Pasta with pumpkin sauce is made with homemade pumpkin puree so it’s creamy and flavorful! Make this recipe for an easy fall or winter meal.
This dish bursts with fall flavors including sweet pumpkin and earthy sage leaves. Parmesan cheese adds a nutty saltiness, while onions and garlic bring savory goodness.
Experimenting with Homemade Pumpkin Puree
I’ve been experimenting quite a bit with homemade pumpkin puree this fall, and I think I’m officially hooked on it. In theory, homemade puree should be the exact same product sold in a Libby’s can. However, as I was experimenting with this recipe, I realized how incorrect that theory really is!
This dish is very similar (almost identical, other than the primary ingredient)my butternut squash pasta recipe. That one uses freshly roasted and pureed butternut squash. Since I had a can of pumpkin puree wasting precious pantry space, I decided to use that in round one of recipe testing this time.
You guys, I couldn’t believe how bad the results tasted when I used canned pumpkin! At first I thought something must have been off with my original recipe, but that idea was quickly debunked when I retested using fresh pumpkin puree. The taste difference is astounding.
Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce Using Fresh Pumpkin
Making pasta with pumpkin sauce using homemade pumpkin puree does take more work. If you have the time, you won’t regret spending it on this meal; you’ll wind up with a completely satisfying dish.
The only way to truly understand the difference between fresh and canned pumpkin is to do a side-by-side taste test. Canned pumpkin has an off-putting, slightly metallic flavor, with an unpleasant sweetness (not the sugary kind, more like… medicine?)
Fresh pumpkin, on the other hand, tastes sweet, smooth, earthy and delicate. The color is brighter and a bit more orange-yellow, whereas canned pumpkin is dark and almost looks like it has some orange food coloring added (this might be because canned is apparently pureed with the actual pumpkin skins still attached).
You can totally get away with using canned for recipes like pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, or even, sigh, pie. However, for a recipe like pumpkin pasta, with only a few ingredients and without pumpkin pie spice to mask the can’s flavor, you really do want to use fresh. I’m not just being a snob.
- Extra virgin olive oil– As with any pasta dish, olive oil is pretty much the standard. Feel free to use any other cooking oil of your choice though
- Yellow onion
- Garlic– Fresh ingredients mean bigger, better flavor. Skip the spice aisle bottles and use fresh garlic
- Parmesan cheese
- Half-and-half– Although it’s higher in calories and fat than whole milk, this dairy product is the key to creating sauce with a thicky, creamy consistency
- Homemade pumpkin puree
- Lemon juice
How to Make Pumpkin Pasta
Step 1: Cook the Onions
You don’t need to do a full caramelization of the onions, but I recommend letting them brown up a bit, letting a glaze form on the bottom of the pan and then deglazing periodically with a splash of water, scraping the brown bits back into the onions for added flavor.
If you’d like a more thorough explanation of glazing/deglazing and why it’s awesome, check out my tutorials on caramelized onions.
Step 2: Add Garlic and Sage
The garlic and sage only need around a minute to cook, so stir them in once the onions are ready.
Step 3: Puree Sauce in a Blender
Add the onion mixture along with the remaining sauce ingredients to a blender. Puree until smooth, then taste for seasoning. I often stress the importance balancing flavors and of learning how to season to taste, since we all have different palates.
If the sauce tastes like it “needs something,” it most likely needs more salt and/or lemon juice to brighten up the flavors.
Step 4: Toss with Pasta
Toss it all together with the pasta. Anytime I make pasta, I reserve some of the pasta water incase I want to thin out the sauce consistency (learn more about this in my tips for how to cook perfect pasta). This is a good recipe to experiment with adding some pasta water.
Recipe Notes and Substitutions
- I haven’t tried this yet, but a reader in my Savory Simple Facebook group said she makes homemade pumpkin puree in her Instant Pot. It sounds like an excellent time saver!
- For a one-pot meal, you can cook the pasta first and then use the same pot for the sauce. Alternately, you can prepare the pasta and sauce simultaneously in different pots to save time.
- For a lighter meal, you can replace the half-and-half with whole milk or part-skim milk.
- To grate the cheese, I recommend using a microplane zester or the finest setting on your box grater. Larger shreds of parmesan may not melt as smoothly into the sauce, creating a lumpier texture.
Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce (Using Fresh Pumpkin)
- 8 ounces uncooked pasta (I used linguine)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium)
- 2 large or 3 small cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (see notes)
- 1/2 cup half-and-half (or 50% whole milk + 50% heavy cream)
- 1 1/2 cups homemade pumpkin puree
- 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- In a large pot of generously salted water, cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Rinse pasta with a bit of cold water or toss with a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent sticking while preparing the other ingredients.
- In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottom saucepan set over medium heat (you can use the same pot used for the pasta), add 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once the oil is warm, add the onions. Cook for 5-10 minutes on medium or medium-low, until the onions have caramelized slightly. Add a tablespoon of water to the pot periodically to detach any brown bits that form, stirring them back into the onions. The more you do this, the more flavorful the final sauce will be, because caramelization = flavor. Add the garlic and sage and cook for an additional minute, stirring frequently, then remove the pot from the heat.
- Microwave the half-and-half for around 45-60 seconds until warm. If you prefer, you can add the half-and-half directly to the pot with the onions and stir over low heat until warmed through, but be careful to make sure the liquid doesn’t simmer and reduce.
- Puree the pumpkin, half-and-half, onion mixture, parmesan, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg in blender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. If the pumpkin sauce tastes like it’s missing something, it likely needs a bit more salt and/or lemon juice to brighten the flavors.
- Toss pumpkin sauce with the pasta. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add some of the reserved pasta water.
- Serve immediately, optionally garnishing each bowl with a bit of chopped sage. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoy within 3-4 days.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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