When I ordered the Christmas ham from John at Smithfield’s Butchers I specifically asked for ‘a small one’, to which he replied ‘no problem, love’… I suppose a 9kg leg of gammon may have been considered petite in the court of Henry VIII but we were rather taken aback by the sheer volume of meat before us. The huge gammon leg was in addition to the guinea fowl within a duck John had lovingly de-boned, covered in bacon and squashed into a heaving cardboard box with a few packets of chestnuts, some sausage meat for stuffing, a bag of surplus pheasant legs and wings for the stock pot and around 40 delicious merguez sausages for my birthday feast the following evening.
On the peaceful journey home through the city, awash with novelty hats and tipsy suits, I began to fantasise about the potential leftover recipes this 9kg ham would present once Christmas was out of the way. Don’t get me wrong, Raph jerked that ham expertly and it was the star of Christmas, but from boxing day onwards, that little piggy was mine! Ham and cheese is a classic combo, it goes without saying. Cheese and macaroni are made for eachother. This all makes perfect sense. Believe me when I say this was, by far, the best macaroni cheese I have ever made. Looking at the photo makes me long for more but the ham is long gone – every morsel to a loving home; some greedily devoured in a creamy pasta sauce, some loaded with mustard, chutney and slaw in doorstop sandwiches, some shredded thinly into boxing day’s bubble and squeak – every meal a testament to the power of a leftover.
Crank the oven up to 200ºC. Boil 350-400g of macaroni for about 7-8 minutes, until just cooked but al dente. Meanwhile, pour 1 litre of milk (I used semi skimmed) into a saucepan with 2 bay leaves and a halved onion and bring to the boil over a low heat. As soon as the milk reaches the boil, turn it off. In another pan, melt 50g butter and stir in the same amount of plain flour to make a paste. Gradually pour in the infused milk, whisk until smooth and leave to simmer gently until the sauce thickens. Now time for the cheese which I never bother to measure – the aim here is extreme cheesiness so just be generous and go for it! The ghost of Christmas leftovers left me with mature cheddar, comté and gruyere so that’s what was grated into the pan. I think hard, nutty cheese works well but there’s nothing stopping you from adding something borrowed or something blue if you like. Roughly shred as much ham as you think appropriate and add it to the pan. Finally, cheese and ham’s good friend mustard; a tablespoon of grain and a teaspoon of Dijon, a generous grinding of black pepper and a pinch of salt if necessary (check first as sometimes the cheese can provide enough salt on its own). Stir the macaroni into the sauce and then tip everything into a large gratin dish / baking tray*. Grate any extra bits of cheese you have knocking around on top (parmesan or pecorino is good here) and bake for forty minutes. Serve with a crisp clean green salad and a few glasses of leftover red wine, naturally.
* A tip from Mr Slater: resist the temptation to smooth the top – the bits that stick up will become amazingly crisp and chewy in the oven. Here’s another photo just for fun: