Ham and Potato Casserole

I often get requests to share recipes with people, but I can very seldom provide what people want. They expect precise ingredients and measurements, where I prefer to work in approximations. The difficulty is that the recipe book and the television cooking show have accustomed us to the idea that a dish must be reproducible time after time, that this kind of consistency is one of the signs of a good cook. Now, I should say that I do not entirely disagree with this assumption in certain situations. A professional kitchen, for example, needs to have this kind of consistency in order to be successful, and the ability to produce it is a skill that a good cook certainly requires. I would suggest, however, that most circumstances do not require a dish to be precisely the same time after time, and that a certain variety can also be a mark of a skillful cook, as a way of expressing creativity and personality.

So, though I will share the following recipe by popular demand, I am leaving it intentionally a little vague, not only because I did not actually measure anything as I was making it, but also because I hope you will find room in it to express your own culinary personality.

First, cube some potatoes, a little smaller than bite-sized, and boil them until just tender. A fork should go into them, but they should not be mushy. Drain them and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Reserve them for later.

Second, saute a chopped onion in butter until it sweats, and do use real butter if at all possible. Add a healthy amount of finely chopped garlic. Add some roughly cut red peppers. Add some roughly cut green, leafy vegetable: I used carrot leaves, but spinach or kale or something similar would work too. Add cubed ham, or you could use bacon as well, but make it something salty and smoked and flavourful, because boiled chicken breast is not going to cut it here. When everything is well cooked together, remove from the heat and add to the potatoes.

Third, make a bechamel sauce (melt butter; add flour and stir until it just begins to change colour; add milk, stirring constantly, until the sauce achieves the consistency that you want), but add a strong dose of mustard powder to the flour stage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix the sauce into the potatoes.

Fourth, mix the potatoes well and put in a large shallow roasting pan. Grate a sharp cheddar cheese over the top, liberally. Cook at 350 degrees until the cheese looks good and bubbly. Eat it.

This will not win you any culinary awards, but it will make you friends and taste great and expand your waistline, all of which is more to the point.

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4 comments
  1. Katerina said:

    P.S. Everybody:

    This is the best dinner EVER.

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