On nights when you don't really feel like cooking, pasta is always an easy fallback. Now that people seem to be less terrified of having a few carbs in their diets, pasta is slowly returning to its position as a pantry staple. It only takes a few minutes to cook and you can make an infinite number of sauces, from 5-minute light tomato sauces to rich, slow-cooked ones. If you have an extra few minutes in your evening, it doesn't take too much more work to turn a regular bowl of pasta into a comforting baked pasta dish, with an oozy topping of cheese than gets browned and ever so slightly crusty on top. Just about any baked pasta dish is a welcome meal on a cold winter day.
This particular pasta dish is quite simple, featuring ham and veggies tossed in a fontina cheese sauce with pasta. I like fusilli, since I think the spirals are kind of fun, but penne or rigatoni would work beautifully here, as well. The meat and vegetable combination is flexible and can be changed around to easily accommodate any leftovers you might have in your house. Chicken and sauteed mushrooms would be a good combination, for example. I used some diced ham and steamed broccoli, although peas might have been an even better choice.Ham and Cheese Pasta Bake
2 cups diced broccoli (or peas)
1 1/2 cups ham, diced
12-ounces fusilli, penne or rigatoni pasta
4 tbsp butter, divided
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk (low fat is fine)
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
4-oz Fontina cheese grated or cut into strips
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350F and bring two pots, medium and large, of water to a boil. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
Blanch broccoli (or peas) in the medium-sized pot of boiling water until just tender and bright green. Drain and set aside.
Cook the pasta in the large pot of boiling water for about 6 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and toss with 2 tbsp butter. Set aside.
In another medium-sized sauce pan, melt remaining 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Stirring constantly, whisk in the flour until smooth, then gradually whisk in the milk. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste, then remove from heat and toss with broccoli.
Layer 1/3 of pasta in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with 1/3 of the cheese, 1/2 cup ham and 1/3 of the cream sauce. Repeat two more times, then sprinkle top of dish with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned on top.