If a large succulent ham will be the centerpiece of your Easter meal, there's a good chance at least a small chunk of it will remain when the last diners push away from the table.
And if you will be celebrating Easter at someone else's home, you may be lucky enough to head out the door with a foil-wrapped chunk of ham in hand.
According to a recent survey by the National Pork Board, 67 percent of households will be celebrating Easter with a ham dinner this year. Ham is easy to prepare with few ingredients and no worries. Ham remaining after the meal can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. And with a little slicing or chopping, that meat can turn into another delicious meal or two.
Maybe it's all the "hotdish" I ate as a child, or maybe it's the fact that I always appreciate an unpretentious meal I can toss together with ingredients I have on hand, but I really like the idea of a one-dish meal. A box of angel hair pasta in my pantry, a bag of organic mixed vegetables in my freezer and thick slices of ham and cheese in my refrigerator became a one-pot meal.
Baked Angel Hair with Vegetables and Ham uses ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now. Well, other than the ham, which you might have after Easter. No ham for Easter? No problem. You can buy a 1/4-pound chunk at the deli. Or, as an alternative to ham, drain a can of cannellini beans and add them to the mix. Canned tuna or salmon also are good choices.
I splurged a little on the Gruyere, a relative of Swiss cheese, but much creamier. Its rich nutty flavor is a wonderful complement to smoky ham. Baby Swiss cheese is a less expensive alternative, but actually, you can use any white cheese. I think Provolone would be good, too.
You won't find canned soup in the list of ingredients for this "hotdish." The gourmet in my heart shies away from canned soups. But my comfort-food-seeking soul loves pasta, vegetables from the freezer and meat all held together with a mixture of milk, egg yolks and cheese.
The beauty of this one-dish meal is that you can use any pasta, any cooked vegetables, any cheese that melts well, and any meat or bean that suits you. Can you just imagine how springtime-fresh this dish would become with the addition of steamed fresh asparagus?
Use this basic recipe, go once around your kitchen and see what you can create. No matter the main ingredients, you'll always wind up with only two dirty pots - the one the pasta cooks in and the one used to mix, cook and bake this dish.
Baked Angel Hair with Vegetables and Ham will offer modern casserole sophistication to the gourmet palate and total satisfaction to all comfort-food-for-the-soul seekers who love a good "hotdish."
Baked Angel Hair with Vegetables and Ham
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 2/3 cups milk
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 pound ham, cut into small cubes
1 (10-ounce) bag frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 egg yolks, lightly whisked together
1/2 pound angel hair pasta, cooked and drained
Fresh chives or flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium-size, oven-safe saucepan, melt butter. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in mustard. Pour in milk. When milk is heated, add cheese gradually, stirring to melt. When most of cheese has melted, stir in ham, vegetables, cayenne and pepper. Remove saucepan from heat. Use a ladle to scoop some of the hot liquid into the egg yolks, whisking the mixture as you add the liquid. Continue to ladle hot liquid into yolks, whisking. When there is about a cup of the yolk mixture, pour it back into the cheese mixture in the saucepan and stir to blend. Add the cooked angel hair. Stir to coat the pasta with cheese mixture.
Bake Angel Hair with Vegetables and Ham in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until edges are bubbling and top is beginning to turn brown.
Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped chives or parsley. Makes 6 servings.
Tips from the cook
--Pump up the dietary benefits of this meal by using whole wheat pasta.
--No need to be concerned if the Gruyere cheese seems a little glumpy when you think it should be totally melted into the hot milk. Once it mixes with the pasta and spends some time in the oven, it will melt to smooth creaminess.
--Don't dispose of those egg whites. They will keep in a covered jar in the refrigerator for two or three days. Use them to make egg white omelets, angel food cake or coconut meringue cookies.