Cheesy Ham Peas Baked Penne Casserole

So apparently we’re supposed to get some nasty cold weather here in the ‘Burgh the next few days.  Apparently someone ticked off Mother Nature pretty bad here because having temps in the negative double digits windchill is unheard of around here.  I think the last time I remember -15 below was in 2001 when the Steelers played the Patriots in a playoff game here at Heinz Field.  It was so unbelievably butt cold that day that I wore 3 pairs of sweats, 5 shirts, 2 coats, 2 hats, 3 pairs of socks with feet warmers in my boots, 2 sets of gloves with hand warmers in them, 2 scarves and a blanket.  We were still so cold that I spent like $45 on a blanket at the stadium just to get some semblance of heat.  I think that was the turning point for me when I realized “yeah, cold weather in the ‘burgh sucks!” and my love for Arizona weather evolved.

Therefore with this impending arctic weather that is approaching I’m all about comfort food.  Sadly I’ll still have to venture outside for work but at least I’ll know I’ll have something warm in my tummy to sustain me and help keep the chill off.

I first made this dish after Christmas using up some of my Christmas ham.  It’s a ‘re-purpose’ recipe that Mr. Fantabulous fell in love with!  Even though the Christmas ham is long gone I went out and bought some ham steaks just to make this dish again.  It’s hearty, delicious and just comforting.

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This dish is just pure bliss on a plate!

Now this dish isn’t exactly on the ‘healthy’ side BUT you can certainly ‘healthify’ it rather simply with just a few changes (I’ll show you in the recipe).  It’s simple food really; stuff you’d probably never find in a fancy schmancy restaurant but would definitely be something you’d find on the menu at my bistro (*crosses fingers and says a prayer* … someday).

When I was making this dish I was chatting with my one girlfriend online and was telling her what I was making.  Her response was “Oh, you’re making mac ‘n cheese with ham.” Well let’s just say that led into a very lengthy debate over what constitutes “true mac ‘n cheese”.  When I posed this to our Facebook wall, I believe every person said that true Mac ‘n Cheese was elbow noodles and cheese sauce.  Any ‘add’ ins kind of ‘negate’ the trueness of it but in the end it’s left up to the recipe creator.  Now I make lobster mac ‘n cheese, seafood mac ‘n cheese and about 10 other varieties of it and none of them are with elbow noodles.  For me because this dish isn’t as cheesy where the cheese almost encases the noodle in cheesy love.

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What this dish is though is creamy, mildly cheese, crispy topped, ham and peas infused pasta dish that seriously you will fall in love with.  You can change up the cheeses if you want, go with what you have on hand.  Since I always have a variety of cheeses on hand I decided to keep the types used in this recipe pretty basic (and affordable). Now for me my favorite combination is Asiago, Gruyère, Parmesan and Fontina.  Well considering 2 of those cheeses aren’t exactly in a lot of people’s’ budgets I made it with Mozzarella in lieu of the Gruyère and Fontina.  I’ll be honest, this other cheese combination ROCKED as well.  It’s what gave it that pull-away-cheesy-string effects you see in the pics (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE).

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Speaking of pull-away-cheesy-strings aren’t these pictures awesome?! I’m seriously LOVING my new macro lens Mr. Fantabulous got me for Christmas. I’m getting the hang of it and how to adjust the settings manually.  This dish stores really well in the fridge.  I haven’t tried to make it and then freeze a tray of it – only because it goes too fast in my house.

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This is the time of year where there isn’t much to do outside (if you’re living say in Pittsburgh) – well okay you can ski or ice skate but yeah, that’s not a me thing.  I’m more of a ‘Hey let’s get together at X’s house Sat. night, play board games, do karaoke and bring a covered dish’ type of girl.  This is a fantastic dish to take to one of those get-togethers. It travels well and reheats beautifully!  Just pop it in their oven for 15-20 minutes, heat it up and then set it on the counter with the rest of the foods while you’re playing cards or board games.

*HINT HINT* to my Pittsburgh friends…. I’m up for game night *wink*. LOL

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By now I’m pretty sure you’re mind has wandered to “do I have all of the ingredients on hand to make this today?” or better yet “can I get away with going to the grocery store in my pajamas without being seen???”  Yeah… this is one of those recipes that will make you consider it.  I’ve done it… and got busted by someone I knew.  LOL But hey, in the name of food, it’s worth it.

And um while you’re add it, if you wouldn’t mind making a plate for Mother Nature here so she can cheer up and give us some warm weather here in the ‘Burgh I’d be much obliged!  LOL

Cheesy Ham Peas Baked Penne Casserole
 
Author: 
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Ingredients
  • 2 cups milk (can be fat free)
  • 1 cup half and half (can be fat free)
  • 4 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 6 Tbl cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup shredded Asiago
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (could use 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere and 1/2 cup shredded Fontina)
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces penne pasta (measured before you cook it), cooked until tender yet still firm to the bite (can be wheat or gluten free as well)
  • 2 cups diced, cooked ham (use a ham steak if you don't have leftover Christmas or Easter ham)
  • 2 cups canned (drained) or frozen peas
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (could use 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere)
  • 1 cup shredded provolone cheese
  • Topping
  • 4 Tbl melted butter
  • 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F with the rack in the middle.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.
  3. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  4. Slowly whisk in the milk and half and half so that lumps don't form and until all of the liquid has been added.
  5. Continue whisking over medium-low heat gradually adding the cheese in increments until the mixture is thick and creamy, 4 to 8 minutes.
  6. Stir in freshly ground pepper, salt and nutmeg.
  7. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
  8. Lightly butter a 3 quart baking dish.
  9. In a large bowl add the cooked pasta and the sauce; gently stir.
  10. Add in the ham, mozzarella and provolone and stir.
  11. Gently fold in the peas.
  12. Pour the mixture into the casserole.
  13. In a small bowl mix together the melted butter, bread crumbs and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
  14. Using your fingers sprinkle the mixture over top.
  15. Cover with aluminum foil.
  16. Bake 20 minutes.
  17. Increase the heat to 400F.
  18. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
  19. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

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