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[Image provided by @sstiavetti]

When we were writing our cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, we made it our top priority to develop dishes that not only tasted great, but were also a vision to behold. We love our standard saucy macs, creamy gratins, and hearty casseroles, but the ones that really capture our hearts are the ones that initiate a captivated silence when they're carried out to the table. This is one of those dishes.

This baked macaroni and cheese recipe was made for your holiday table, and luckily, it takes very little actual work. It's easy: You scrape out a pumpkin, bake it, fill it with herbs, shredded cheese, cooked pasta and crumbled sausage, then finish in the oven to melt everything together. That's it.

If you like, you can even prepare most of the dish ahead of time. Shred the cheese, cook the pasta, and sauté the sausage the day before. A few hours before dinner, pre-bake your pumpkin, drop in the filling, and finish the dish in the oven while everyone sits around, playing with their gifts. It should only warrant 15 minutes worth of work. When you ready to dig into this gorgeous squash-bound gratin, you simply stick a big spoon in the middle and stir, scraping out swathes of tender pumpkin as you serve. The sweet sugar pumpkin mingles well with the cheese and sausage, with sweet, spicy, melty strings trailing after your serving spoon.

Here, we use Fontina and Gruyère, two old-school cheeses that can be found almost anywhere and are well-known for both their gorgeous flavors and melting capabilities. The cheeses are flexible, though, so you can use whatever you've got on hand. You can use all Fontina, all Gruyère, or even use all Cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack, Swiss, or any combination thereof. I've made this dish with half Jarlsberg and half Monterey Jack, and it was incredible. We even made a vegetarian version with aged Cheddar—whatever they had handy at Trader Joe's—along with Soyrizo and chopped, canned chipotle pepper. No matter what cheeses we use, this dish is still a show-stopper at the table.

About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.

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