It’s amazing how the simple things add up to something delicious and wonderful. As much as we love foods from around the world, we often come back to the comfort foods of home. Foods we grew up with. Foods that have nostalgia and memories attached to them that go deeper than the ingredients, deeper than the instructions, and deeper than the flavors that come out at the end of the meal.
A couple nights ago, we went back to just such a place with the help of a bit of ham, potatoes, and peas as the stars of a supper. This nearly one-pot wonder is a bit thicker than a stew, but not quite a gravy, and is full of all the things that make up comfort food. Meals like this are great because they’re simple to put together, and can be adapted at a moment’s notice based on the vegetables, herbs, and spices in your kitchen. Stretch it for more people by adding more vegetables. Make it richer with more ham (or other meat). This one could even become vegetarian by using a vegetable stock and omitting meat.
The recipe below made enough for the three of us with about 1.5 to 2 servings left over. I eyeball most things, especially when I’m cooking from the heart. All measurements below are approximate. I chose to dice the ham and slice the veggies. You could dice the veggies instead of slicing, so long as all pieces will cook evenly. It’s about texture and what you like on your spoon/fork.
- 1/2 pound ham, diced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, sliced or diced
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 zucchini, sliced thin
- 1 carrot, sliced thin
- 2 waxy potatoes, cubed
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups stock
- 1 package frozen peas
- herbs to taste – I used four or five sprigs of fresh thyme and the tip of a sprig of rosemary
- 1/4 cup cream
- 1/2 a bottle of cider (or beer), optional
Put some water on to boil with enough salt to make the water taste like the Mediterranean sea. Although this dish goes back to my Irish roots, I like this guideline for salting water. Everything you use to cook as the opportunity to add flavor. I’m a big fan of adding flavor, so I salt my water liberally. I digress.
Heat a skillet. I prefer a large cast iron skillet.
Chop, slice, dice, or cube the vegetables and the ham. I cubed the potatoes, crushed the garlic, diced the ham, and sliced everything else.
Place the potatoes into the water on to boil. If it’s boiling at this point, great. If not, I don’t stress about it. Some people will have a VERY specific order for boiling potatoes. I don’t, especially in instances such as this one.
Once the skillet is hot, add the butter. You could use olive oil or some other oil if you prefer, but I like the richness the butter lends. I also think it makes a better roux that’s coming up in a couple of steps. Melt the butter. When it starts bubbling and foaming just a bit, add in the onions and start to soften them, along with a pinch of salt. At this point, add in the carrots and allow them to soften with the onions.
The ham. This is the point where I added the ham. Mine was pretty lean. If your ham is less than lean, add it earlier. Or chop the fatty bits away and add them first and the ham later. Doing this will render all the fat and add all that flavor do the supper.
When all this has a bit of color on it (just a bit. Don’t burn it or you’ll have mush to eat). Spread the veggies and ham out to the sides of the skillet, so there’s sort of a doughnut shape of goodness, with the butter int he middle. Grab a fork, sprinkle the flour over the center, and whisk the flour and butter together. A couple bits of the vegetables and ham might join the party. Don’t stress. The roux will not be ruined. Let the flour cook and brown a bit, and then deglaze with the cider or beer. If you’re skipping the alcohol, just go straight to the stock. Whisk well until the roux and liquid are well integrated, add in the rest of the stock, and bring the vegetables and ham back in to the mix – there’s no need to continue banishing them at this point.
Check the potatoes. They should be cooked and fork tender by now. Add them to the party along with the frozen peas. Keep on the heat a few minutes, until the peas are warmed through. Don’t keep it on the heat for too long or the peas will get tough and turn an unappetizing color.
Serve in bowls with some parsley on top and Irish soda bread on the side to sop up all the soupy goodness.