Casserole Cordon Bleu
The crowning moment of a leftover’s existence is winding up in a casserole. I call this one Casserole Cordon Bleu. I wasn’t raised during the Great Depression or anything but my mother was, and my grandmother was raising her during that very difficult time. As a result I’ve also been raised to not let food go to waste. It is in my blood to use everything while it is still good and I think we’ve gotten to the last of that 14 lb ham…FINALLY. Many a sliced ham sandwich was eaten but there were several other more creative dishes in the mix that contained ham to break up the monotony. This one allowed the ham to go out in style.
- 1 lb penne rigate pasta
- 2 and 1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 finely diced onion
- 2 chicken breasts baked, cooled and cubed (reserve the juice)
- 1 cup cubed cooked ham (you could substitute corned beef)
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 cup bread crumbs made with French bread
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes
- salt to taste
First, boil the pasta in salted water 10 or 12 minutes to al’ dente and drain. In the pot pour in the 2 cups milk and cream, garlic powder, pepper, and onion and bring to a boil. Add the cheeses and stir until it thickens and becomes smooth and turn off the heat. Salt to taste (this is a basically an Alfredo sauce). Preheat oven to 350°. Add drained pasta back into the pot and and coat well. Add the juice of the baked chicken, the chicken and ham, the chopped spinach, and fold it all together. Turn it all into a 13″ x 9″ glass or ceramic casserole dish. I had a bit of Swiss cheese left so I sprinkled some on top.
In the processor, pulse a hand size chunk (which makes about 1 cup of crumbs or you could also use panko crumbs) of French bread until it is fine crumbs. Dump them into a bowl (I used the foil I covered the chicken with as my bowl) add the olive oil, parsley flakes, and a pinch of salt and toss it together with your fingertips. Sprinkle this evenly over the top of the pasta mixture and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are toasty and the casserole is bubbling.
Now this really didn’t seem a bad way for the rest of our ham to make its last meal. I’m almost sure I could have survived the Great Depression with as many meals as this huge piece of meat provided…plus, it was free and this dish contains all the four food groups. This ham kept well, and kept us well fed, but Heaven help me if I have to eat another bite of the stuff before next Spring!