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The Shameless Chef: Lemon Butter Shells with Ham

This week's dish is going to be a little bit more complicated than usual. I'll come right out and say it: You are going to make some sauce. OUT OF A KIT! Haha, out of a kit. Sorry, don't panic. I should have said that up front. You're going to have to once again boil noodles (the noodle of your choice will serve, but I prefer shells) and you will have to use -- and I am deeply, deeply sorry for this -- a whisk.

But don't lose heart yet: In about 20 minutes, your reward shall be a bold, tart, salty dish, a flavor-intensive experience a little like if someone rolled up a wet towel and whipped you across the tongue with it. Except in a good way.

You will need:

  • one package of pasta (again, I like shells for their sauce-storing nature)
  • one package of diced ham (you don't even have to cut it up yourself!)
  • one jar of capers
  • one or two packages of Hollandaise sauce mix (I used two, but honestly it made a lot of sauce)
  • one stick of butter or margarine
  • milk
  • lemon juice
  • salt

Remember that big-ass pot we used to cook the spaghetti in? Get it out, fill it about halfway full with hot water, and set it on the stove. Put the heat up to high; no reason to dick around, it's going to take long enough to come to a boil as it is.

While that's in the works, get started on the sauce packet. The bad news is, yes, this means you will once again have two things on the stove at the same time. The good news is, every single packet of sauce you can buy will have instructions on it, so just follow them, and you'll be fine. Generally, you mix the sauce powder and the milk (usually 1/2 cup per packet) together vigorously. I tried it with a fork, and yes, you definitely do need that stupid-looking whisk. I guess if you don't have a whisk you could try putting it in a jar and shaking it... I really have no idea what that will do, though. But I mean, what are you supposed to do, just drop everything and go out and buy a whisk? You've got water on the boil, for Christ's sake.

Once you've got that mixed together, go ahead and turn on the heat and melt the butter in there (usually a 1/2 a stick per packet). Keep stirring; this is important, since ideally you want as little sauce as possible to convert into toasted, chewy brown crud stuck to the sides of the pot.

At some point your big-ass pot of water is finally going to decide to boil. When that happens, decrease the heat a little and throw in the entire bag of shells (not the plastic bag itself, unless you like noodles that taste and smell like poison). Put a tablespoon or two of salt in there. You'll want to stir the noodles occasionally, too.

When the sauce has come to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer. At this time, I like to throw in the capers and the ham, after draining them both. Yes, the entire jar of capers, and the entire pack of ham. It's good to let them simmer inside the sauce for a little while, so their various flavors and juices can get to know one another in that sexy way that foods will do. This is also the correct time to add a whole lot of lemon juice. I wish I had a specific measurement for you; sadly, I just don't. The best thing to do is add it until it's got the proper level of lemony zing which you and your loved ones have agreed upon beforehand.

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Let the shells boil for about eight minutes, then drain them into -- sorry to do this to you after the whisk thing -- a colander. Once the sauce has boiled for about five minutes, it will be thick enough, and you can turn off the heat and remove it from the stove (do not set the hot saucepot on top of oily rags or pets). Let it cool for about five more minutes to thicken it up some before you combine it with the shells.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Shameless Chef, doesn't using an actual vegetable in one of your dishes defeat the entire point of your column? What, are you going to start throwing recipes for free-range vegan tofurkey at us, pansy-boy?" I understand your initial shock, but we're still in permissible vegetable territory here. Capers don't have that "boiled gym sock" taste that most vegetables do. In fact, they're more like little salt grenades. Yes! They're salty! That makes them okay.

Also, salsa has vegetables in it, and we will be using the shit out of salsa in future recipes.

Oh yeah, your dish is ready. Let it cool off for a little bit, and then book a one-way ticket to Flavorvania on the Pasta Wagon.

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