Baked Cheesy Pasta with Ham and Peas

I don’t have a picture to show of this because the entire contents of the baking dish were gobbled up pretty much as soon as it came out of the oven. I thought I’d post the recipe because it’s one of the few I have that’s really mine—it’s adapted from a recipe for baked macaroni & cheese that I found online somewhere, but my methods have evolved a lot over the years that I’ve been making this.

This is obviously a high-fat dish. You could try using low-fat cheese and skim milk, but I wouldn’t expect it to taste very good. Instead I just like to think of this as an indulgence, something I don’t make very often but fully enjoy when I do.

You need:
Pasta. Not a whole pound of it—about 12 ounces. I use whole wheat penne because I can never find whole wheat macaroni. You could certainly use regular macaroni if you aren’t on a whole-grain kick like me. Or you could use shells or whatever. I think the penne works well though, and I find the Whole Foods whole wheat pasta to be really very tasty.
Cheese. Definitely a base of cheddar, but you can also add other kinds if you want. A big spoonful of sour cream makes a nice touch too. You want about two and half cups of grated cheese (including the sour cream if you’re using it). I generally just buy a good-sized hunk of cheddar and use it all.
One egg.
Two cups of milk. I was thinking last night that I’d like to try using buttermilk next time I make this. It might make things tangy and nice.
A small onion, or half of a big one, chopped up.
About 3/4 cup of frozen peas.
Some chopped ham. I go to the deli counter and ask them to give me one quarter-inch slice of whatever sort of ham looks nicest. Then I cut it up into quarter-inch cubes. If I were going to make a vegetarian version I’d probably just leave the ham out. I mean you could try baked tofu or something, but I don’t know that it would get you much. Maybe you could use another veggie, like cauliflower.
half a teaspoon of dry ground mustard. I will probably leave this out when I try making it with buttermilk.
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set a big pot of water on the stove to boil. Grease a large baking dish. When the water is boiling, add your pasta and a tablespoon of salt. Stir it up and let it boil, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, until it’s about half cooked.

Meanwhile whisk your egg and milk together. Add the mustard, about a quarter teaspoon of salt, and several grindings of pepper. Stir it up. Add the cheese too and stir it in.

Add some olive oil to a skillet, heat it up, and sauté the onions until translucent and just starting to brown.

When the pasta is half-cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Pour the milk and cheese mixture over the pasta and stir it together. Add the onions, ham, and peas. Turn out the whole mixture into the baking dish. Try and get most of the pasta submerged in the liquid. Some of it will stick out and that’s okay.

Bake it for about half an hour, until the pasta’s fully cooked and the cheese on top is starting to brown. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving.

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