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Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Note: I originally developed this recipe for the National Pasta Association in partnership with the Healthy Aperture Blogger Network. I retested and updated it to make it even more delicious!

Creamy pumpkin pasta sauce is the stuff that pasta dreams are made of. This super-easy sauce is full of pumpkin, sage, nutmeg, garlic, onion, and sweet Italian sausage. It clings to your pasta and coats every bite with the most delicious combination of fall flavors.

Of course, this is delicious during the fall for pumpkin season, But if you have a can of pureed pumpkin in the pantry (who doesn’t?!), you can make it whenever you’re craving a creamy pasta dish that’s good for you too. Because pumpkin is packed with antioxidants from a boatload of beta-carotene.

A closeup shot of a white casserole dish filled with rigatoni with creamy pumpkin pasta.

My inspiration for this recipe was a dish I had in Florence, Italy, many years ago. And we all know what pasta is to Italy. I still remember that dish that featured fresh sweet sausage, a creamy blue cheese sauce, and pasta tubes. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

SO. Good. My then-teenage son actually ordered a second portion.

I don’t think I’d even heard of pumpkin pasta sauce until then, but it’s a thing in Tuscany. You can find jarred pumpkin sauce here in the U.S. every once in a while, but this one is seriously so easy to make there’s no need to buy it.

And as much as I love my 3-ingredient homemade pasta sauce, this pumpkin sauce is a nice (and surprising) change from red sauce, pesto sauce, or even creamy cheddar or alfredo cheese sauce for pasta night. Trust me.

Ingredients and Variations for This Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

You only need a handful of ingredients to make this delicious sauce. Canned pureed pumpkin is a must, and fortunately, you can find it year-round in the grocery store. If you’re reading this in October when everything pumpkin is on sale, stock up on a few cans. they’ll last for well over a year in your pantry.

Here are the key ingredients I use to make this recipe and some ideas for substitutions.

  • Canned pureed pumpkin. Double-check to make sure you’re grabbing a can of PLAIN pureed pumpkin. NOT pumpkin pie filling. Because that would turn this pasta dish into a dessert.
  • Tomato paste. I always keep a tube of tomato paste in the refrigerator because it adds a little bit of umami flavor to so many dishes. You won’t taste any tomato in this dish for the tomato paste. It just deepens the flavors.
  • Fresh and dried sage. What can I say, I love sage, and outside of Thanksgiving, I don’t use it enough. If you don’t have fresh sage, add an extra pinch of dried sage.
  • Cream. I use a little bit in this recipe because it makes the sauce velvety smooth. If you prefer non-dairy or lower fat, you can skip the cream and use oat milk. It’s creamier than almond milk, and unlike coconut milk (which would add an odd flavor here), it has a pretty neutral flavor.
  • Italian sausage. It’s optional, but I love the added flavor (and protein) sausage provides. I like the sweet Italian chicken sausages from Sprouts, but you can also use turkey or pork sausage. If you like some heat, use hot Italian sausages. Or if you’re not into sausage, you can skip it.
  • Cheese. I love the salty bite of Parmesan, but Romano would also work. And if you’re adventurous, this recipe is also delicious with a little blue cheese or Gorgonzola dolce.
  • Nuts. These add a nice crunch to the top, as well as some delicious nutty flavor. Hazelnuts are divine with the other flavors in this dish. You can usually find chopped hazelnuts in the baking section of the grocery store. If you can’t find them, substitute chopped walnuts. Make sure you toast your nuts in a hot frying pan before adding them to the pasta. It takes just a few seconds (don’t let them burn), and toasting brings out the nutty flavor.
An overhead shot of a white casserole dish and two white bowls of rigatoni with creamy pumpkin pasta sauce.

What Pasta Shapes Go With This Sauce?

Pretty much any shape of pasta will work with tasty pumpkin pasta sauce. But I highly recommend a pasta shape that will catch lots of sauce.

I often use rigatoni for this recipe because the sauce clings to the outside and inside of the tubes. Ziti would work well, too, as would farfalle (bowtie pasta), or shells. If you prefer flat noodle pasta, try pappardelle or fettuccini.

One important tip is to not overcook your pasta. Aim for al dente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian. Your pasta should be tender on the outside but with a bite or firmness on the inside.

The only way to tell if your pasta is al dente is to taste it. Try to grab a taste before you think it’s done. That way, you can keep a close eye on it, so it doesn’t overcook. Your pasta will continue to cook for another minute once you add it to your sauce, so aim for al dente, and you’ll avoid soft, gummy pasta.

A white casserole dish filled with rigatoni and creamy pumpkin pasta sauce

Questions and Tips

What does pumpkin taste like?

Pumpkin is a cousin to other orange winter squash. Most people are used to tasting pumpkin all spiced up with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. But plain pumpkin tastes like a cross between a plain sweet potato and butternut squash. It has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor.

Can you swap squash for canned pumpkin?

Yes, you can use butternut squash if you prefer. If you find pureed squash in a can, use that. Otherwise, an easy option is frozen butternut squash cubes. Just steam them and puree them in a food processor or blender.

Can you make this recipe ahead of time? How do you reheat it?

You can make the creamy pumpkin pasta sauce ahead of time and cook the pasta in advance. But don’t combine the sauce with the pasta until you’re ready to serve.

Keep the sauce in the refrigerator and reheat it in a large saucepan when ready to serve. It will thicken up a bit as it sits in the refrigerator so add a little extra chicken stock to thin it. Put the cooked pasta in a colander and run it under hot water to warm and moisten it.

Can you freeze this pasta sauce?

You can freeze it for up to three months in an airtight container. Freeze only the sauce, not the pasta with the sauce. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the refrigerator and gently heat it in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Add extra chicken stock or cream if it seems too thick or thin.

What meat goes with creamy pumpkin pasta sauce?

Instead of Italian sausage, try shredded chicken or beef. You can also leave the meat out of the sauce and serve it with meat-filled ravioli.

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

A delicious, creamy, savory pasta sauce full of fall flavors
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin
Course: dinner
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 376kcal

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage chicken or turkey
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup chicken stock low sodium
  • 1 cup can pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese and extra to serve if desired
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts toasted
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage and parsley

Instructions

  • Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and set it aside as you prepare the sauce.
  • Heat the oil in a large saute pan on medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes until light golden brown. Add the garlic.
  • Remove the sausage from the casings, add it to the pan and break up with a spatula. Cook sausage until browned and no longer pink.
  • Reduce the heat to medium, and add the tomato paste, dried sage, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
  • Add the chicken stock and pumpkin puree. Stir the sauce to combine. Add the cream and stir again. Let the sauce heat through until it starts to bubble.
  • Turn off the heat and add the 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Add salt to taste.
  • Fold in the pasta, and if the sauce needs to be loosened a bit, add extra chicken stock, a few tablespoons at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Top the pasta with chopped toasted hazelnuts, minced fresh sage and parsley. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Notes

Make sure to use plain pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling.
If making this in advance, prepare the sauce and refrigerate it, and cook the pasta and refrigerate it. Don’t combine them until ready to serve because it will be too dry.  Reheat the sauce gently over medium heat. If it’s too tight, add extra chicken stock.

Nutrition

Calories: 376kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 765mg | Potassium: 631mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 9991IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 104mg | Iron: 3mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag me @CravingSomethingHealthy!

How do you love your pasta?

Eat well!

10 Comments

  1. Looks fabulous! Pinned.

    1. Craving Something Healthy says:

      Thanks Vicky! I was just thinking about making this recipe again the other day. Perfect time of year for it!

  2. This looks delish!! Pasta perfection! It reminds of a pumpkin mac & cheese that I have on my blog- the pumpkin puree is such a nice addition 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Sonali! Pumpkin mac & cheese sounds wonderful too! I’ll have to check that out 🙂

  3. Looks and sounds amazing Anne. Can’t pin fast enough!!!

    1. Ha Ha! Thanks for pinning Diane 🙂

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