OK, so I’m in the dog house, and this will have to be a quick one. My daughter Jenn told me over Easter weekend that I needed to write a post sharing our family’s favorite recipes to use up leftover ham, since half the world seems to serve ham for Easter dinner. I quickly agreed, of course; great idea. And then, of course, with equal speed I forgot all about it until her nudge on facebook yesterday morning. Ooops.
So, without further ado, here are my personal versions of Scalloped Potatoes and Ham and Split Pea Soup, two ways with ham leftovers that are destined to join your list of family must-haves. I have been known to buy a ham for dinner solely for the opportunity it affords to put these on the table.
MIM’S SCALLOPED POTATOES AND HAM
6 medium Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, sliced thin
12 ounces cubed ham (about 1 ½ cups)
Salt, only if needed
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Milk, any % of fat that you like, as needed (about 3 cups)
4 T butter
Preheat oven to 375˚ F.
Grease a 9” x 13” baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Place 1/3 of the sliced potatoes in the dish and season with freshly ground black pepper. The cubed ham should be salty enough to season the potatoes, but you may offer more if you taste it and it seems to need some. Evenly layer half the ham over the potatoes.
Add another layer of potatoes, pepper, salt and the rest of the ham. Top with the last 1/3 of the potatoes, and pour on enough milk to come to about ½” below the surface of the potatoes the potatoes. Give a last grinding of pepper, then dot the top evenly with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the top is golden brown. Cover with foil if the top gets browned before the potatoes are done to finish cooking.
Let rest 20 minutes before serving.
When it comes to split pea soup, I tend to be a minimalist; that is, I use very few ingredients, by choice. While many, if not most split pea soup recipes call for carrots and celery, and even sometimes leeks, I find that the inclusion of too many “sweet” vegetables produces a soup that then needs to be salted. I prefer for my soup to be salted with the smoky/salty flavor of the ham; it is a richer, deeper version of saltiness and makes for a tastier soup, in my opinion. Using just onion (albeit a hefty one) provides all the aromatic flavor needed, and precludes the need for additional salt.
Likewise, when I want a nice bowl of split pea soup, I am not looking to fuss around all day. If you want that kind of effort, Julia Child has a version where she makes a ham broth before even beginning the soup. Sorry, not my cuppa. I find it frankly irritating when chefs, or even home cooks turn a simple down-and-dirty peasant dish into something it was never meant to be: complicated. No wonder today’s generation of young adults are afraid to go into their kitchens. Simple, classic dishes should remain precisely that. For more on this subject, go here to read my earlier diatribe on New England Clam Chowder. Or, just move along and get ready for some seriously delicious (and incredibly easy) soup.
MIM’S SPLIT PEA SOUP
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound dried split peas, rinsed and picked over
1 ham bone
A pinch of salt (only if needed)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium pot, combine chopped onions, split peas, ham bone, and enough water to cover ingredients by an inch or two.
Bring to a light boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the peas have dissolved completely into the water, about, 2 hours. As it is cooking, the soup will start to thicken; when it does, just add some more water, although never more than it takes to get the liquid back to a “soup-like” consistency. (Just never drown it).
When the soup has finished cooking you can finish it off in any one of several ways. I like to pick the leftover meat pieces off the bone and add them back to the soup. But first I pick out of the soup any pieces of fat that are in there. I don’t purée it, but some people like to. If I have any leftover ham sitting around, I always dice some up to add to the soup.
The soup will continue to thicken every time it sits around awhile, or even continues to simmer, so be prepared to add water as needed each time you reheat it. I have never found this to compromise the flavor of the soup, but I have found that a thickened soup loses its appeal. So thin it out as necessary and don’t worry about the flavor; it will be perfect.