Crispy Ham & Dinosaur Kale Topped Cheesy Manicotti
Lately, I have been working to clear out those little odds and ends in my pantry, fridge & freezer. You know what I am talking about?? Those bits of unused ham, several partial baggies of dried beans and lentils, a few fresh veggies that I never figured out when to use, half cartons of broth, cream and tomato juice, mustard jars and Italian dressing bottles that are one scrape or squeeze away from the garbage and on & on.
Somehow, my groceries accumulated into clutter that are too useable to toss but really need to be used to protect my neat-freak sanity. Do you have those piles of food clutter?? Well, I have been working on the BIG Pantry Clean-out of 2015.
I have been holding on to the last bit of mom’s baked ham from New Year’s, sprinkling it in my recipes here and there. Ham & Bean soup never tasted so good! But the kiddos will scream if I serve them one more bowl. So, time for something totally different: manicotti!
I just recently found this Louisa frozen manicotti again. It is one of my favorite freezer staples & has been MIA for months. When I spotted it in the freezer case at Crest, I bought all ((three)) the packages I could find.
This manicotti makes such a speedy & delicious meal – read about another manicotti idea HERE.
But for this recipe, I decided not to use a tomato based sauce, mainly because I am out of my favorite pasta sauce ((adding it to the list now!!)). I started by dicing my leftover ham and crisping it in the pan.
After heating it through, I removed the ham from the pan and set it aside.
Weirdly, I have been dreaming about a creamy ham manicotti creation. So I took this opportunity to deviate from my normal manicotti dinner. Notice, in the above “ingredients used” picture, there is no cream?? That is because I have figured out how to make a delicious creamy white sauce with NO CREAM and NO BUTTER. Here is how I do it, combine:
- one can of evaporated milk ((I prefer 2%))
- 8 ounces of chicken stock
Bring these two ingredients to a boil & allow to reduce for a few minutes.
- 4 to 8 ounces of light cream cheese ((for this recipe I just used 4 oz. because it is all I had. It worked nicely. If you use the entire block you may need to add additional stock to thin out the sauce.))
- 4 to 8 ounces cubed or shredded white cheese ((for this recipe I used provolone & a small amount of sharp white cheddar. I used about 6 ounces total.))
I know, this picture is lousy!! Sorry. The shadows and the white cream cheese were not cooperating ((and I was in a hurry and couldn’t adjust — I didn’t want the cheese to stick to the bottom of the pan!)). After the milk and stock reduce slightly, I added the cheese & reduced the heat. I stirred ((vigorously)) continuously in order to blend the cheese and keep the sauce from curdling.
Once the cheese was nicely incorporated, I quickly added some finely chopped dinosaur kale ((lacinato kale)) & parsley. I added the green poison just to make the kiddos squawk — or at least that is what they believe…
I let the bitter edge of the kale cook out for one minute and then stirred in the ham. You will notice, the sauce is not super thick at this point ((intentionally)). If it is too thick, it will dry out while baking with the manicotti in the oven. That wouldn’t be good.
I poured the cheesy ham & kale sauce over the frozen manicotti and placed it in a preheated 350° oven uncovered for 20 minutes. Then covered with foil for the last 25 minutes of the cooking time.
**If you are needing to prepare this in advance and bake later, use the delayed cooking setting on your oven. Please read my note about that in the recipe card.
Once baking was completed, I removed the foil and topped with hand-shredded sharp white cheddar cheese. I placed the manicotti under the broiler until the cheese was melted and slightly golden in color.
Something magical happened to the ham once it came out from under the broiler!! It became wonderfully crisp.
See how nicely the sauce thickened while cooking away in the oven?? It was a heavenly meal. Oh!! and the kale did something yummy too: the tiny stalks of the kale stayed very crunchy. Because I chopped the kale so finely, it added a wonderful crunch to every bite!! Winner, winner for sure!!
- Frozen manicotti* ((I prefer Louisa brand))
- 1 1/2 c diced ham
- 1 12 oz can 2% evaporated milk
- 8 oz chicken stock
- 4 oz light cream cheese
- 4-6 oz cubed cheese ((I used provolone & sharp white cheddar))
- 1 c finely chopped dinosaur kale
- 3-4 T Italian parsley
- 1 c. hand-shredded sharp white cheddar
- Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange manicotti in a 9" x 13" baking dish.*
- In a large saucepan, heat cubed ham allowing it to turn golden and crisp slightly. Remove ham and set aside. Add milk and stock to the saucepan & bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Allow the milk to continue boiling for 5-7 minutes allowing to to reduce slightly.
- Add cream cheese & cheese cubes, reduce the flame to low-medium & stir vigorously and continuously in order to keep the cheese from sticking and curdling.
- Add the kale & parsley to the cheese sauce and continue stirring for 1 minute. Add the ham, stir to coat and remove from flame.
- Pour the sauce over the frozen manicotti and place in the oven for 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, remove, cover with foil and return to the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.**
- Once the manicotti has baked for 45 minutes total, remove from the oven, sprinkle with the shredded cheese and return to the oven under the broiler. Keep a close watch to avoid burning. After 1-3 minutes your cheese should be melted & slightly golden AND the ham should be crispy ((my favorite!!)).
- Allow to cool 5 minutes and serve.
- * I used 10 manicottis for our family. *If 8 is enough for your family, just use one package ((each pkg contains 8)).
- **If you are using the delay cooking setting on your oven, it is perfectly okay to cover the manicotti with foil for the entire cooking time and just remove it to broil the cheese at the end. Just be sure to program your oven to allow cooking to finish while you are home. This will help ensure the manicotti doesn't dry out.