Huckleberry Gold Potatoes
Ham Hock / Smoked Gouda
Home Acres Orchard - Stevensville
Rocky Mountain Produce - Augusta
Kimm's Organic Potatoes - Manhattan
Lowdown Farm - Moiese
Foothill Farm - St. Ignatius
Black Dog Farm - Livingston / Flathead Lake Cheese - Polson
What the Heck is a Ham Hock?
A ham hock is from the leg of a pig, below the ham. Hocks are cured (salted and smoked) and need to be stewed or braised for a long time to break down the tough connective tissues, typically 2+ hours. Doing so will reward you with both a flavorful, collagen-rich broth, and tender bits of meat. You won't get tons of meat, but you will get tons of flavor.
In the US, ham hocks are best known from dishes like split pea soup, stewed collard greens, and black-eyed peas or hoppin' john, though you could use them in most any long-simmering soup or stew that benefits from smokey, meaty richness. Recipes often substitute bacon for ham hocks, since it is also fatty, salty, and smoked...and more approachable. Don't be afraid of hocks, though! I've linked in the online post to several recipes you might be interested in exploring in addition to this one:
Here's how to cook a ham hock for broth and meat, to use in today's Mac & Cheese recipe:
1 ham hock
1 onion, peeled and left whole
1 garlic clove
3-4 whole cloves, stuck into the onion
Place the ham hock in a large pot. Cover with water by a few inches, bring to a boil, then add a pinch of caraway seeds, the onion studded with cloves, and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer gently for ~2 hours, or until the meat easily falls off the bone.
Remove the ham hock and set aside to cool, leaving the broth in the pot. (If you're not going to use it right away, refrigerate it once it's cooled. You can strain it if you prefer a clearer broth.)
When the hock is cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the bones, discarding the skin, fat, bones, and anything else that isn't tender meat. Shred or chop the ham, then set it aside. Chop the garlic and onion, discarding the cloves, and set those aside as well.
Proceed with the Mac & Cheese recipe...
Homemade Mac & Cheese, with or without Purple Cauliflower and Ham Hock
Recipe adapted from Justine Shofield, Everyday Gourmet. Serves 4-6.
1 lb elbow macaroni, or other short pasta shape - regular or GF
2-3 C purple cauliflower, florets and stems, cut into bite-size pieces (optional)
4 Tbs butter
4 Tbs flour (aka 1/4 C) - GF one-to-one flour should work as well
2 C milk
~2 C broth - if you cooked the ham hock, use the ham broth! Or use chicken or veggie broth, or milk.
2 Tbs grainy mustard or dijon
Pinch of ground nutmeg (or freshly grated nutmeg, if you have it)
8 oz cheddar cheese, freshly grated - or a mix of cheese like gruyère, smoked gouda, mozzarella, etc.
1-2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
1 C breadcrumbs or panko - regular or GF (optional)
Fresh thyme (optional)
Meat from 1 ham hock - recipe above (optional)
Bring water for pasta to a boil in a large pot. Add 1-2 Tbs salt, then the pasta and cauliflower, if using. Cook until pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain and set aside
While the pasta water is heating up, melt the butter in a pot over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the flour and continue to stir for 1-2 min to cook out the raw flour taste. Little by little whisk in the milk, then the ham hock broth or other liquid you're using. Keep whisking until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, nutmeg, and cheeses, reserving a handful of cheese for the top. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. The ham hock is salted, so you may not need extra seasoning. If not using the ham broth, be sure to taste for salt and adjust seasoning as needed. [Add a pinch of fresh thyme leaves if you want]
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
[Optional - Make Thyme Breadcrumbs] Melt 1-2 Tbs butter in a skillet. Add some fresh thyme leaves, breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat. Set aside for your topping.
Add the pasta and cauliflower the cheese sauce (or vice versa) and gently fold until pasta is well-coated. Fold in the chopped onion, garlic, and ham meat, if using. Transfer mixture into a baking dish and top with reserved cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake until top is golden brown and mac & cheese is bubbling, 15-20 min.