Everyone loves a dish of baked pasta and sauce during the colder months, and this dish is particularly rewarding for the creative cook. Pasta and white sauce are something of a blank canvas, to tweak, adapt and embellish with seasonal variations as the mood takes you. This autumnal take on a favourite comfort food recipe mixes tender, golden wedges of roast pumpkin, gently spiced with garlic, paprika and sage, with a pillowy blanket of cheesy baked macaroni. The deep tang of blue cheese works beautifully alongside sweet, caramelised pumpkin, and the musky perfume of sage gives everything a fresh, almost festive feel. You could leave it there, but I scatter a crust of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and more sage across the pasta, with turns gloriously crisp in the heat of the oven as the thick cheese sauce bubbles up around it. This is the kind of dish that will have everyone sighing with satisfaction around the table.
You can adapt it to suit your mood and the contents of your fridge: mature cheddar or goat’s cheese work well in the sauce, and you could add crumbled walnuts or hazelnuts to the breadcrumb topping. Thyme and rosemary can replace the sage, and you could add even more autumnal flair by mixing some chopped roast chestnuts or mushrooms into the pasta along with the pumpkin. Serve this with a fresh, zingy salad to cut through the richness – I like a mixture of sliced apple, fennel and watercress, with a tangy vinaigrette.