of mine! I hope you like it!

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10 kate October 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

yum. we made this tonight with the ingredients we had on hand, no meat and freshly baked acorn squash not pumpkin.

i can’t wait to try it again with bacon or this chicken sausage.

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