There’s nothing more delectable than a gorgeous ham that takes center stage on the spread at a holiday gathering. A close second, though, are the variety of leftovers that can be made with the lean, versatile meat. I love to add extra ham to soups, stews, grilled cheese sandwiches, scalloped potatoes and, most recently, to a cheesy pasta bake that warms from the inside out on the chilly days of winter.
This dish also includes shelled edamame which brings out vibrant color, a boost of protein and burst of added freshness. The best part about this meal is that it can be made ahead, assembled, and baked off later in the day or the next day.
There’s a certain amount of pride we take in the ham we serve up on the holidays. Chances are, we know the Iowa farmer who raised the pigs that make the ham, and that’s pretty special to us. The best part is witnessing the happiness of family when they taste those treasured recipes that bring us all so much comfort.
This time of year we’re spending quite a bit of time trudging out to our barns and checking mama sows that have had — or will soon have — litters of baby pigs. The barns are warm; feeling nearly tropical after dodging snowdrifts or walking out into the night with a flashlight and a scarf over your eyes for protection from the freezing brutal winds.
Once in the barn, hands are washed up, hair is tied back and work is to be done. This is such an exciting time on the farm and the kids especially love it because they can stay up as late as they want on Christmas break to witness the miracle of birth and help get the piglets dry and nursing with their mother as soon as possible.
The holiday season can feel so hectic sometimes, but the barn is always a place to escape that. It seems as though time slows down in the barn, and that’s okay with me. After all, that’s where the kids will learn the most about life.
The holidays are a good time for everyone to slow down and savor moments that turn into memories and cherish the time spent with family and friends.
Cheesy Ham Pasta Bake with Edamame
Makes one 9×13 casserole, serves 8-12
4 TBSP butter
1/2 cup of minced sweet yellow onion
4 TBSP flour
4 cups 2% or whole milk
1 tsp ground mustard
2 tsp seasoned salt, divided
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 cups shredded jack cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
3 cups of leftover ham, chopped into 1/2” pieces
2 cups of shelled edamame
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 pound box of pasta (cellentani, rigatoni, penne etc.) cooked to al dente, drained
1 C reserved pasta cooking water
9×13 baking dish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large stock pot over medium heat, add butter and onion. Cook for 5 minutes until onion is translucent.
- To the onion and butter mixture, add flour and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes, then add milk, stirring well again. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture comes to a simmer. Simmer for 2-4 minutes, or until thickened.
- Remove from heat and add ground mustard, 1 ½ tsp of the seasoned salt, black pepper and all cheese minus 1 cup of the shredded cheese which will be used for garnish. Stir or whisk well until smooth.
- Add ham, edamame and bell pepper. Set aside.
- Boil pasta for 2 minutes less than box instructions indicate.
- Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.
- Add pasta to large stock pot with cheese/ham/edamame sauce. Stir well.
- Add some pasta cooking liquid if needed so the sauce is not too thick. It will continue to cook during the bake time, so it needs to be a bit looser to start.
- Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray. Add cheese sauce covered pasta mixture. Sprinkle reserved shredded cheese on top. Sprinkle with ½ tsp seasoned salt.
- Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. For a browned top, broil on high for 2-4 minutes until top of mac and cheese is browned. Serve warm. Makes 6-10 servings
For make-ahead preparation, simply prepare the casserole up to the point of baking, cover with foil for up to 24 hours, then bake at 350 F for 40 minutes, when ready. For freezer preparation, cover the unbaked casserole with plastic wrap, pressing it to the surface so air will not come between the plastic and the casserole. Cover tightly with aluminum foil as well, and freeze. When ready to bake, remove casserole from freezer, remove foil and plastic wrap, re-cover with foil and bake at 350 F for 1 hour and 10 minutes, covered with foil, then remove foil and broil for a couple of minutes to brown cheese. Serve warm.