I grew up in the era of the casserole. I happened to adore them all as a child. Usually these dishes consisted of noodles, some form of protein and maybe a vegetable. It was a one bowl meal that was delicious and comforting.These meals became popular in the US in the 1950s, and they were still very much en vogue in my home in the 1970 and into 80s.
Unlike most of my friend's mothers, mine worked. She had, in my young opinion, a very glamorous career heading the public relations departments for a couple of world renown museums. This meant that her time at home was limited and she had to be highly organized to manage both effectively. Once a week we made our grocery list and planned our meals. This was usually done at the dinner table so we could all have some say over family meals. The groceries would be delivered to my building where they were left outside the back door for me to put away as soon as I got home from school. They arrived in large open-top brown boxes. I believe Thursday was grocery day and Sunday was the day my mother cooked most of the meals for the week. Once they were prepared she packed them away carefully in the freezer. Each meal was taken out in the morning to thaw over the course of the day, then transferred into the oven to warm for dinner. The casserole transferred from oven, to freezer, back to the oven then finally to the dinner table. It was the perfect meal and vessel for our family.
Our dinners were formal by today's standards. Even when we ate casseroles. We always used silver, and our meals were always served on the Edme Wedgwood plates. Linen napkins were folded in sterling silver napkin rings. Wine was served at every meal and I always had a little bit as well. (When I had reached the age that I no longer had to have milk with my meal.) I had to get dressed for dinner. Dressed meant more than simply washing up - it meant looking presentable which meant no jeans, no sweatpants, gym clothes - anything of that nature. If I was in my uniform I could stay in that. Otherwise a skirt would do. We lit candles in the candelabra over the dining room table, and there was always classical music playing on the radio. Dinners, even when casual, were a formal affair, at least by today's standards.
I still believe in the importance of the family dinner. I still believe in sitting down at the table as a family. It's the one time of day we are all together in the same space. Contrary to my own childhood we're very informal. I don't make my children dress to eat. (I do make them wash their hands!) Perhaps because of how I was raised I still use silver and cloth napkins at my table as well. As I've been running out of inspiring dinner ideas that are good and not overly time consuming I seem, lately, to go back to the recipes of my own youth.
This recipe was originally called Ham and Noodle Saddle Hill. I've no idea where the name or the recipe originated. I know that I am the 3rd generation to make this dish which was a favorite. The recipe originally called for green noodles. But any color and any shaped pasta will do. This recipe, like so many from their time, called for evaporated milk, and wanting to eliminate all tinned products I opted to use 1% milk instead. I also added a couple of other added items to enhance the taste to adapt it to our more modern palates.
1 lb pasta
2 cups of diced ham
2 1/2 cups freshly grated Swiss cheese **
2 cups of Sour cream (I used light)
1/2 cup 1% milk
*3 Tbs Dijon mustard (optional)
1/4 tsp Paprika (optional)
Non-stick Spray or butter to grease the casserole dish if using such.
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/3 cups of coarse bread crumbs (optional)
- In a large 4-6 qt pot or oven-safe dutch oven cook the pasta until al dente (per directions on package)
- While noodles are cooking cut ham into small cubes
- The original recipe calls for pouring the sour cream and milk in a smaller pan and heating slowly, then bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat and add 1/2 of the cheese mixture, salt and pepper. This is done while the pasta is cooking.
BUT this time I did it this way:
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water and return pasta to the pot. Add the sour cream, milk and cheese and stir well until all the ingredients are incorporated. The result is the same as the more laborious method and this saves you an extra pot to wash!
- Add the diced ham
- Next I added 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard to the recipe to give it extra flavor. The original recipe did not call for this, but the mustard really enhanced the entire dish.
- Once the mustard is all incorporated add the Paprika to the dish. This spice was not in the original recipe either, but even the small amount adds a nice smoky depth to the dish.
- Place mixture into one or two casserole dishes OR keep the mixture in the oven safe pot or Dutch Oven. If you'll be using a casserole you'll need to grease it prior to adding the pasta to it. (By using a Dutch oven or oven safe pot you save yourself yet another dish to wash making this truly a one pot meal.)
- Combine the remaining cheese with the bread crumbs and sprinkle them over the top of the casserole you will be serving.
- Place the casserole in a preheated oven, 325 degrees, for about 15 to 20 minutes so that the top is golden brown and the noodles are reheated throughout.
For a previously refrigerated casserole, bring to room temperature and then bake for 30 - 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Keep covered for all but the last 10 minutes so that it doesn't dry out.
My kids are enjoying their casserole meals as well and we all loved the addition of the paprika and mustard.