As a Southern native, I’ve grown up with a certain vernacular. Words, phrases and yes, a little twang, that were ever present throughout my childhood, y’all. I thought I’d dispensed with those idioms since I’d moved to Florida until my husband pointed them out to me very early in our courtship. To be clear, Scott is Midwestern through and through but he’s got a few of those little gems too…’ you betcha!’
So when our two worlds collided some years ago, we had several of those “what did you say?” moments.
I remember once while we were visiting his family in Minnesota, my daughter was hanging out with her cousins and Scott’s niece, Anna, asked her if she wanted a “pop”. Emily froze. She looked at Scott quizzically. Did she want a “pop?” What was a pop? She wanted so much to fit in with her older cousin, but had no idea if she was agreeing to be the butt of a private joke. Her eyes pleaded with Scott. Did she want a pop?
It turns out that yes, she did. He explained that a “pop” in the Midwest is a “soda” in the South. Oh! Just like a hotdish in the Midwest is a casserole in the South.
If you’re not familiar with hotdish, they’re usually made with canned soups (think cream of mushroom) and stick-to-your-ribs ingredients like ground chuck and tater tots. I’m sure I made a face the first time he told me about them. But I love my husband and since it’s been so cold lately, I decided to make him a version of this Midwestern specialty, using some of my regional staples and NO CANNED SOUP. So, this is my Southern Ham and Kale Hotdish, y’all!
This one has big chunks of ham and tender macaroni in a lush mornay sauce with handfuls of fresh kale (eat your veggies) mixed throughout. If you’re not a kale junkie, like me, you can easily sub in some frozen sweet peas.
Transfer the hotdish mixture to a large casserole dish and sprinkle generously with buttered breadcrumbs, then bake it to a crunchy golden brown. I don’t care where you’re from – this one is a winner, you betcha!
Southern Ham and Kale Hotdish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced onion
- 6-7 large ribs of kale tough stems removed
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 cups diced ham
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter divided
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup grated cheddar or monterey jack cheese
- 8 ounces macaroni noodles
- 1 slice bread
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a large casserole dish with vegetable spray and set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the macaroni according to package instructions -- just until al dente. Rinse and drain the noodles and set aside.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet add the onions, cook for 3-5 minutes until tender and translucent. Rinse the kale to remove any grit, chop the kale and add it directly to the pan (don't dry the water off of the kale - you want a little bit to steam and wilt the kale leaves) and cover tightly with a lid. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally until the kale has wilted. Stir in the ham and set aside.
In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly to combine. Stir in the salt, pepper and cayenne. When the roux begins to bubble, cook for one minute, then gradually whisk in the milk a little at a time. Stir the sauce constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan so it doesn't stick. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook for 1 minute until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese until melted, set aside.
Add the noodles to the cheese sauce and stir until well coated. Add the noodle mixture to the kale mixture and mix until combined and transfer to the casserole dish.
Tear the bread into chunks and add them to the mini prep food processor. Add the butter and parsley and pulse until bread crumbs are formed. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the casserole and bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. Serve.