What dish is your deepest-rooted definition of “comfort food”? For me, it might be Ham Casserole.
More specifically, my definition is a hybrid of my Grammy’s homemade mac and cheese (you’ll find it in my cookbook!) and my Grandma’s Party Ham Casserole.
Both contain noodles, a crispy topping, and unbridled amounts of heavy cream.
My grandmothers’ recipes 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 to a lifetime of happiness.
5 Star Review
“I make this casserole all the time. I just love it. That combo of sage, nutmeg, and ham is divine.”— Michele —
How to Make Ham Casserole
While I still indulge in my grandmothers’ original recipes every now and then, today’s comforting ham casserole is a lighter, more modern version that any family can feel good about enjoying on a regular basis.
It’s reasonably healthy and makes fantastic leftovers.
- To complement and elevate the ham and cheddar, I added sautéed onion and earthy sage.
- I kept the irresistible crunchy breadcrumb topping (mandatory) but ditched the cream of mushroom soup.
I’m giddy about the magic that happens between the sage, ham, and cheddar, but my favorite part about this dish is the white sauce.
A touch of butter and half-and-half are needed, but the rest of the thickness comes from Greek yogurt and a handful of sharp white cheddar cheese.
- Ham. Always a crowd-pleaser, ham is richly flavored and deliciously savory. It pairs well with cheesy, creamy sauces. It’s also a lean protein that’s rich in vitamins and selenium.
- Pasta. To make this casserole extra appealing and hearty. I used whole wheat penne for its nutritional benefits (more minerals like iron) and ideal shape and size. Whole wheat pasta contains more fiber than regular pasta.
- Sage. An earthy herb that is the essence of fall and winter. It’s a fantastic complement to the ham and cheesy sauce.
- Flour. To help thicken the sauce.
- Milk. I used nonfat milk to keep things light.
- Half-and-Half. Adds much-needed richness to the sauce without making it too heavy.
- Nutmeg. Adds a touch of warmth and subtle complexity.
- Greek Yogurt. For ultra creamy sauce with a hint of tanginess. Greek yogurt also adds protein and calcium to this casserole.
- Sharp White Cheddar Cheese. Adds a bold, cheesy flavor to the sauce.
- Breadcrumb Topping. The ultra important finishing touch. The crisp, toasty breadcrumb topping makes this casserole feel special.
- Cook and drain the pasta.
- Sauté the onion in melted butter.
- Whisk in the flour. Add the garlic, milk, and half and half. Simmer to thicken the sauce.
- Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in the salt, nutmeg, yogurt, cheese, and part of the sage.
- Stir in the pasta and ham.
- Transfer everything to a baking dish.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the casserole. Cover and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover it and bake for 10 more minutes. Top with the remaining sage. DIG IN!
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover casserole in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze casserole in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, prepare the casserole as directed up until adding the breadcrumb topping. Cover and refrigerate it until you’re ready to add the breadcrumb topping and bake.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Baking Dish. Perfect for making ham casserole.
- Dutch Oven. A kitchen tool you’ll use on repeat.
- Small Whisk. A smaller-sized whisk like this one is so much easier to use.
Ham casserole: Doing my grandmothers proud one pan of comfort food at a time!
Frequently Asked Questions
While I haven’t experimented with gluten-free swaps myself, I think it would work. Use gluten-free pasta and a 1:1 gluten free flour like this one.
Yes, you can definitely add another meat to this casserole if you’d like. I think adding cooked, diced, or shredded turkey or chicken would be tasty.
If you want to bulk up the veggie content in this casserole, try stirring in some baby spinach or frozen peas with the pasta and ham.
FOR THE CASSEROLE FILLING:
- 1 pound whole wheat penne
- 16 ounces diced ham
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves thinly sliced, dived
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion chopped
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups nonfat milk
- 1/4 cup half and half
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt do not use fat free or it may curdle
- 1 cup freshly grated sharp white cheddar cheese
FOR THE BREADCRUMB TOPPING:
- 3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 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 9×13 or similar baking dish.
- 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, then cook whisking often, until the flour is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 30 seconds.
- 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 half of the sage.
- Add the drained pasta and ham, toss gently to coat.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
- Combine the breadcrumbs 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. Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the pasta is hot and bubbly. If desired, turn your broiler to high to finish browning the crumbs, watching them carefully so that they do not burn. Remove baked pasta from the oven, sprinkle with remaining sage, and serve.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate casserole in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze casserole in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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