Leftover Special: Cheddar, Ham and Pasta Bake

From one of our favorite cookbooks, Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, we make the Vermont Cheddar Chowder at least once a year.  It always seems to be just when the weather gets a little chillier—and when the Fall semester is fully on its way, with lots of grading ahead.  Perhaps there is something very comforting about this soup or perhaps it’s just become a tradition, but we can rely on a late September or early October week bringing with it a large pot of white cheddar soup with potatoes and carrots and chives.

But it’s just the two of us in our household, and a big pot of soup can get a little tiresome.  Boring.  So we appreciate the fact that our cookbook suggests other ways to use the soup left over after the first day of enjoying it.  They call it a “Creamy Cheddar Pasta Bake.”  I call it a life-saver when I’m trying to find an easy weeknight solution between grading.  Here are my steps:

1) Have ready 2-3 cups of a cheddar cheese soup of your choice, depending on how creamy you like pasta casseroles.  Soup does not need to be warmed up.

2) Cook ½ lb of dried pasta of your choice, and turn oven on to 350 degrees.

3) In the meantime, add ½ cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.  (Because Vermont Cheddar Chowder is a white cheese soup, I actually like to grate orange cheddar at this step so that I could get some interesting contrast in color, but you can stick to additional white cheddar if you’d like.)  Chop up or cut ham into chunks to equal ½ cup.  Add cheese and ham to the soup along with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. 

4) Mix pasta into the soup mixture and combine.

5) Stir 1 tablespoon melted butter into ½ cup panko bread crumbs, and then grind fresh salt and pepper into the crumb mixture.

6) Lightly grease (oil spray) a medium casserole dish, spread pasta mix in the dish, and then sprinkle bread crumbs evenly over the pasta. 

7) Bake for 30 minutes.  If the pasta mixture is bubbly but the top is not browned, turn the broiler on and brown the top for 3 minutes.  The casserole should end up looking like the picture above.

We actually go out of our way to find recipes that transform themselves into other main dish courses later in the week.  I suspect this is the way most people survive the hectic workweek, right?


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