There's nothing cozier—or easier to pull off—than sheet-pan mac and cheese. It's perfectly creamy and crunchy, lacking in any superfluous bits. And when pumpkin and brown butter join the party, well, it's unstoppable. This recipe draws inspiration from Amanda Hesser's Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese, which I've made approximately one million times each winter since it was published in 2010. Think of this fall-flavor-forward version as a flexible blueprint: play around with cheese-type, and scale up (or down) the pumpkin to your taste. Toss in caramelized shallots, or chunks of roasted pumpkin or squash if you please. Panko can be swapped out for other breadcrumbs, or jazzed up with a pinch of cayenne. No matter what path you take, just be sure to go back for seconds. —Ella Quittner
Heat oven to 475°F. Grease a 11x17-inch sheet pan with rimmed edges.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for only 4 to 5 minutes, so they’re quite al dente—just soft enough that if you taste one, there's no audible crunch. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water and drain the pot of pasta.
In the same pot you used for the noodles, brown 6 tablespoons of butter: Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until it foams. The foam will recede, and the butter will be golden-tan. (If your pot is dark, you’ll know it’s ready when it starts to give off a deeply appealing rich, nutty scent.) Turn the heat down to low, add back the noodles, and immediately toss so your butter doesn’t stay on the bottom and burn. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of the hot reserved cooking water. Add the salt, pepper, three-quarters of the cheddar (about 12 ounces), Pecorino, and milk, and stir until you have a homogenous, creamy sauce. Mix in the pumpkin puree, adding a little more reserved water if needed to thin slightly. Turn off the heat.
Transfer to the sheet pan, and sprinkle the remaining 4 ounces of cheddar, the panko, and the pumpkin seeds over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the panko is nice and toasted, and some of the cheesy noodles sticking out around the edges are tinged with amber spots.
Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.