Hamming It Up
My parents were—in the food department—as predictable as Old Faithful. Thanksgiving meant turkey and Mom’s delicious dressing. Christmas was a standing rib roast surrounded by a delectable Yorkshire pudding, with crispy edges that outlined the meat like police tape and chalk marks at a crime scene. As for St Patrick’s Day—can you guess? You’re right if you said corned beef and cabbage (but we had that often through the year anyway).
Easter came between these latter two “hols,” as the Brits would say, and as both my parents cooked, there was usually ham. It might be fresh or cured, but there it was, sharing the table which was set with Syracuse china, nice old silver, 1920s-era pale green etched water and wine glasses (so few survived), and pink linen to match the china. Being a traditionalist, it’s ham for me, then, and I will be serving it in a modified form on April 1. To wit, I’ll be fooling around in the kitchen and making a recipe I’ve since found to get the “ham what am” on my table.
Personal note: after mom passed, my brother Rob and wife Diane got the pink-rimmed china. I’m using Spode’s Countryware bought at a good price years ago from the sale corner at a prominent Manhattan store. It will be passed on to a niece, who chose this china (at my urging) when she married. (I’m not sure if the “traditional food” gene is there, however.)
White Bean Casserole
A casserole for Easter may seem hopelessly wrong for the holiday, but this one is so easy, plus it gives you time to iron the ribbon on your bonnet, hide the eggs, and make a great dessert knowing that you can bang the made-ahead main dish into a preheated oven and not worry, then proceed to ham it up, as the title says. I cribbed the basic recipe from a James Beard cookbook. He loved this sort of no-nonsense dish and so do I. And the cognac takes it to a whole new level. Perhaps, as a son of the Ould Sod, I should try Irish whiskey next time.
- 4 large (15 oz.) cans of white cannellini beans—drain all but one can
- 1 tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
- 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 4 Tbsp. tomato paste (I love the tubed paste—screw the top back on to use again and again—waste not...)
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 2 c. cooked ham, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 1 lb. kielbasa or other garlic sausage in 1⁄2-inch slices
- 1⁄2 c. white wine or dry vermouth
- 4-5 strips of thinly sliced bacon
- 1⁄2 c. cognac or bourbon
- 1⁄2 c. fresh breadcrumbs—use a processor or blender or Panko crumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine the beans, thyme, pepper, and tomato paste. Mix gently with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet on medium-low heat; sauté the onion until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking until it is fragrant. Don’t let the garlic burn. In a 3-quart casserole, put 1⁄4 of the beans and then 1⁄2 of the onion/garlic mixture and then 1⁄2 of the of the ham and sausage. Repeat the layers twice more. Top with remaining beans. Pour the wine or vermouth over the top and lay on the bacon strips moistened with the cognac or bourbon. (Beard loved cooking with cognac.) Scatter the bread crumbs evenly over the top.
Cover and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 30 minutes, then uncover and bake another 45 minutes. If your pan is minus a cover, improvise with a sheet pan or aluminum foil. Serve with a crisp green salad and cheese bread. Serves about 8.
And do wave at Peter Cottontail if you see him. (Is there a Peggy Cottontail?)
For March 17, 18, or 19, or, Anytime, Really
Here’s another idea I found in my files that deserves wide circulation. It’s great as is by buying corned beef at the deli counter—or as a way to use up the leftovers from your St. Patrick’s Day festivities. My Irish friend (we went to the same high school) gave me this terrific idea: top of the morning to you, Bill.
Stuffed French Bread, Irish Filling
This filled loaf is called a Croustade. I call it delicious—a great party dish to pass or include on the buffet. Add a crisp salad and call it dinner.
- 11⁄4 lbs. thinly sliced cooked corned beef
- 1 stick unsalted room-temperature butter, chunked
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onions
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 3 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tsp. dried mustard powder
- 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped parsley
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chives or green onion tops
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 to 4 Tbsp. heavy cream
Roughly chop the corned beef. Place the beef plus all remaining ingredients except the cream in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process using on/off switch until well combined. Then add the cream a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Slice off the ends of a loaf of French bread and scrape out the soft interior with a serrated knife, leaving just a bit of the white interior. If the loaf is long, cut it in half before stuffing it. Stuff the hollowed bread with the corned beef mixture. Pat the filling as you go to ll all the hollows and stuff from both ends. Cover the bread tightly with foil and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to firm things up. Slice thinly and arrange in overlapping rows on a platter. Garnish with halved cherry tomatoes (orange ones if you can get them) and watercress or parsley sprigs. Time for wearing of the green and garnishing with greens.