Don't despair over Easter leftovers

It's Benjamin Franklin who is often credited with the phase, "The definition of eternity is two people and a ham."

But leftover ham can be a reason to rejoice, not something to dread. Ham will keep for months in the freezer and adds flavor to any dish.

Ham is the basis for numerous soups and casseroles, a stuffing for omelettes and sandwiches and a flavorful extra in salads and appetizers.

In their new book, "Ham: An Obsession With the Hindquarter" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010), authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough dedicate a chapter to "glorious leftovers."

They state that when they cook a ham for dinner, they "conceptualize a set of recipes for the inevitable leftovers."

One recipe worth thinking about is their Mac and Ham and Cheese, which the authors describe as a "crazy, over-the-top rendition of the classic."

Over-the-top for sure.

The recipe calls for 12 ounces of Gruyere cheese, which is hardly budget-friendly. The Gruyere we purchased to test this recipe cost about $12 for those 12 ounces at a local grocery store. It also calls for mango chutney, which sells for about $5 or $6 per jar. Because the recipe only called for one tablespoon, we opted to leave it out. The dish didn't suffer. It was rich and creamy like the mac and cheese we all love, but extra flavorful thanks to the ham and Gruyere.

The addition of frozen artichoke hearts also makes this comfort food casserole fancy enough for company.

If you want to try a more budget-friendly version, opt for white cheddar cheese or a combination of sharp Swiss and aged cheddar instead of the Gruyere.

Kristin Clemmer, a grocery store marketing director, said many cooks purposely purchase larger hams than they need because they want leftovers. Ham is versatile and can be used in many dishes, including the classic bean soup, as well as a substitute for other meats like chicken in dishes like fried rice or quesadillas, she said.

A popular ham is the whole, semiboneless variety, which is a wet-cured ham with one of its bones still intact and one removed. The remaining bone adds flavor, but the removal of the other makes for easier slicing.

One of the best ways to not have too many ham leftovers is to make sure you aren't buying too much for the number of guests you will be serving. The standard recommendation is six ounces per guest, but Clemmer said at the holidays, "people typically eat more than that."

She said a good rule of thumb is one pound of bone-in ham for every two guests, or roughly eight ounces per person.

Boneless hams will provide a few more servings.

Leftover ham will keep in the freezer for three to four months. It is safe to eat if it has been frozen longer than four months, but the flavor and texture will begin to show signs of age.

Try out these recipes for using up leftover ham and you may be surprised by how quickly your eternity passes.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter ( 1/2 stick)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups milk (whole or low-fat, not fat-free)

12 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely grated

1 pound ham, chopped (smoked, wet-cured)

1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and squeezed for any excess moisture

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon mango chutney

1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon

12 ounces dried ziti, cooked and drained according to package directions

1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Position the rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, then whisk occasionally over the heat just until the mixture is bubbling and a very pale beige, about 2 minutes.

Whisk in the milk and continue whisking over the heat until thickened, about 4 minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the Gruyere, ham, artichoke hearts, mustard, chutney and tarragon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cooked ziti.

Pour the contents of the pan into a 3-quart casserole dish (greased or prepared with nonstick spray), or even a 9-by-13-inch baking dish if you like more of the top exposed to the heat and many more crunchy bits as a result.

Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the casserole and bake until brown and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound bean mix for soup

6 cups water

2 cups ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped carrot

1 to 2 teaspoons Italian herbs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

Directions

Rinse beans in colander under running water.

Sort out any dirt or small pebbles.

Drain.

In a large slow cooker combine all ingredients.

Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high heat setting for 4 to 5 hours.

Discard bay leaves before serving.

--Sugardale Foods

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs (2 slices of bread)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)

2 tablespoons milk

2 teaspoons dry mustard, divided

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

12 ounces ground cooked ham

12 ounces ground pork

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons vinegar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, bread crumbs, onion, milk, 1 teaspoon of the dry mustard and the pepper. Add ground ham and ground pork; mix well.

Using about 1/3 cup of the ham mixture for each ball, shape ham mixture into 12 balls. Place ham balls in the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar and the remaining teaspoon of dry mustard. Pour mixture over ham balls.

Bake, uncovered, about 45 minutes, or until ham balls are done and reach 160 degrees on a meat thermometer.

-- Better Homes and Gardens