Monday, April 7, 2014

"Leftover" Ham...in a Potato Gratin...and on a Potato & Mushroom Pizza...



In my last post I wrote about how I used up the remainder of a head of cabbage that was originally purchased to make soup.  The cabbage was only part of the story—making the soup also left me with the remains of a package of ham.  Even though the batch of soup was large, my situation is illustrative of the purchasing conundrum of small households everywhere: how to efficiently use up odds and ends of ingredients left from preparing scaled down recipes.  The progression of meals that I prepare in the process of using up these odds and ends—purchasing just one more thing to use up the end of the last thing—sometimes feels like the tale of the old lady who swallowed the fly (with the exception of the ending...of course).  Because even large households experience this kind of thing every now and then, I thought I would share this recent progression.  And since Easter is coming up, lots of households—of all sizes—will have leftover ham in their pantry that they will want to use for something besides ham sandwiches (tasty as those might be...). 

Soup is a great place to start when you are using up leftover ingredients.  If you have a ham bone from your Easter ham, there is nothing better than a simple ham and white bean soup.  But if all you have are slices (or a chunk), then the cabbage soup I made recently would be delicious.  (And you'll have cabbage left to make Gemelli with Italian Sausage...)  The cabbage soup is also good for using up the end of your winter stash of dried beans...and possibly an extra potato or two you might have on your counter.  Although, to me, potatoes are more of a staple and I always have them on hand.  In fact, they figure prominently into the two recipes I want to share today. 

Shortly after I made my cabbage soup, I received a request from a client for an Easter brunch menu.  As I considered the menu, one of the things that came to mind was some kind of potato gratin.  Potato gratins make wonderful holiday side dishes.  Whether made of just potatoes, cream and cheese, or potatoes with other vegetables and adornments, everyone loves them.  They are always a good idea.  


I must have been thinking about this menu...and gratins....around the same time I began to think about my dinner one afternoon because it occurred to me that a gratin with some ham...and maybe some sautéed onions...would make a very nice dinner that night. 

Ham and potatoes "au gratin" is a fairly common American dish.  It is typically made with layers of ham, potatoes and cheddar cheese—all bound with a thick cream sauce.  The sauce is almost always a flour-bound white sauce—either a béchamel (all milk) or a velouté (chicken stock and a little milk)—and is occasionally enriched with a little cream. 

There is nothing wrong with this style of dish, but when I made my gratin, I went back to the potato gratin's French roots.  Instead of cheddar cheese, I used Gruyère (the traditional cheese for a French potato gratin).  And instead of a velouté or a béchamel, I simply poured a mixture of heavy cream and stock over the layered components before baking.  You don't really need the flour.  The starch inherent in the potatoes will thicken the liquid a bit.  Further thickening occurs as the cream reduces during the long baking process. If you aren't familiar with potato gratins as the French make them, I describe the process in a bit more detail in a post I wrote several years ago about a Sweet Potato, Yukon & Turnip Gratin.

Because I wanted to serve my gratin as the entrée for our dinner, I made a trip to the store to pick up some asparagus and salad greens.  I thought the asparagus would be particularly nice with the components of the gratin...and it was.  


You may do as I did and make this gratin with leftover ham for a post holiday dinner, but if you happen to be serving something besides ham as your Easter entrée, this gratin would make a fabulous side dish.  Add some bread, an asparagus side dish, a big green salad and a beautiful dessert and your meal is complete.

After I made the gratin, some ham still remained. Now I had leftover asparagus too.  So... I decided to make a favorite asparagus and mushroom pasta that happens to include a little ham.  (Salty ham really is a perfect complement to asparagus.)  Until recently I had always made this pasta with prosciutto.  Then, in an effort to use up last year's Easter ham, I discovered that it is just as delicious with American-style ham.  This is one of my favorite spring pastas—with American-style ham or any delicious air-cured, European-style ham. 

The astute reader has probably already guessed that after this meal I now had a handful of mushrooms left over (I grabbed a box at the store out of habit, rather than purchasing them loose....).  And of course there was still a very small amount of ham left.... 

As I mentioned at the start, potatoes—like pasta and grains—are a staple at my house...and, it just so happens that they are delicious with both mushrooms and ham.  As I eyed the tiny amount of ham and the few mushrooms, I remembered that I had potatoes.  I also remembered that I still had a small amount of Gruyère left from the gratin.  Pizza seemed the obvious thing to make.  


I supplemented the Gruyère with some Goat Gouda I had purchased for snacking purposes (I always have snacking cheese in my fridge), but you could use any mix of delicious cheeses that you like (see my post on pizza from the remains of the cheese tray).  Not only did this pizza use up the last of the ham...and the mushrooms...and even the Gruyère, it was exceptionally good.  As with the ham and potato gratin, it is a keeper.  I will definitely be making it again.  


Now I am out of ham. Of course I couldn't resist the big beautiful bunch of asparagus I saw during my last trip to the grocery store.  So, it begins again.  I love to cook.  What else is so endlessly creative?...so deeply satisfying?  Asparagus is delicious with ham....   Perhaps I should purchase some more....


Ham & Potato Gratin

3 T. unsalted butter
1 large onion (10 to 12 oz.), peeled and very thinly sliced
8 oz. Ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1/2-inch squares
5 to 6 oz. coarsely grated Gruyère
1 c. Heavy cream
3/4  to 1 c. chicken stock
2 to 2 1/4 lb. russet potatoes
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste


Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and toss to coat in the hot fat.  When the onion begins to sizzle, cover and cook on low until the onions are soft & tender—about 20 minutes.  Uncover and increase the heat a bit.  Cook until any liquid in the pan has evaporated and the onions are sizzling in the butter.  It's OK if they caramelize in a few spots.  Set aside.


Generously butter a 2 1/2 quart shallow gratin.  Warm the cream and 3/4 cup of stock until hot.  Season with salt and pepper.  Peel the potatoes and slice thinly (about 1/16th inch thick). 

Build the gratin:  Ladle in a quarter cup or so of the hot stock/cream mixture.  Shingle in 1/3 of the potatoes.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.  Scatter in half of the onions, half of the ham and 1 1/2 oz. of the cheese. 


Add a ladle full of cream/stock.  Repeat these layers once.  Finish with a layer of potatoes and pour the rest of the liquid over.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.  To find out if you need to add more liquid to the gratin, press down firmly on the potatoes with a wide spatula or your hands.  When you do this, the potatoes should only be partially submerged in the liquid.  If you can't see any liquid around the edges when you do this, add more of the liquid. 


Place the gratin on a baking sheet and cover tightly with foil.  Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until the cream is bubbling around the edges—about 45 minutes.  Uncover.  Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and return to the oven.  Continue to bake until the cream is bubbling thickly (the gratin should not be soupy), the top is golden brown and the potatoes are completely tender—another 35 to 45 minutes.  If time allows, let the gratin rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  Serves 8 as a side, 4 to 6 as an entrée.



  
Potato, Mushroom & Ham Pizza

6 to 7 oz. New, small Yukon or baby Dutch potatoes, well-scrubbed
Olive oil
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 oz. ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1-inch batonettes
a generous tablespoon of minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
5 oz. coarsely grated cheese (I used a mix of 3 oz. Gruyère and 2 oz. Goat Gouda)
Pizza dough for one pizza (see below)

Place the potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with salted water.  Bring to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.  Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

While the potatoes cook, heat a medium sauté pan over moderately high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (about a tablespoon).  When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms. Sauté, regulating the heat to maintain an active sizzle, until the mushrooms are browned and tender—about 5 minutes.  If the mushrooms seem dry, add a bit more oil.  Season with salt & pepper, reduce the heat slightly and add the ham. Cook until the ham is sizzling and any water it has released has evaporated—it will begin to turn golden in spots.  Add the garlic, parsley and pepper flakes and cook briefly—just until fragrant.  Remove from the heat. 

Peel the potatoes and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Place in a small bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.  Taste and salt if necessary. 

Build the pizza:  Roll or stretch the pizza dough out into a 12- to 14-inch round and transfer to a floured baking sheet, pizza pan or peel.  Brush the dough round with 2 to 3 t. olive oil.  Scatter half of the cheese over the dough.  Scatter the potatoes over the cheese, followed by the mushroom mixture and then the remaining cheese.  

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged with golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged a golden brown color—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.



 Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º F)
1 1/8 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more of the flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.

Food Processor Method: Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 1 1/3 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses (five to 10 seconds each) until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (the new “white” whole wheat flour is a good choice).




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