About a year ago we were given a huge spiral-cut honey ham as a gift, which was really great, except one of us was a vegan, one was on a diet and one wouldn’t eat ham on a bet. So, you can see there was a big problem to be solved. So I did what I usually do under these circumstances, I took my ham next door and visited my neighbor, Gourmet Larry.
Well, his eyes lit right up when he spied what I was carrying, because one of his favorite things to cook is green split pea soup made with a ham bone. I asked if he would like to make a deal: the bone and half the ham meat in exchange for vacuum packaging the other half of the ham meat for me to freeze. Pretty much a no-brainer, I know.
So that was how I came to be thawing out one of the packages of ham to use in this mac&cheese recipe. I always seem to be having this battle with my freezer. It gets full of unused ingredients, which I then have to figure out ways to use. And then little containers of the leftovers go back into the freezer to be eaten happily on another day. I think I have six little containers of this mac&cheese waiting at this time. It heats up beautifully in the microwave. Come to think of it, I also have a container of Gourmet Larry’s Split Pea Soup in there, too.
This is the best mac&cheese I have ever eaten. I‘ve never been a big fan of that orangy yellow colored elbow macaroni stuff. (We won’t even mention that yellow and blue box, ok?). But I was looking for recipes that had ham and this one was intriguing with the penne and Swiss cheese. I’ve made this several times, and every time I take that first bite I have to close my eyes and savor the flavor of the cheese, ham and mushrooms. I hope you try this recipe. It is so fine.
Ultimate Mac&Cheese with Ham and Mushrooms
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons shallot, minced
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup ham ¼-inch dice
1 tablespoon flour
¼ cup chicken broth, low sodium
¼ cup milk
1 ½ cups (4.5 ounces) shredded Emmenthaler cheese (or Comte, Gruyere, Cantal)
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
½ cup crème fraîche
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
5 ounces uncooked penne pasta
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs, preferably from sourdough
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9×9-inch baking dish with 1 teaspoon butter.
2. In a medium sauté pan, fry shallots in 1 tablespoon of butter to color, add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add ham and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
3. Make the cheese sauce: In a sauce pan melt 1 tablespoon butter and whisk in 1 tablespoon flour. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in broth and milk, and simmer to thicken, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir 1 cup Emmenthaler cheese into milk and stir until melted. Stir in ¼ cup Parmesan, crème fraîche and salt and pepper. Set aside.
5. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and put in a big bowl. Stir in cheese sauce and mushroom and ham mixture. Mix thoroughly.
6. Pour ½ of pasta mixture into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with ½ remaining Emmenthaler cheese. Pour on remaining pasta mixture and Emmenthaler.
7. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and toss with bread crumbs. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Sprinkle evenly over top of pasta in baking dish.
8. Bake for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly.