Use holiday leftovers to make ham and cheese puffs

Gretchen Mckay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Combine leftover ham with spinach and cheese to make savory tarts.

One of the best part of any holiday dinner is the leftovers. After Easter, there’s a good chance you have a surplus of ham.

Rather than simply slapping some slices between two pieces of bread with a dab of mustard or mayo, why not dice it up and use it as a filing for an elegant tart?

This tart recipe is so easy because you start with store-bought puff pastry sheets instead of stressing over homemade dough. The filling is a snap to pull together, too. Creamy bechamel sauce that binds the filling together requires just three ingredients and five minutes of cooking time. Now, who doesn’t know how to chop up some ham and/or spinach?

Don’t forget the egg wash; it helps the pastries become shiny, golden-brown and super crispy.

The tarts can be served hot or at room temperature. Depending on how much filling is used, you can eat the tarts either with your hands, or they may require a knife and fork. Pair them with a crisp salad, and you’ve got an easy, and elegant, dinner or brunch offering.

Ham, Cheese and Spinach Tarts

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1¼ cups warm milk

Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Pinch of ground nutmeg

2 large handfuls fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped (about 2 cups)

½ pound cooked ham, diced

1 cup grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese, divided

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place thawed pastry sheets on a floured surface and gently roll each out to a 10-by-15-inch rectangle. Cut the puff pastry sheets into 5-inch squares and place on a large parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. (You will get 12 squares.) Set aside while you make the sauce.

For the bechamel sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has a slightly nutty aroma, about 2 minutes.

Pour in warm milk ¼ cup at a time, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or whisk until smooth. Bring to a boil, then season to taste with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Lower the heat and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more, until thick and bubbly. Stir in spinach and cook for 1 minute, until spinach is wilted. Add ham and half the cheese and stir well. Set aside.

Spoon a tablespoon or two of the bechamel mixture on top of each pastry square. Divide the remaining half of the grated cheese on top and close the pockets by folding the corners toward the center. Don’t worry if the edges don’t meet; you’re not looking for perfection here. Brush the tops of each tart with egg wash.

Alternatively, for a double-crusted tart, spread 2 tablespoons of the bechamel mixture on top of six squares, leaving a ½-inch border around the edge. Brush the edges with an egg wash, then top with grated cheese and place another square on top. Crimp edges with a fork to hold it together, brush the tops with egg wash and then cut a few slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then serve hot or warm, with a crisp salad.

Serves 6.

— Gretchen McKay