Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Egg Noodles with Ham and Peas

Posted December 29, 2008
Find more about ham , noodles , dalai mama , PASTA
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You can practically *see* how well salted those noodles are!

Inspiration for the movie I've Loved You So Long?

Day and night the children are busy grating things at the kitchen table.

Plus, we're getting a huge kick-back from the microplane folks! (Just kidding.) This photograph is how I found out that I have the hands of a two-hundred-year-old woman.

I actually used pumpernickel bread for the bread crumbs, which was a dubious choice. That very crumb Ben was spearing actually shot across the table and was never seen again. I picture the mice sitting around it at their little thread-spool dinner table, all of them with their little bibs tied behind their necks.

Notice the collection of uneaten peas growing at the side of Birdy's plate.

I know that all you really want at this point is a recipe for a nice cold glass of seltzer. Believe me-I hear you. I'm like the Smurf balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, only what came out of the helium tank was actually mashed potatoes and linzer cookies and Prosecco. And yet the children still expect to be fed! It's baffling. I want to say: My God, kids, haven't you eaten enough? And yet, strangely, their bodies do not take a storage approach to meals. In fact, Ben just wandered past with 6 inches of ankles dangling bonily from beneath his pajama cuffs. It's no wonder.

And so, in the likelihood that you are still wrangling a fridge full of leftovers into actual lunches and dinners, I'm giving you this easy, delicious pasta with ham and peas. It's creamy and comforting, with a tiny bit of zing from lemon, and a tiny bit of crunch from butter-toasted bread crumbs. Plus, it's so blandly appealing that you'd have to be a real Scrooge not to like it-although in that case, perhaps the ghost of the hot sauce bottle could relieve you of your misery. We actually ate it for lunch: when we're all home, I like to serve a large meal midday and then, come dinnertime, we can sit around the living room nibbling cheese and crackers and fruit, or hummus and carrots and pita chips while we play Qwerkle and Bananagrams and do jigsaw puzzles and finish the Prosecco. Oh, I love holidays.

If you don't have leftover ham, you could make this with deli ham (just cut it into strips, or else have them slice it thick and then you can dice it), with cooked bacon, with leftover turkey, or utterly meatless. It will still be good. But our ham? I don't know what to say about our ham, except that we had to get on a wait-list at Pekarski's Smokehouse to get it, and maybe its hard-wonness made it all the more succulent. Or maybe it was just insanely good. "Please please please," I said to Mrs. Pekarski over the phone. "Our friends? Who used to be turkey-eating vegetarians? Well, I just found out that they actually eat ham now? And we really really need a Pekarski's ham." After we got the call (some lunatic had canceled their ham order), we flew to the shop, and Mrs. Pekarski said, "Oh, you're the one that was so desperate! I got off the phone with you and I said, 'We gotta get this girl a ham.'" I feel blessed to be so well understood.

And please-feel free to share more ideas for leftover ham, seeing as how we still have lots of it. My parents actually took some home with them, and even they had to make soup from the leftovers left over from their leftovers. Proving, somehow, that they never should have left us in the first place.

Egg Noodles with Ham and Peas
active time: 30 minutes; total time: 30 minutes

If you don't have (or like) egg noodles, swap in another pasta shape-fusilli, say, or wagon wheels-but don't use a full pound or there won't be quite enough sauce.

3 tablespoons butter (divided use)
1 small onion, finely diced
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (made from crumbling or processing a slice of white or wheat or French bread, preferably a bit stale)
12 ounces wide egg noodles
¾ cup chicken broth
1 cup cubed or sliced ham (nobody will complain if there's more)
1 cup frozen peas
¾ cup half and half
Juice and grated zest of ¼ lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely chopped parsley
Freshly grated parmesan

Stick your pasta bowls in a 200-degree oven to warm while you prepare the pasta (this may seem fancy and silly, but cream sauces congeal so unappetizingly on cold plates). Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and salt it heavily (I use about a quarter of a cup of kosher salt, but you could use half that amount of table salt). Taste it-it should taste as salty as seawater. And really, I can't stress this enough: if your cooking water isn't heavily salted, the pasta will stubbornly insist on remaining bland, no matter how much tasty love you lavish on it later. By contrast, well-salted pasta is almost always good, even if it is imperfectly sauced. Okay. I see that you're drifting off during my little salt lecture. I'll move along.

In a wide pan over medium-low heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter and sauté the onion until it's very soft and starting to turn golden, around ten minutes. Meanwhile melt the other tablespoon of butter in a very small pan, and fry the breadcrumbs over medium heat until they are brown and crisp. Scrape them into a bowl when they're done, so they don't burn in the still-hot pan while you're not looking.

When the onions are done, dump the noodles into the boiling salted water and give them a stir. Now add the broth, peas, and ham to the onions, turn up the heat, and boil vigorously until the broth is reduced by about half (i.e. there is much less of it left in the pan), then add the half and half and continue to simmer the sauce while you season it with the lemon zest and juice and salt and pepper (taste it first-the ham may add enough salt). Turn the heat under the sauce way down low while you drain the pasta, which should be done right about now. Stir the pasta into the sauce, stir in the parsley, and taste: does it need anything? A little salt or pepper or a little more lemon juice or zest or a splash more half and half? When it is perfectly delicious, serve it in the warm bowls and pass the cheese and breadcrumbs.

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Egg Noodles with Ham and Peas

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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