Growing up, Easter dinner meant two things in my house: ham and macaroni and cheese. Sure, we had other things over the years–green beans and new potatoes, sometimes stuffing, rolls–but there was no doubt about the main event. Mac and cheese is pretty easy to do no matter where you live (see my mom’s killer, souffle-style preparation below). Ham, however, can be kind of hard to source outside of the south if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and most of us don’t give the matter any thought until Easter or some other event makes finding it a priority. You don’t move to New York and immediately think: Ok, I’m here. Now, first things first. Gotta get a ham guy. It just doesn’t come up.
I experienced this in December when we were throwing a holiday party. We tried to order a ham from Benton’s, but there wasn’t time. Then, we discovered the North Carolina Country Store in Brooklyn, but we couldn’t seem to get there during their business hours. Finally, a chef friend recommended Esposito’s Meat Market in midtown. It was a revelation. The selection is fresh and varied, the prices are incredibly good and, most importantly, the butchers are super helpful and full of advice. This last bit is especially important if you’re a country ham kind of person like me and don’t know what to do with the salty slab of meat once you get it home. Here’s what the folks at Esposito’s told me: Scrub it clean (I would have never known to do that) and soak it in water overnight. I followed their instructions and adapted another of my mom’s methods of using Coke as a cooking liquid, and the results were amazing. Here’s what you do: Transfer cleaned, soaked ham to a roasting pan, pour a liter of Coke or Dr. Pepper over top, tent it with aluminum foil and cook for 1/2 hour at 400 degrees, then 1 1/2 hours (or longer depending on size of ham) at 325. So, now you’ve got a guy for ham and a recipe for mac and cheese. Just add chocolates and a bunny and voila, Easter.
Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese
1 Box elbow noodles
1 Block medium cheddar (or Sharp if that’s your thing), shredded
2 Cups milk
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Cook noodles in salted, boiling water. Drain. Layer noodles, cheese and dots of butter in a round casserole dish until you reach the top. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and milk. Pour egg mixture over noodles and cheese (should almost reach the top). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until bubbly and browned on top.