Healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and Sage

What dish, to you, defines “comfort food”? My pick: healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and Sage.

Healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and SageWell that’s not entirely true—my actual answer is a hybrid between my Grammy’s homemade ham macaroni and cheese and my Grandma’s “party ham casserole.” The first is categorically cheesy; the second smothered in crispy, buttery breadcrumbs; both involve chunks of salty ham and unapologetic levels of heavy cream.

Healthy Ham and Cheese Noodle Casserole. A lightened up version of ham and cheese casserole studded with fresh apples and sage.
Healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and Sage

Healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with ApplesMy grandmothers’ versions of ham and cheese casseroles are exactly the sort of dishes you want to curl up with on a chilly evening, when the sun sets too early, the wind blows too strong, and you realize that a comforting pasta bake and a pair of sweatpants might be the secret combination to a lifetime happiness.

Healthy Cheddar Ham and Apple Casserole with the best healthy cream sauce and sageToday’s recipe for Ham Apple Cheddar Pasta Bake is my grown-up version of these favorites. To complement and elevate the ham and cheddar, I added sweet apples, sautéed onions, and earthy sage. I kept the irresistible crunchy breadcrumb topping (mandatory) but ditched the cream of mushroom soup.

Healthy Ham Cheese and Apple CasseroleI’m giddy about the magic that happens between the sage, apples, and cheddar, but my favorite part about this dish is the white sauce. Over the years I’ve been on a quest to develop a recipe for a healthier creamy white sauce that a) thickens in a reasonable amount of time and b) doesn’t taste healthy.

Many sub-par pasta nights later, this is it: the healthier white sauce of my dreams. A touch of butter and half-and-half are needed, but the rest of the thickness comes from Greek yogurt and a handful of freshly grated sharp white cheddar cheese. I was so excited, I almost took a bath in it. Just kidding. Kind of.

Healthy Cheddar Ham and Apple Casserole with the best healthy cream sauce

While I still indulge in my grandmothers’ original recipes every now and then, today’s comforting Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and Sage is a modern version that any family can feel good about enjoying on a regular basis. It’s reasonably healthy, contains a fabulous array of fall flavors, and makes fantastic leftovers too.

Healthy Cheesy Ham and Apple Casserole with Sage

Ham Apple Cheddar Pasta Bake: Doing my grandmothers proud one comfort food casserole at a time!

Healthy Ham and Cheese Casserole with Apples and Sage

A healthy version of a baked ham and cheese pasta casserole with apples and sage that is just as comforting as the original. Your entire family will love this dish, and it makes great leftovers too!

Yield: 1 9x13-inch dish

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Ingredients:

For the pasta

  • 1 pound whole wheat penne
  • 12 ounces diced ham (I used thickly sliced Virginia ham from our deli)
  • 3 medium sweet apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice (I used Gala)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced, dived

For the Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons garlic
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups non-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup freshly grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • For the Bread Crumb Topping:
  • 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and lightly grease a 9x13 or similar baking dish.
  2. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or similar large, deep pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until beginning to soften, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and garlic, then cook whisking often, until the flour is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually pour in milk, whisking constantly, then the half and half. Continue to cook until the sauce simmers and thickens, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in the salt and nutmeg, then the Greek yogurt, cheddar, and 1/2 the total amount of sage. Add the drained pasta, apples and ham, toss gently to coat, then transfer to the prepared baking dish.
  3. Combine the bread crumbs and olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Cover the dish with foil, then bake for 10 minutes covered, then uncover and bake 10 additional minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the pasta is hot and bubbly. If necessary, turn your broiler to high to finishing browning the crumbs, watching them carefully so that they do not burn. Remove baked pasta from the oven, sprinkle with remaining sage, and serve.

More healthy twists on comfort food classics:

About Erin Clarke

I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, lover of bourbon, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN...

35 comments

  1. This looks like a great casserole for my whole family. Love the apples in it.

  2. Apples & sage are such a great combo. My BF looooves penne pasta. Gotta pin this one just for heem :)

  3. This looks so delicious! I need more casseroles in my life. LOVE!

  4. oh my gawd, Erin. . this casserole looks so good!! love the sage and apples!!! and your photos are gorgeous!

  5. Can’t wait to try this! Can it be frozen?

  6. Bring on the casserole, especially this time of year. So comforting!

  7. Mmmm I love white cheddar cheese :) This looks soo good! Love that it’s lightened up, too! I love comfort foods that don’t actually weigh you down!

  8. Yum! Fall and Winter have me craving comfort foods, I think in my mind comfort food definitely involves noodles with a creamy sauce or a casserole…and this casserole with both? OMG it looks fantastic!

  9. Absolutely stunning!! And reminds me of the great flavors you have in stuffing.

  10. I’m alll about comfort food that’s lightened up! Especially when it involved pasta. Bookmarking your sauce to try! So many possibilities!

  11. This sounds wonderful. We are having a ham Thanksgiving dinner the Sunday before. On Thanksgiving we are having hot crab dip & steamed shrimp. I was looking for something to add. …This is it! We’ll have leftover ham to use, I have lots of fresh sage in the garden & I love apple & cheddar cheese together. Come on Thanksgiving!

    Thanks for the recipe ♡

  12. I have never thought of putting apples in a casserole before, I love the idea! And ham and apples are so tasty together. Plus, I actually make a ham quite often but always am divided on how to use the leftovers……what a great spin on a ham casserole, will have to try!

  13. This looks heavenly Erin! I love all the ingredients. It sounds like a comfort food dream!

  14. You are totally speaking my love language with this casserole, girl!

  15. Craving some of this ham and cheese casserole to devour right now. Love how surprisingly healthy it is too.. great recipe Erin!

  16. AWWW Ham & Cheese sandwiches bring WAYYY WAYYYY Back! ha ha! Now… I do not touch ham, pigs scare me! LOL!

  17. Wow… this looks so so so delicious!! Oh Gosh I’ve gotta try this recipe soon ;-)

  18. Love this grownup mac & cheese – it looks incredilble. The flavors sound so good – I would love to curl up with a big bowl of this cheesy goodness:)

  19. I can never say no to a casserole, but ham and cheesy? Hand me a spoon and let me grab a extra cheesy piece! Looks perfect for Fall!

  20. LOVE the idea of yogurt in the sauce!! I can’t wait to try this one Erin – I have tons of cubed leftover ham in my freezer that I was wondering what to do with, so this will definitely be on the menu next week and I’m already looking forward to it!

  21. I’m sorry did you just use healthy and casserole in the same sentence?! We are trying to do a healthier Thanksgiving this year and thought I was going to have to nix any casseroles (tear) but I’m thinking we don’t have to do that anymore! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Ohhhh man, I’m all for creamy, carby, hammy and HEALTHY!! Love this girl!

  23. Mmmmmm, ham and cheese anything is comfort food for me. My dad used to make grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for us whenever mom was busy at dinner time. Love the yogurt trick to make the sauce a little bit healthier!

  24. This looks like the ultimate comfort dish!!! I actually keep thinking about it after I saw it last week – soo delish!!! Gorgeous photos too :)

  25. This cheesy goodness needs to make its way to my plate. I’m loving all the fall flavors happening in this recipe. Pinned.

  26. Fiona Santoianni Reply

    How many servings does this make and do you have any idea what the calorie count per serving is? Sorry if I overlooked it

  27. Erin, 
    I just finished making this dish, very tasty! The sage gives it a nice layered flavor. 

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