This easy pumpkin pasta sauce is creamy and cheesy, with a subtle heat! Think of it as a fun twist on classic vodka sauce, but with delightful pumpkin instead of tomato. Best of all, it's a quick weeknight dinner that comes together in just about 30 minutes.
As soon as fall rolls around, I can guarantee I'll be making ALL the pumpkin recipes, like my garlic pumpkin cheesy bread and this wonderful creamy pumpkin pasta recipe. The pumpkin adds an earthy, comforting flavor, balanced nicely with garlic, onion, chili flakes, and heavy cream.
Inspired by the classic spicy vodka pasta, I cook down the pumpkin (like you would tomato paste), then deglaze with a splash of vodka to bring a little heat. It's unconventional, but yields a delicious sauce! The resulting dish is cozy and rich, almost like an alfredo, and it's truly perfect way to usher in the cooler weather.
Why This Recipe Works
- It's fast. Dinner's on the table in 30 minutes!
- It's convenient. More than half of the ingredients are staple pantry items, so you can forgo a trip to the grocery store.
- It's delicious. Reader Christina gave this a 5-star review, saying "Delicious. Even the husband who doesn't like pumpkin really liked it."
- Garlic: I recommend using fresh garlic, but you can also sub in 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Just make sure to add it with the pumpkin puree, so it doesn't burn.
- Vodka: Like a classic vodka sauce, vodka adds a bit of "heat" and extra flavor to the dish. However, you can substitute this with vegetable broth if desired.
- Pumpkin Puree: You can use canned pureed pumpkin or make your own pumpkin puree, just avoid buying "pumpkin pie filling" which has added sugar and spices in it! If using homemade pumpkin puree, use 1 cup puree instead of ¾ cup.
- Heavy Cream: Cream is the secret to achieving such a comforting sauce. Unfortunately, half-and-half will curdle when boiled, so I don't recommend it as a substitute.
- Pasta: I prefer a short cut, like pipette rigate, rigatoni, radiatore, or fusilli.
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card.
There are lots of ways to play around with this recipe! Here are some of my favorite variations:
- Instead of red pepper flakes, use 1 ½ - 2 teaspoons calabrian chili paste or gochujang paste.
- Swap out the pumpkin for butternut squash puree. You can buy frozen butternut squash, reheat it, then puree it.
- For a more earthy flavor profile, crisp up some fresh sage leaves instead of basil or parsley.
How to Make This Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce Recipe
Step 1: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just before al dente. Make sure to reserve some pasta water to thin out the sauce.
Step 2: Meanwhile, set a large skillet over medium-low heat and saute the olive oil with the garlic and red chili flakes until aromatic. Add the onion, and cook for 7-8 minutes until softened and translucent.
Step 3: Over medium heat, add pumpkin puree and cook until it begins to stick to the sides of the pan and caramelizes slightly.
TIP: Cooking down the pumpkin puree helps removes excess moisture and concentrates the flavors.
Step 4: Add vodka (if using). Simmer for 2 - 3 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates and the smell dissipates. Whisk in cream and simmer for a few minutes over medium-low heat.
Step 5: Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan cheese. If the sauce seems thick, you can loosen it with a bit of pasta water. Make sure to season it with a nice pinch of salt and a generous grind of black pepper.
Step 6: Divide amongst serving bowls, top with fresh herbs and cheese, and enjoy!
- For an extra creamy and smooth sauce, make sure to *very* finely dice the onion. Alternatively, blend the sauce before tossing with pasta.
- Don't skip the step of really cooking down the pumpkin puree. You want the sauce to stick to the sides of the pan and slightly caramelize to concentrate the flavors, so don't turn down the heat!
- Reserve some pasta water. Pasta water has two functions: (1) it thins out the sauce and (2) it helps the sauce cling to the noodles. For more tips, check out my guide on how to properly cook pasta.
Store leftover pasta in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat on the stove with a splash of milk or cream to achieve a creamy sauce.
I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard feedback that you can, indeed, make a delicious vegan pumpkin pasta sauce from this recipe. To make a vegan version, you can sub the cream for cashew cream or coconut milk.
Yes! Canned pumpkin and pumpkin puree are both 100% steamed, cooked pumpkin. Canned pumpkin doesn't contain any spices, sugar, or other additives.
This can happen if the sauce reduces too much or your pumpkin puree is on the thicker side. To fix this, add a splash of pasta water at a time to loosen up the sauce.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce
- 8 ounces dried short pasta, such as rigatoni, fusilli, or pipette rigate
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, use half for a milder sauce
- 1 medium onion, very finely diced
- Salt and black pepper
- ¾ cup canned pumpkin puree, or 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup vodka, or vegetable broth for a non-alcoholic version
- 1 cup heavy cream, warmed to room temperature to prevent the sauce from breaking
- ½ cup loosely packed grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for topping
- A handful of basil leaves or chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 8 ounces dried short pasta according to package instructions until just before al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain pasta.
- Saute the aromatics: Meanwhile, set a large skillet with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add minced garlic and ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, and saute for 1 minute until aromatic.Add diced onion, and saute for 7 - 8 minutes until soft and translucent. Season with salt and pepper.Note: If the bottom of the pan begins to brown, you can gently scrape the bits with a wooden spoon.
- Cook down the pumpkin: Over medium heat, ¾ cup canned pumpkin puree and cook down for about 3 - 4 minutes, stirring frequently until any remaining moisture evaporates from the puree.Note: You will know the moisture has evaporated when the puree begins to stick to the sides of the pan. It may also start caramelizing and turning light-brown at the bottom of the pan -- this is good!
- Add vodka: Add ¼ cup vodka (or vegetable broth). Let simmer for 2 - 4 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates and the smell dissipates.
- Simmer cream: Reduce the heat to medium-low, then stir in 1 cup heavy cream. Simmer for 5 minutes (or until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon).
- Add the pasta: Season pumpkin sauce with salt and pepper and reduce heat to low. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to the sauce. Add ½ cup loosely packed grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and stir pasta into sauce. Loosen the sauce with a few tablespoons of pasta water, then simmer for 1 - 2 minutes until sauce looks glossy and clings to the pasta. Season again with salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve: Divide among serving bowls, and top with fresh herbs and additional cheese if desired.