Mac n’ Jack (Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese with Caramelized Onions, Apple and Sage)

November 8, 2012

Finally – the recipe is revealed. I won my second 1st place food award at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Pumpkin Cook-Off! Category: Savory. I didn’t stand a chance in Sweet. You have no idea what silly, utter, childish glee this brought me.

Emma Frisch Mac n’ Jack (Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese with Caramelized Onions, Apple and Sage) Recipe

My first win was accomplished with a team of three incredible chefs at the Cornell Johnson School – Iron Chef Competition last year. I repeat, with three incredible chefs. Which brings me to a suggestion for this recipe: prepare it with friends – four sets of hands will make this process magnificent. One pair of hands, with the occasional appearance of Bobby’s digits, was quite challenging (though still marvelous!).

Whatever you decide, this recipe is wholly worth making. The judges will attest, along with dozens of friends who enjoyed the aftermath!

Emma Frisch Mac n’ Jack (Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese with Caramelized Onions, Apple and Sage) Recipe


Mac n’ Jack (Pumpkin Mac n’ Cheese with Caramelized Onions, Apple and Sage)

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  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x



For the Caramelized Onions, Apples and Sage:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 3/4 diced apple, diced small
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced sage

For the Pasta:

  • 1 box small pasta shells or elbows
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

For the Crispy Whole Wheat Topping:

  • 3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs, ideally freshly ground in a blender or food processor from a semi-stale loaf of whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the Cheesy Pumpkin Sauce:

  • 3 cups milk, I used 1%
  • 1.5 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
  • 1.5 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 sage leaves
  • 2.5 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cups grated mild cheddar
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Caramelized Onions, Apples and Sage:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
  2. Add the onions and sage, and cook until the onions brown, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the apples when the onions are browned and sear briefly, allowing them to turn faintly golden. Remove from the heat and set aside in the pan.


  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, with a pinch of salt.
  2. Cook for exactly 5 minutes, until the pasta is al dente (slightly tough to the bite).
  3. Drain the pasta and transfer it back to the pot.
  4. Toss in the onions, apples and extra butter. Swirl until the butter melts to keep the pasta from sticking.
  5. Cover with a lid and set aside.

Crispy Whole Wheat Topping:

  1. Toss everything together in a bowl and set aside.

Cheesy Pumpkin Sauce:

  1. Prepare a plate with a paper towel for draining the fried sage leaves.
  2. In a small pot over medium heat, heat the milk, pumpkin puree, spices and syrup. Mix thoroughly until it becomes foamy and then remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sage. Fry the sage until the butter becomes golden and foamy – don’t let it brown. Remove the butter from the heat and scoop out the sage onto a paper towel with a slotted spoon.
  4. Add the garlic as quickly as possible while the butter is still hot, stirring for one minute until it turns golden.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring consistently into a smooth paste.
  6. Next add about half the milk mixture, and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining milk mixture and mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the cheddar 1 cup at a time, and mix to incorporate with the sauce.
  8. Add the salt and pepper and stir one last time.


  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Pour your pasta and fixin’s into a 9 x 13 baking dish (slightly smaller or bigger will do!). Try to layer the pasta at least 1 inch thick.
  3. Pour the sauce over the pasta.
  4. Layer the bread crumb topping generously on top.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, until the bread crumbs become toasted brown.
  6. Garnish with fried sage leaves!

Acorn Squash Bowls:

  1. I must give due credit to my friend Jeff, who’s bright idea was the pumpkin bowls! Mini-pumpkins seemed to have disappeared in Halloween’s wake, but acorn squash still abounds (and is sweeter!).
  2. Preheat the oven to 400.
  3. Cut a lid in each acorn squash and scoop out the seeds. Save them for roasting.
  4. With a brush or spoon, lather the inside of the squash and the underside of the lids with maple syrup.
  5. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the interior flesh is just tender.
  6. Assemble the mac n’ jack in the bowls, as opposed to your baking dish, and bake for 20 minutes more. So cute!


Allergens: dairy, milk

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