Collards & Ham Smoked Mac & Cheese

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3 hours
30 minutes
Collards & Ham Smoked Mac & Cheese

This recipe is a play on classic southern slow cooked collard greens. Normally the collard greens and ham hock would be served as a side along other BBQ favorites. You can still do this if you want, but we added a step of taking the greens once they are ready and baking them into a macaroni and cheese. The finished product is a cheesy mac with healthy greens and nice smoky bites of ham. If you are not into ham you can use smoked kielbasa, or if you want to avoid the smoky flavor all together, any sausage pork, chicken, or turkey will work.  If the cook time on this recipe intimidates you, you can use a pressurized pot like an instant pot to speed up the process. 


1-2 pounds of smoked ham hock (You can also use smoked kielbasa, or most types of sausage. Just note with a non-smoked sausage you will lose that smoky flavor. 

1lb pasta of choice

4 cloves of garlic (2 for greens & 2 reserved for béchamel shown below)

1 bunch of collard greens (if you are against collards, kale works too)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 onion sliced for collards

1 knob of butter for collards

pinch of sugar, salt & pepper for collards

1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar for collards

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

For béchamel:

2 cups milk, full fat is ideal
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced 
Few gratings fresh nutmeg (optional)


Cook collards and ham -  The first part of this recipe takes time. 2-3 hours. Low and slow. Put your onions and a knob of butter in a large pot. Sauté onions until translucent. Add your chopped and rinsed collards. Stuff the pan full of them, they will cook down in size. Sprinkle salt, pepper, a touch of sugar and apple cider vinegar into the pot. Add your ham hock. Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 2-3 hours. Note: If you have a instant Pot or another type of pressure cooker, you can do this in much less time. Once done remove your now tender ham hock. Let cool enough to handle before pulling/cutting the meat from the bone. Chop into bite sized pieces and add back into the collards. At this point you can serve this dish as is. It makes a wonderful side to fried chicken, brisket, or other BBQ favorites. For this recipe however, we suggest adding it right into mac and cheese.  NOTE: If you do not have this time, you can sauté the collards with onion until tender (about 10 minutes) but you will have to omit the ham hock as it needs that long period of time to get tender. 

Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente (about 8-10 minutes). Drain pasta. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Optional - If not using ham hocks and instead using sausage do the following. If you are using ham hocks, skip this step: Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, brown and sauté until cooked through. This should take about 5 minutes. Add your sausage in bite sized pieces to your cooked collards. If you chose to omit the ham hocks, you can cook your collards in the bot for about 30 minutes then add sausage and cook another 10, before removing from heat.

Make the bechamel (this is optional) if you want to skip this step read the next note below this section. 

Melt butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add flour and stir it into the butter until smooth. Cook the mixture together for a minute, stirring constantly. Pour in a small drizzle of milk, whisking constantly into the butter-flour mixture until smooth. Continue to drizzle a very small amount at a time, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added a little over half of the milk, you’ll find that you have more of a thick sauce or batter, and you can start adding the milk in larger splashes, being sure to keep mixing.

Once all of the milk is added, add the salt, garlic, nutmeg and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring the mixture to a lower simmer and cook it, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Assemble and bake: IMPORTANT - Before adding your collards, they will be sitting in a lot liquid that they produced while cooking. Pour the liquid off, and squeeze the greens with a spoon or your hands. You do not want to add watery greens to your pasta or you will make mac and cheese soup. Once the liquid is gone, add the greens/ham and béchamel to the bowl with the pasta. Stir in mozzarella stir until combined. NOTE: if you did not make the béchamel, just mix your pasta, ham/sausage, greens and cheese until combined. Pour into a lasagna pan, deep 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole dish. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the edges and craggy points are nicely bronzed. 

 Eat warm! Reheats nicely!


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