Cheesy Pasta with Ham, Spinach, & Peppers

I was confronted during the first week of the year with having to use up the last of our Christmas ham (as well as a whole lot of other leftovers from the holidays). There wasn’t much ham left on the bone and I didn’t have enough of anything else on hand to make soup, but what I eventually realized is that I did have almost everything on hand to make one of our favorite leftover ham dishes, pasta tossed with spinach, red pepper, and diced ham and coated in creamy cheese. It’s one of the simplest and easiest recipes in my repertoire, and always a crowd pleaser.

The only thing I was lacking this time was the spinach, but Brett and I included a bag of baby spinach one my first of the month Trader Joe’s list. That evening, I diced the remaining ham (and put the bone in the freezer for a later pot of soup), julienned a red pepper that had been hanging out in the produce drawer, cooked a remaining half bag of pasta I had in the pantry, and finally tossed the finished product with some leftover spreadable sharp cheddar cheese. With the addition of some freshly cracked pepper, the result was a fabulous meal that got only a couple of dishes dirty and provided leftovers for the next two days’ lunches.

The beauty of this dish is that it can be made from whatever someone desires or already has on hand. I rarely, if ever, see it any more, but my favorite spreadable cheese for this dish has always been sun-dried tomato, but any soft cheese spread – garlic with herbs, for example – works fine. Any type of pasta is fine as well, although the original recipe called for farfalle (bow ties). The pepper doesn’t have to be red, and spinach can be replaced with kale, arugula, or other greens. Ham provides a smoky flavor, but there’s no reason bacon, chicken, beef, or even salmon couldn’t be used.

Below is the basic recipe – variations are up to the cook and what’s on hand!


  • 5-ounce bag baby spinach
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced ham
  • 12 ounces dried pasta. Ones created to catch the sauce are preferred over long noodles, but they can work too
  • 8-12 ounces soft cheese spread

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Don’t skimp on the water – the pasta water is what will “cook” the spinach and pepper.

Wash the spinach and leave in a colander. Julienne the red pepper into very thin strips and lay on top of the spinach.

When the pasta is ready, slowly pour the pasta water over the spinach and peppers, ending with the pasta sitting on the top. Let it sit for a minute or so, then transfer the pasta, spinach, and pepper back into the stockpot. Using tongs, pull apart the clumps of spinach and mix throughout the pasta along with the pepper strips, which should be tender crisp and not soggy.

When the spinach is mixed through the pasta, add the diced ham to the stockpot and mix it through the pasta.

Finally, add the spreadable cheese to the pasta. The heat from the pasta will soften it to coat the pasta as it is mixed. Gently stir until all the pasta and vegetables are coated.

Serve immediately with cracked pepper.


8 thoughts on “Cheesy Pasta with Ham, Spinach, & Peppers

  1. This looks yummy, and I love the idea of the spinach and pepper being cooked by the hot pasta and water. Definitely saving this, as I always wonder what to do with leftover ham besides a sandwich and scalloped potatoes & ham (which neither of us love).


    1. I have served this to company several times (often with artichokes and some good crusty bread) and it’s always been a hit. I’ve even been known to buy ham just to make it, but usually save it for leftovers. I was very happy with how it worked out with the cheddar cheese!

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  2. This looks amazing! We had some leftover ham during the holiday and I wish we had made this recipe. I will keep it in my back pocket for next time we have extra ham. Yum!


    1. I don’t know anyone who’s tried this recipe that doesn’t love it, and it’s a great way to use up leftover ham. I’m sort of interested in making it with leftover smoked salmon, although we never seem to have any of that leftover . . . ever. But, I think it would be good.


  3. I have never heard of “cooking” the vegetables this way, but it seems dead simple. I can visualize adapting this to my tastes and think we would love it.


    1. It is a highly adaptable recipe! The only “problem” is that the spinach tends to clump in the colander, so I always use tongs to break it up so it’s mixed more evening throughout the pasta.

      Whenever we have ham, I always get asked if I’m going to make this (of course!). My kids loved it, and it is a great dish for company.


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