Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, Ham, and Cheese Recipe

Never fear if you have plenty of leftover ham. Apart from your usual sandwiches, it’s a fabulous ingredient for pastas. And, if you don’t have leftover ham from an Easter dinner, try just a thick slice of ham, called a ham steak, to make this pasta.

Yes, this is a glorified version of mac & cheese, but it is wonderfully glorified because of the addition of ham—and because of the great cheese, notes meat expert Bruce Aidells, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. His first choice for the cheese is comté, which comes from the French high country bordering Switzerland; French cantal cheese is also a good choice. Next would be a cave aged Gruyère and lastly, a Swiss Ementhaler. And for dessert? Perhaps some malted milk eggs or jelly beans!

Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, Ham, and Cheese

Serves 4-6 as a Main Course

7 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
14 c. chopped shallot
12 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 c. diced ham
2 tbsp. flour
12 c. chicken stock
12 c. whole milk
3 c. (about 9 oz.) shredded Swiss-style cheese such as Comte, Gruyère,
     or Ementhaler cheese, divided
34 c. (about 2 oz.) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 cup crème fraîche
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 oz. uncooked penne pasta
1 c. fresh breadcrumbs

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add shallots and fry until they begin to color. Add mushrooms and a pinch each of salt and pepper and fry 5 minutes more. Add ham and fry 2 minutes more. Set pan aside.

To make cheese sauce, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium low heat. Whisk in flour and continue to whisk until the flour is well coated with the butter. Whisk a minute more then gradually pour in stock and milk, whisking while you combine with the flour. Simmer and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Gradually stir in 2 cups of the Swiss-style cheese and continue to stir for 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Stir in 12 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and then stir in the crème fraîche. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil and cook pasta until tender. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Scrape in the mushroom/ham mixture and stir to disperse.

Grease a 9x13x2-inch baking dish with 2 teaspoons of butter and pour in half of the pasta mixture. Sprinkle with 12 cup of the remaining Swiss-style cheese. Pour in the remaining pasta mixture then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Melt the remaining butter, and in a small bowl, toss with the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sprinkle all of this mixture over the top of the pasta and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.

Nutrition info (per serving): Calories 853 (55 From Fat); Fat 53g (Sat. 31g); Chol 177mg; Sodium 1154mg; Carb 51g; Fiber 3g; Protein 43g

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.