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The Whole Dish blog: Tetrazzini embraces leftover ham

My kids — like most — are macaroni and cheese purists.

But occasionally they have to suffer extraneous ingredients that either need to be used or will raise the health profile of their carbohydrate and fat fix.

Steamed cauliflower with shells and cheddar topped with panko. Leeks and tuna with bowties under a french-fried onion crust. They still manage to summon appetites for Mom’s mac-n-cheese compromises.

I imagine a somewhat warmer reception for leftover ham and peas, one of my go-to vegetables that I can always count on them eating without complaint. And mushrooms — easy for my older son to eat around — compose in my mind the trifecta with cured pork and frozen peas of fast preparations for pasta of any shape.

Tetrazzini, so the story goes, is believed to be named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini, and made famous in the 1920s by chef Louis Paquet. It traditionally is made with chicken or seafood. But any protein works, acknowledges Tribune News Service food writer Gretchen McKay, who also suggests spinach, broccoli florets or asparagus, even left over from Sunday’s feast.

Tribune News Service photo

Leftover Ham Tetrazzini

1 pound spaghetti

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

8 ounces button mushrooms, any tough or dry stems discarded, sliced

Salt, as needed

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks

2 cup chopped leftover ham

1 cup frozen baby peas

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving

1 cup shredded Gouda cheese

Black pepper, as needed

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 F (regular) or 375 F (convection). Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until just shy of al dente, for about 2 minutes less than package directs. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring only occasionally, until mushrooms have released their liquid and started to brown deeply, for 8 to 11 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, for 1 minute.

Add the flour. Stir well, until flour and mushrooms are evenly combined and flour is evenly moistened, for about 1 minute. Whisk in the white wine and let it come to a boil, whisking continuously. Let wine bubble to reduce slightly, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Cook until it thickens noticeably, for about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to low. Whisk in the chunks of cream cheese (don't worry if cream cheese appears curdled), then fold in the ham, peas and cheeses. Season generously with the black pepper. Add drained pasta and toss with tongs to combine. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a small bowl in microwave or pan on stovetop and toss with the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle toasted crumbs all over pasta’s top and bake in preheated oven until bubbly and browned on top, for about 25 minutes.

Let casserole rest for 5 minutes before serving. It will be very creamy at first but will firm up as it cools. Serve with additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Makes 8 servings.

— Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from nytimes.com.