The  “Cook Vegetables you Want to Eat” chapter of my next cookbook, which is called PREP and written for teens and college kids, starts off like this:

If you’re like most people, you’ve been told to “eat your vegetables” since you were little — as if eating vegetables is a chore, like doing homework or taking out the trash. It’s certainly true that eating vegetables is smart, because they’re ridiculously good for you. But they’re also just really good. If you learn to cook vegetables well and choose the ones you like, you may start eating them because you want to, not because someone is threatening to withhold dessert if you don’t.

Where Vegetables Shine

Today’s recipe is a prime example of showing off vegetables at their shiny best. Indeed, two of Mother Nature’s finest — pumpkin and kale — are the star players in a dish that is traditionally much more about good taste than good nutrition. This pasta has both.

Cheesy Baked Pumpkin Pasta with Kale

It starts with good ingredients. I picked up everything at my local Sprouts Farmers’ Market, where I was happy to find canned organic pumpkin at an affordable price. Be sure to pick up plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling (which is embellished with sugar and seasonings that are better served in pie than pasta).

A Sauce on the Lighter Side

Next is to whirl up the sauce in a blender, which has the consistency of something far more decadent than it really is. Blending low-fat milk and cottage cheese with creamy pumpkin makes a luscious sauce without the need for heavy cream. Toss that with hot pasta, kale, Gruyere cheese, and just enough bacon to add a smokey hit of flavor. Then, pile it into a cast iron skillet before browning in the oven.

Cheesy Baked Pumpkin Pasta with KaleThe result is one-dish meal with some pretty stellar stats, nutritionally speaking:  each serving delivers a megadose of vitamins A and D, along with more than 1/3 of daily needs for calcium, plenty of iron and protein, and a boost of fiber (insert fist bump emoji here).

Even better, it’s in a tasty dish with a crusty crown that even a teenager would be hard pressed to turn away.

Creamy Baked Pumpkin Pasta with Kale
5 from 1 vote
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Cheesy Baked Pumpkin Pasta with Kale and Bacon

This pasta may look decadent, but it’s creaminess comes mostly from a blend of low fat milk, cottage cheese, and pumpkin. It also delivers big time in terms of nutrition, boasting over 6 cups of added vegetables. 

Course Dinner
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 34 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 4 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 487 kcal
Author katiemorford

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon (optional if you prefer a vegetarian version of the dish)
  • 16 ounces penne pasta (use whole-grain and/or gluten-free as desired)
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • One 15-ounce can Sprouts brand pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 ¾ cup lowfat milk
  • 1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta cooking water
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 dashes nutmeg
  • 2 ½ cups coarsely grated, lightly packed Gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Lay the bacon slices in a deep 12-inch skillet, such as cast iron. Put in the oven to bake until crispy and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pan from the oven. Drain bacon on a paper town and chop. Drain grease from the skillet (don’t clean, since you will use the skillet again).

  3. Meanwhile, put a large pot of water on the stove and add enough salt so it tastes like the sea. Bring to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. When the pasta is just nearly cooked, add the kale to the pot and cook until the pasta is done. Drain well. Return to the pasta cooking pot.

  4. While the pasta cooks, put the pumpkin, milk, cottage cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into a blender and run until smooth with no bits of cottage cheese remaining. Pour into the pot with the cooked pasta and kale. Add 2 cups of the cheese and the bacon and stir well to blend. The heat of the pasta with melt everything together. 

  5. Transfer the pasta to the 12-inch skillet. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake until the top is nicely browned, 30 minutes.