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A Bone to Pick Over

The Easter ham and the Thanksgiving turkey have little in common nutritionally, but from my gastronomic point of view they have one great similarity: Both are much more interesting as leftovers than they are in their original forms.

Ham, especially, is hard to take as a mighty slab but wonderful as a seasoning. From chunks that go with pasta and peas to the ham bone in the bean soup, just a little bit is enough to alert the taste buds: meat in here, full meal.

No other protein except maybe cheese has a wider range of comfortable companions. Just saute some diced ham with onions or garlic and add (with or without a splash of cream) to any of the cole crops (cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower or broccoli raab), to potatoes or sweet potatoes, peas, beans, peppers, mushrooms, rice or noodles or scrambled eggs, green salad, grilled apples . . . . Assuming you don’t try chocolate sauce, you can’t miss.

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To get the most mileage from a roast ham, start with a serious piece of meat. It needn’t be a long-cured, super-salty country type; what matters is that it be a leg of pork that contains no more brine than necessary for curing, and that it has been really and truly smoked--smoked in a smokehouse, not just painted with smoke flavor. Inconvenient though it may be, ham with bone in has more flavor than boneless ham, but since you want the bone anyway. . . .

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Spicy, aromatic and filling without being heavy, these fritters need only a green salad to make a meal. They’re called fritters mostly because I can’t bear to call them patties; don’t expect anything but the very edges to be crisp.

HOT STUFF HAM FRITTERS WITH PARSNIPS AND CARROTS

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1/2 pound carrots

1/2 pound parsnips

1 (1-inch) chunk ginger root, peeled

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 1/2 cups cooked ham, chopped into small pieces

1 long green chile, not seeded, thinly sliced crosswise

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

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1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 to 3 eggs

Rendered ham fat or vegetable oil

Red pepper flakes, optional

Lemon wedges

Peel carrots and parsnips. Then shred on large holes of grater or in food processor. Shred ginger on small holes of grater or in food processor. In bowl combine carrots, parsnips and ginger with onion, ham and chile. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.

Place flour, baking powder and nutmeg in small bowl and mix thoroughly. Stir flour mixture into vegetable-ham mixture. Mix in 2 eggs. Mixture should hold together when lifted by spoonful. If shreds come apart, add third egg.

Put bit of rendered ham fat in small skillet over medium-high heat. Make 1 (1-tablespoon-sized) test fritter and brown on both sides in skillet. Taste fritter, it should have spicy zing. Add red pepper flakes to batter, if more heat is desired.

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At serving time, heat generous film of ham fat in wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When fat just starts smoking, drop ham mixture into pan, allowing about 1/3 cup per fritter, and keeping fritters well separated. Flatten fritters with spatula to about 1/3-inch thick. Fry, turning once, until both sides are well browned, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer finished fritters to paper towel-lined baking sheet. Keep warm in 200-degree oven while frying second batch. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges on side. Makes 12 fritters, 4 to 6 servings.

Each fritter contains about:

104 calories; 410 mg sodium; 51 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.71 grams fiber.

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These are moister than regular biscuits, less crisp but better keepers. Serve with chowder for supper, with eggs for breakfast--or all by themselves, split and drizzled with honey.

SWEET POTATO BISCUITS WITH HAM AND SESAME

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

1/4 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup cake flour

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cups cooked ham, finely chopped

1/3 cup sesame seeds

Butter

In bowl beat together sweet potato, melted butter and milk. Set aside.

Combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt in wide, shallow mixing bowl. Stir with wire whip until thoroughly mixed. Stir in ham.

Using as few strokes as possible, stir sweet potato mixture into dry ingredients. Dough should be soft and slightly sticky.

Sprinkle work surface with sesame seeds, covering area about 1 foot square. Turn dough onto prepared surface, sprinkle top with sesame seeds and pat out into rough square about 9 inches on each side and 1/2-inch thick. Add seeds as necessary to keep fingertips from sticking.

Using sharp knife dipped in flour, cut dough into squares. Transfer squares to generously buttered baking sheet, placing squares at least 2 inches apart. Bake at 450 degrees 20 minutes or until well browned. Cool squares on wire racks, if biscuits won’t be eaten right away. Makes 16 biscuits.

Each biscuit contains about:

103 calories; 210 mg sodium; 11 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.22 grams fiber.


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