Grandma Mary's Ham & Potato Casserole

If we were playing a word association game and you were to ask me what is the one thing I think of when I think of my maternal grandmother, the answer would easily be: food. My grandma Mary was not just someone who exposed me to delicious Italian/Sicilian dishes, but she was also the type of person who always wanted to make sure everyone's belly was full. You could tell her that you had already ate, or that you weren't hungry a million times and she wouldn't take no for an answer. It sometimes felt like saying no was a personal insult to her.

My Grandpa Carlo and Grandma Mary

One think in particular that I can remember from the many meals she graced the table with, is that she was often resourceful when it came to leftovers, or simply food in general. I remember her having us grandchildren go out into her backyard to harvest burdock which she would then put into a frittata with left over spaghetti (it took me a long time to realize that left over spaghetti was not an automatic ingredient in frittata). When she had fruit that needed to be used up, it became fruit salad which she would push us all to eat up. Leftovers were often packaged up in Tupperware to be taken to our respective homes (the Tupperware always saying property of....and my grandmother's name). Her style of cooking, as well as her desire to make sure that everyone was fed certainly was influenced by  growing up during the Great Depression. I remember when I would visit her in more recent years, her first question would often be if I had enough food at home. Even when she could no longer cook us any of her amazing meals, she was still trying to put food in our bellies.

This ham and potato casserole is a great example of her ability to turn one meal into many. It uses Christmas dinner leftovers to make a comforting casserole with slices of potato, ham, and Parmesan cheese. It's super easy to make - and a fairly frugal dish as well.

You can make this from your ham leftovers, or simply buy some thicker cut ham from the deli. Either way, its a perfect meal for a cold winter's day!

To make this casserole, you simply cut up your ham and potatoes and layer with the other ingredients just as you would a lasagna....or tiramisu....mmmmmm...... ;)

Ham & Potato Casserole 

You will need: 

About two cups of ham
About three lbs. of potatoes
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk (we use 2%)
6-8 Tbs. of salted butter
Granulated Onion
Black Pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese

To make: 

Preheat your oven to 350°

Start by slicing potatoes thin - for this step, we went modern and used a food processor, but by hand works just as well, and is what my grandmother did.

Cut up your ham into chunks. This doesn't have to be perfect - you're going for bite size pieces.

Butter the bottom and sides of the pan you're using. This time we used a dutch oven, but any casserole dish will work.

Start by layering potatoes until the bottom of the pan is covered, then sprinkle lightly with flour.

Dot the first layer with small bits of butter, then sprinkle with black pepper, Parmesan cheese, parsley and granulated onion.

Layer with ham, and then repeat from potatoes on until you've run out of all but some potatoes.

Add the last of your potatoes and sprinkle with flour, pepper, Parmesan, parsley and granulated onion.

Now you want to pour milk lightly over the top layer, and then pour milk into the side so that it seeps down through the layers.

Bake for 60 minutes at 350° uncovered basting about half way, so that no part of the casserole gets too dry.  You may need more time depending on your oven, the dish you use and how thick your potatoes are cut. Just keep monitoring it!

It doesn't take too long to make this casserole and it's a comforting meal for a cold evening! If you end up making it, I'd love to know how yours turns out! I can think of many ways to tweak this recipe, but there's something special about making it how my grandmother would have.

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