Creamy Ham Hock Casserole with Goat's Cheese Crostini

This tasty casserole is the perfect dish to enjoy over Spring, loaded with crunchy asparagus and sweet peas. This ham-hock one-pot will be an instant hit.

Economy Gastronomy
From the book Economy Gastronomy
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Introduction

Ham and cheese – thrifty grub dressed to impress. Believe me, this dish will do it foreveryone... Ham hocks are taken from the end of the leg – basically it’s the ankle of the animal and should be bought from your butcher. A good tip when buying a ham hock is to soak it in water for at least half an hour, to remove the salty brine. Both the cooking of the ham hocks and the making of the sauce can be done the day before and they can be kept in the fridge. Planning is key!

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 2 h 50 min
Total time: 3 h 10 min

Ingredients

2 x 1.5kg unsmoked ham hocks (or use smoked if you prefer)
1 carrot, unpeeled and left whole
1 onion, peeled and left whole
2 star anise
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 chicken stock cubes
12 fresh English asparagus spears, woody stalks snapped off, cut into 3cm pieces
a handful of fresh or frozen peas
chopped fresh parsley and tarragon
For the sauce:
150g butter
120g plain flour
1.2l ham stock (from cooking the ham hocks)
125ml double cream
125ml milk
For the crostini:
1 French stick, cut into 8 long diagonal slices and lightly toasted
150g crumbled goat’s cheese (or any leftover cheese will work)

Instructions

Put the ham hocks, carrot, onion, star anise, thyme sprigs and stock cubes into a large pot and pour in enough cold water to cover everything. Add another 2.5 litres of water and slowly bring to a simmer (this can take about 30 minutes), skimming off any frothy stuff from the top as this can make the stock bitter.

Let the hocks simmer away for about 2 hours, checking every so often that it doesn’t need topping up with water. Turn off the heat and allow the hocks to cool to room temperature in what is now a hammy-flavoured stock.

Take the hocks out of the stock and remove and discard the fat and skin that surrounds the meat. Pick off all the pink meat – it will come away fairly naturally in bite-sized pieces, which is good as we don’t want it too straggly. Put the meat in a dish, covered, in the fridge until later. Pour the stock through a strainer so you are left with clear liquid. (Rather than throwing them away, the carrot and onion could now be blended with any leftover stock to make a broth – who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?)

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and then throw in the flour. Stir this mixture about for a minute or so, then add a ladleful of the ham stock. The mixture will sizzle and seethe, but be brave and give it a stir. Immediately add a second ladleful and again stir it into the butter and flour mixture. Keep doing this until you have added the required amount of ham stock, allowing the sauce to return to the boil every so often.

By now you will have a thick sauce. Bring it to the boil, then stir in the cream and the milk. Reboil once more before removing from the heat. The sauce will be the consistency of thick double cream.

Cook the asparagus in boiling water for 1 minute then add the peas and cook for another minute. Drain and rinse in cold water to cool. Just before serving, reheat the sauce, add the flaked ham hock and stir in well. Add the asparagus and the peas, then stir in the chopped herbs. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm.

Meanwhile, divide the crumbled goat’s cheese between the French stick slices and place them under a hot grill. When the cheese has melted, lay the crostini on top of the ham hock casserole and serve with new potatoes.

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