Updated: Dec 29, 2022
My first image on IG is this dish. It's a great thing to have in your back-pocket for when you want an all-in-one dish that's really flexible
It's taken from Jacques Pépin's recipes for "Pasta ham, and vegetable gratin"
from Pépin’s Fast Food My Way. Fast Food My Way is a great cookbook filled not only with wonderful recipes, but great ideas—my favorite kind!
His intro to the recipe says “My mother loved gratins, and cold cuts always found their way into our pastas, along with zucchini or peas. I have made gratins for my family through the years”
I would just add that it’s no surprise that his mom loved to make this--gratins are a great way of using up bits of food (meat, veggies, scraps of cheese) too small to serve but too good to toss, turning them into more than the sum of their parts. French moms are realists, too! You can switch out the ham for another meat (or even shrimp—Pépin has a recipe for a shrimp gratin, too, someplace). You can play with the veggies, but I’d keep them in small pieces and on the mild side. Once you get into bitter vegetables, it’s a different sort of taste—potentially delicious, but more assertive and not necessarily as family-friendly. Feel free to replace the cheese with something else, but it’s best to choose something flavorful—like a sharp aged cheddar. A mozzarella or mild cheddar could get lost in this.
About 1 ¾ cups pasta shells or penne (I recommend shells
1 ½ dup diced (1/2 inch) cooked ham (about 7 ounces)
¾ cup corn kernels (from about one ear corn if using fresh)
1 ½ cups cubed (1/2 inch) zucchini
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup grated Swiss (Gruyère or Emmenthaler)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Bring about 2 quarts salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the pasta, stir well, and return to a boil. Boil, uncovered, until cooked but still slightly firm, or al dente, about 12 minutes (LWK notes: probably LESS!) Drain, cool, under cold running water, then drain again. You will have about 3 cups.
Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl, and stir in the ham, corn, peas, zucchini, salt, pepper and Swiss cheese.
For the white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and mix it in with a whisk. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with the whisk, especially at the edges of the saucepan. The sauce should thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, and mix in the cream. Let cool to lukewarm.
Heat the broiler. Combine the sauce with the past mixture in the bowl and transfer to a gratin dish or shallow baking dish with about a 6-cup capacity. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.
Broil about 4 inches from the heat source for 6 to 8 minutes, or until bubbly hot and the surface is lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Make ahead directions from Pépin himself: The gratin can be made ahead, sprinkled with Parmesan, and kept, covered, at room temperature for a few hours or refrigerated for up to a day before it is finished in the oven. If refrigerated, bring back to room temperature and bake on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes in a 425-degree oven until heated through and lightly browned on top. DO not try to keep the cooked gratin in a warm oven for more than 10 to 15 minutes, or the pasta will sweel up in the liquid and become gooey.
LWK notes: I find that I like this dish a bit hotter, and sometimes the broiler doesn’t heat the bottom part all the way through. So I cook it in a way similar to to Pépin’s directions for heating a refrigerated version: 20-30 min in a 425-degree oven.