When do you find yourself reaching for comfort food? Is it when you are tired or stressed, when the weather is cold and gray, when you aren’t feeling well? For us, it is really all of the above. This past week has been a little stressful and rather tiring. The weather hasn’t been the greatest and I have been fighting a cold. Luckily, when all of those unfortunate things converge in the space of one week, there is this casserole to make things seem much brighter.
There is nothing fancy about this dish. It doesn’t use any fancy ingredients, nothing special in the prep, and it doesn’t really even look all that pretty. However, it tastes really, really good. It is warm and hearty fare that is great for any time of day. It makes a nice brunch dish, since much of it can be prepared ahead of time, great as left overs for lunch, and of course, the best comfort food ever for dinner.
To really make this dish stand out, make sure to use the best quality ingredients you can get your hands on. Choose really good ham, flavorful cheese, and potatoes as fresh as you can get them. When the casserole comes out of the oven all brown and crunchy on top, loaded with ham, and dripping with melted cheese, you won’t be sorry.
Mashed Potato, Ham, and Cheese Bake
Recipe adapted from Marc’s Italian neighbor growing up, Maria Paolucci
1 1/2 lb all purpose potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 tbls bacon fat (or butter or cooking oil)
8 oz smoked ham steak
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
4 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 oz Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
Scrub potatoes and quarter them (if you have potatoes with tender skins, leave them on, otherwise peel them). Place potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover by about an inch and bring to a boil. Boil until tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet and melt the bacon fat. Add the ham steak and heat until cooked through. Remove the ham steak from the pan and transfer to a cutting board to cut into bite size pieces. Add the onions to the juices left in the pan and cook on low until lightly browned (or turn off the heat in the pan and let the onion brown from the residual heat).
Preheat the oven to 450F. When the potatoes are ready, strain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mash until very smooth. Fold in the Monterey Jack and Gruyère cheeses, along with the ham, onion, and eggs. Grease a 2-qt baking dish (lard works well) and spread the mixture evenly in the dish. Top with bread crumbs in one layer and then parmesan in a second layer. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese bubbles up on the sides.
Serve hot and enjoy. Serves 3-4 as a main course, 6-8 as a side.