Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Get Seasonal: One Pot Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

This is a sponsored post. I was compensated financially by Barilla Canada, but all the opinions are my own.  

Everyone loves macaroni and cheese. It’s classic comfort food at its best, and because World Pasta Day is October 25th, I thought I would switch it up my favourite mac and cheese with seasonal pumpkin and sustainable split red lentils. Don’t worry - the end result is still bowls of delicious mac and cheese goodness with the bonus points for added nutrition. Another pasta event happening in October is the Barilla Pasta World Championships in Milan, Italy from October 23rd -25th. This year’s edition is the seventh annual competition, and it’s exciting because for the second time ever, a Canadian chef is competing. Chef Angela Villalta from Toronto is representing Canada, and I’m sending her all sorts of winning vibes.

When not eating all of the pasta in Milan, there will be a lot of talking about pasta during the Pasta Talks, touching on topics such as farming and sustainability. These are timely discussions as consumers, companies and countries can make a difference by reducing food loss and waste, eating low carbon footprint diets or investing in sustainable food production. I try to do my part by reducing the food waste in my kitchen and purchasing locally-sourced food as much as possible - this includes vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and plenty of pulses like lentils and chickpeas.

Lentils might seem like an odd thing to add to an already excellent recipe for macaroni and cheese, but those little discs are bursting with nutrients like protein and fibre, so while this is a meatless meal, we’re not missing out on the protein. Another cool thing about lentils is that they are a key food for a sustainable diet. Pulse crops such as lentils have a lower carbon footprint than most foods because they require a small amount of fertilizer to grow. Pulses have a special relationship with some soil bacteria because they have the ability to convert nitrogen in the air into a form of nitrogen that plants can use. In other words, lentils are able to fix their own nitrogen into the soil, thus farmers need to add little or no nitrogen fertilizer to grow this pulse crop. How cool is that? Pulses are also a protein source with a very low water footprint. Lentils are well-adapted to semi-arid conditions and can tolerate drought stress. I’ve stood in Saskatchewan lentil fields that were cracked because it hadn’t rained in weeks. Lentils thrive in dry growing conditions, as long as the seeds receive a good bit of moisture right when they're planted in the spring. The lentil seed is a smart one - it'll always put out a plant no matter what.  
As the world’s population continues to grow, effort and innovation is needed in order to sustainably increase agricultural production, decrease food loss and waste, and make sure that anyone suffering from hunger and malnutrition has access to nutritious food. Lentils and other pulse crops are key players in all of this, and I try to use them in my kitchen as much as possible, adding them to delicious pasta dishes like this macaroni and cheese.

Speaking of pasta talks, let’s chat more about this macaroni magic! Autumn is a busy time of year, and weeknight meals have to be quick, nutritious and tasty. Pasta falls into all of these categories, and I know it’s my go-to when I’ve had a busy day and need something in my belly but with minimal cooking effort. This is where one pot meals like this come in handy. All I did was cook a little onion and garlic in butter, pour in water, evaporated milk, split red lentils, and Barilla macaroni. Once the pasta absorbed most of the liquid and is al dente, I stirred in the pumpkin puree, a little mustard and lots of cheese, because this is macaroni and cheese after all. I love how this classic comfort food dish gets simplified by cooking everything in one pot. Creamy, cheesy, and full of nutrition, thanks to pumpkin and secret ingredient split red lentils, this is a family-friendly dinner everyone will be sure to love. And, there aren’t that many dishes to do!
Hope you make and enjoy this (or another favourite pasta dish) at home this World Pasta Day! And click here to learn more about Barilla’s sustainability initiatives.

One Pot Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Serves: 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups water
1 can (13 oz/369 mL) evaporated milk
1/2 cup split red lentils, rinsed  
2 1/2 cups uncooked Barilla elbow macaroni
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded aged cheddar cheese, plus more for serving
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian 4 cheese blend
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving
1 Tbsp butter

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch Oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and saut√© for a few minutes until it’s translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook another couple of minutes until lightly browned.
2. Pour in the water, 1 cup (250 mL) evaporated milk, lentils and salt and bring to boil over high heat. Once boiling, cook the mixture for 3 minutes.
3. Stir in the macaroni and simmer over medium-high heat until the macaroni is al dente and the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes.   
4. Stir in the pumpkin puree, remaining evaporated milk, Dijon mustard and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium. Stir until smooth, and cook for a minute or two longer.  
5. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cheeses, one cup at a time. Stir in the thyme leaves and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The macaroni and cheese will thicken as it rests. Garnish with more shredded cheddar and thyme leaves.

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