Cooking the pasta in milk, without draining it, emulsifies the pasta starch and sauce together, resulting in a smooth cheese sauce. The sauce starts out looking quite thin, but after you stir in the cheese and let it rest, it thickens up to the perfect consistency.
- Unsalted Butter 4 Tbs
- Fresh Whole Sage Leaves 20 to 25
- All-Purpose Flour 3 Tbs
- Whole Milk 2 cups
- Garlic Powder 1 tsp
- Dry Mustard Powder ½ tsp
- Onion Powder ½ tsp
- Dried Ziti or Macaroni 8 oz
- Grated Cheddar Cheese 2¼ cups
- Canned Pure Pumpkin Puree ¾ cup
- Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Freshly Grated Nutmeg
- Finely Grated Parmigiano
- Melt the butter in a large sauté pan or pot over medium heat. Add the sage leaves, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until crisp, 5 to 15 seconds, depending on the size of the leaves. Remove the crisp leaves to a paper towel to drain. Set aside.
- Whisk the flour into the melted butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is a blond colour and the mixture is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of the milk in a thin stream, continuing to whisk until any lumps are gone and the sauce is smooth and quite thick, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining 1 cup of milk along with 2½ cups of water, as well as the garlic, mustard, and onion powders. Add the uncooked ziti and stir until wisps of steam come up, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low. Let cook, gently bubbling, until the ziti is tender and the sauce starts to thicken, 9 to 10 minutes. (It will still be quite saucy at this point — adding the cheese will thicken it up.)
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and pumpkin puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper and let stand for a couple of minutes; the sauce will thicken as it rests. Crumble the crispy sage leaves on top, and serve hot.