I know that all you really want at this point is a recipe for a nice cold glass of seltzer. Believe me—I hear you. I’m like the Smurf balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, only what came out of the helium tank was actually mashed potatoes and linzer cookies and Prosecco. And yet the children still expect to be fed! It’s baffling. I want to say: my God, kids, haven’t you eaten enough? And yet, strangely, their bodies do not take a storage approach to meals. In fact, Ben just wandered past with 6 inches of ankles dangling bonily from beneath his pajama cuffs. It’s no wonder.
And so, in the likelihood that you are still wrangling a fridge full of leftovers into actual lunches and dinners, I’m giving you this easy, delicious pasta with ham and peas. It’s creamy and comforting, with a tiny bit of zing from lemon, and a tiny bit of crunch from butter-toasted bread crumbs. Plus, it’s so blandly appealing that you’d have to be a real Scrooge not to like it—although in that case, perhaps the ghost of the hot sauce bottle could relieve you of your misery. We actually ate it for lunch: when we’re all home all day, I like to serve a large meal midday and then, come dinnertime, we can sit around the living room nibbling cheese and crackers and fruit, or hummus and carrots and pita chips while we play Qwerkle and Bananagrams and do jigsaw puzzles and finish the Prosecco. Oh, I love holidays.
If you don’t have leftover ham, you could make this with deli ham (just cut it into strips, or else have them slice it thick and then you can dice it), with cooked bacon, with leftover turkey, or utterly meatless. It will still be good. But our ham? I don’t know what to say about our ham, except that we had to get on a wait-list at Pekarski’s Smokehouse to get it, and maybe its hard-wonness made it all the more succulent. Or maybe it was just insanely good. “Please please please,” I said to Mrs. Pekarski over the phone. “Our friends? Who used to be turkey-eating vegetarians? Well, I just found out that they actually eat ham now? And we really really need a Pekarski’s ham.” After we got the call (some lunatic had canceled their ham order), we flew to the shop, and Mrs. Pekarski said, “Oh, you’re the one that was so desperate! I got off the phone with you and I said, ‘We gotta get this girl a ham.’” I am blessed to be so well understood.
And please—feel free to share more ideas for leftover ham, seeing as how we still have lots of it. My parents actually took some home with them, and even they had to make soup from the leftovers left over from their leftovers. Proving, somehow, that they never should have left us.
Cozy Noodles with Ham and Peas
If you don’t have egg noodles, swap in another pasta shape—fusilli or wagon wheels, say—but don’t use a full pound or there won’t be quite enough sauce.
3 tablespoons butter (divided use)
1 small onion, finely diced
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (made from crumbling or blending a slice of white or wheat or French bread, preferably a bit stale)
12 ounces wide egg noodles
¾ cup chicken broth
1 cup cubed or sliced ham (nobody will complain if there’s more)
1 cup frozen peas
¾ cup half and half
Juice and grated zest of ¼ lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely chopped parsley
Freshly grated parmesan
Stick your pasta bowls in a 200-degree oven to warm while you prepare the pasta. Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and salt it heavily (I use about a quarter of a cup of kosher salt, but you could use half that amount of table salt). Taste it—it should taste as salty as seawater. And really, I can’t stress this enough: if your cooking water isn’t heavily salted, the pasta will stubbornly insist on remaining bland, no matter how much tasty love you lavish on it later. By contrast, well-salted pasta is almost always good, even if it is imperfectly sauced. Okay. I see that you’re drifting off during my little salt lecture. I’ll move along.
In a wide pan over medium-low heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter and sauté the onion until it’s very soft and starting to turn golden, around ten minutes. Meanwhile melt the other tablespoon of butter in a very small pan, and fry the breadcrumbs over medium heat until they are brown and crisp. Scrape them into a bowl when they’re done, so they don’t burn in the still-hot pan while you’re not looking.
When the onions are done, dump the noodles into the water and give them a stir. Now add the broth, peas, and ham to the onions, turn up the heat, and boil vigorously until the broth is reduced by about half (i.e. there is much less of it left in the pan), then add the half and half and continue to boil the sauce while you season it with the lemon zest and juice and salt and pepper (taste it first—the ham may add enough salt). Turn the sauce way down low while you drain the pasta, which should be done right about now. Stir the pasta into the sauce, stir in the parsley, and taste: does it need anything? A little salt or pepper or a little more lemon juice or zest? When it is perfectly delicious, serve it in the warm bowls and pass the cheese and breadcrumbs.