If you have leftover ham from the holidays, this is a perfect way to use it. This lovely layered dish gives “casserole” a good name. Pasta, Gruyere cheese, minced ham and chopped spinach are bound together in an eggy custard and topped with rye bread crumbs. I made this on a cold dreary afternoon at the lake. Photographing it was a real problem, so what you see was snapped the next day in the slanting light on our porch. The good news is that this dish can be reheated and still tastes as good as the first time.
A cold front is headed to Lake Lure and we are looking forward to lighting a fire in the kitchen fireplace and cooking something in the coals. David has a fascination with hearth cookery. We have an adjustable fireplace grill that just fits into our fire box and a cast iron spider pot with legs. The pot sits in the coals and is perfect for cooking stews and roasts.
David has accomplished a lot this week. Because the lake level has been lowered, he was able to shore up the sea wall and reinforce the boat house supports.
I had a wonderful lunch with my dear blogging friend Penny of The Comforts of Home. We met in Hendersonville, ate brick oven pizza, and shopped on Main Street. It was chilly but sunny. The frigid temperatures remind me of winters in Michigan where I grew up. As nostalgic as it is, I have to say that I am looking forward to returning to Florida soon.
We enjoyed this casserole which I adapted from a recipe in Gourmet Magazine from 1993. Every time I return to the lake, I peruse my collection of magazines dating back to 1968. I wonder if any of them are now collector’s items? The one thing I know for sure is that any recipe from Gourmet is a winner.
HAM, SPINACH, AND PASTA GRATIN
1/2 pound fusilli or other dried pasta
2 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 1/2 pound)
1 pound cooked ham, chopped fine (preferably in a food processor, about 3 cups)
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, cooked, drained, and squeezed dry
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
5 large eggs
3 cups milk
1 1/4 cups fresh rye bread crumbs
In a pot of salted boiling water boil the pasta until it is al dente, drain it well, and spread it in a greased 2-quart flameproof shallow baking dish. Sprinkle the pasta with 1/2 cups of the Gruyere, top the Gruyere with the ham, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle the ham with 1 cup of the remaining Gruyere. In a heavy skillet cook the onion and the garlic in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, add the spinach, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the excess liquid is evaporated. Top the ham layer with the spinach mixture.
In a bowl whisk together the eggs, the milk, and salt and pepper to taste, pour the custard slowly over the spinach mixture, and bake the gratin, covered with foil, in the middle of a preheated 400 degree oven for 50 minutes, or until the custard is set. Discard the foil, in a small bowl toss together the remaining 1 cup Gruyere and the bread crumbs, and sprinkle the topping evenly over the custard. Broil the grain under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Serves 6 to 8.