What happens when pasta meets up with a Mozzarella and Parmesan-loaded white sauce tossed with chopped ham and herbs? Magic! Belly warming, rich, cheesy magic.
There are times when all we need is a big bowl of comfort. That is exactly what we’re making here with this ham and cheese pasta bake.
I made a batch the other day and sent it home with my parents. They came back the next day to insist that I put the recipe on the site, they liked it that much.
Along with a creamy cheesy sauce we have tossed in some Italian seasoning, parsley, green onions and a bunch of chopped ham. Perfect!
This is sort of a jazzed up mac-n-cheese, but for this pasta bake we’re using fusilli pasta instead of elbow macaroni. The twisted fusilli pasta is bite-sized, and all those curves make the pasta the perfect vehicle for capturing and holding the thick and creamy white sauce.
One look into my pantry and you will see at least half a dozen of their signature blue boxes at any given time (today I counted 10). Today, I am using De Cecco fusilli pasta.
De Cecco is a “premium” Italian pasta brand that may cost a little more, but to me, it’s always worth it. Why?
Well for one, De Cecco really does taste better than conventional supermarket brands. I’ve done side-by-side comparisons and you can tell the difference.
And when it comes to making a baked pasta dish, it helps to have a pasta that doesn’t get mushy. De Cecco stays firm, holds its shape, even after boiling, baking, and in the case of make-ahead casseroles like this one, reheating.
Even when reheated for leftovers, the pasta doesn’t fall apart.
Speaking of reheating, this Ham and Cheese Pasta Bake reheats beautifully, and lasts at least 5 days (covered) in the fridge. When reheating a large batch on the stovetop you may need to add some more milk or water to it to loosen up the sauce.
Ham and Cheese Pasta Bake Recipe
Nutmeg is an essential spice for the white sauce. That said, it is easy to overdo it. Start with a small amount, ¼ teaspoon, and add more if needed.
- 12 ounces De Cecco fusilli pasta
- Salt for pasta water
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced,
- 4 Tbsp flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or a mix of dried oregano, thyme, and basil)
- 3/4 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
- 3 ounces (about 1 cup, packed) shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup, packed) shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 10 ounces diced ham (about 2 cups)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh green onion greens or chives
1 Make pasta: Put a big pot of salted water onto boil on high heat for the pasta (4 quarts, 2 Tbsp salt). While the pasta water is heating, prep the other ingredients.
Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Let the water return to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 9 to 10 minutes, until the pasta is “al dente”, cooked through but still slightly firm to the bite.
2 Make roux: Melt the butter in a large (3 to 4 quart), thick-bottomed pot on medium heat. Add the minced garlic. Let the garlic sizzle for a few seconds. Add the flour and whisk so that any lumps are dissolved. Let the roux (flour and butter) bubble and cook for a minute or two.
3 Make the sauce: Slowly add the milk and cream, a quarter cup at a time, whisking until incorporated after each addition. Increase the heat to medium high. Add ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg and ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper. (You may want to increase these later to taste.) Add ½ teaspoon of Italian seasoning.
Add half of the shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, whisking until melted and incorporated into the sauce.
Add 3/4 teaspoon of salt (again, you may want to increase this to taste).
Stir in 1 cup of water (can use pasta cooking water if you want).
4 Preheat oven to 400°F.
5 Combine pasta with sauce, ham, parsley, onion greens: Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the sauce. Add the ham. Add the chopped parsley and onion greens or chives. Gently stir to combine. Taste, and add more nutmeg, salt, pepper, or Italian seasoning to taste.
6 Bake: Transfer the pasta mixture to an oven-proof casserole dish (if you are using a Dutch oven to make the sauce, there is no need to transfer to another dish). Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Bake in the oven at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned on top.
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