Home with the Lost Italian: Kids can help with easy ham recipe

This week we're excited to conclude our three-part Easter menu series with a recipe for baked ham from my great-grandmother, Florence Murphy, aka GooGoo.

Spring on a plate
Tony and Sarah Nasello. The Forum

This week we're excited to conclude our three-part Easter menu series with a recipe for baked ham from my great-grandmother, Florence Murphy, aka GooGoo.

GooGoo died before I was born, but her ham recipe has been a holiday staple in our family since I can remember, first at my grandmother's Easter table and then at my mother's.

The torch has been passed this year, and I will be making the Easter ham for our family's celebration on Sunday. I was grateful to be able to test out GooGoo's recipe in advance for our photo shoot, and am happy to report that the process was 100 percent painless.

Aside from tradition and the general ease of preparing this ham for baking, there are several things I like about GooGoo's recipe. Just minutes after I placed the ham in the oven, my kitchen smelled heavenly. Tony came home about 15 minutes later and practically swooned with delight. Seriously, he was almost weak in the knees - reason enough to make this ham again. And again.

But my favorite discovery was that this is the perfect recipe to make with kids. From studding the ham with cloves, to preparing the paste and basting it as it bakes, watching the water level in the pan, and even whisking the gravy, kids can be a part of the entire process.


If you're a parent or grandparent, I hope you'll consider inviting the little ones in your life to help out - I guarantee they'll never forget it, and will probably even volunteer to help next year.

When buying the ham, I was confronted with the choice between a shank half or a butt half. (Yes, I know I just said butt. You can, too - it will give the kids a good laugh.) Both were close in price and looked essentially the same to me, so I asked the friendly butcher at Hornbacher's which one would be better. He explained that there are more bones in the butt half, and that the shank half, which was the slightly more expensive option, had just one bone and better flavor. I took the shank.

Ham comes already cooked, so you could just eat it straight from the wrapping if you like. But GooGoo had a better vision, as baking the ham intensifies its flavor. GooGoo's recipe is delicious, straightforward, easy to follow and practically foolproof.

The one key to remember is to add a little water to the pan once the ham is in, which will help prevent the sugar from burning. I had to add a tablespoon or two of water several times as it baked, so be sure to check the pan often. This will be a great job for our 9-year-old son, Gio.

We're including GooGoo's recipe for ham gravy today, so this step is important to ensure that the drippings can be used; however, if you don't intend to make gravy, it's not such a big deal.

GooGoo's ham is excellent served either hot or at room temperature, which means you can prepare it in advance for an Easter brunch if desired. But, if you do plan to make the ham gravy it is best when made and served right after the ham is removed from the oven.

We hope you enjoy GooGoo's ham at your family's Easter feast, but it will brighten up your table even on a plain old Monday. I know it did for GooGoo. Happy Easter!

GooGoo's Easter Ham


Serves 6 to 8


1 shank half ham, bone-in (this is a more choice and flavorful cut than the butt half)

Whole cloves, approximately 40 to 50

1 cup brown sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon dry mustard



Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Trim most of the fat off the top of the ham, leaving just a thin layer to add flavor. Lay the ham its side so that the flat edge is facing out, and stud the top with cloves space about ¾-inch apart.

In a small bowl, form a thin paste by mixing the brown sugar, cider vinegar and dry mustard until smooth and well combined. Use a brush to liberally coat the top of the clove-studded ham with the paste, saving some to use later for basting.

Transfer the ham to a baking or roasting pan and then add a slight amount of water to the dish, about 1/8 to ¼ inch maximum. This will prevent the sugar from burning as the ham bakes, and provide the drippings needed if making gravy later. Check the ham every 20 to 30 minutes as it bakes and add more water to the dish by the tablespoon if necessary.

Bake in the oven for approximately two hours. After the first hour, brush the ham with another coat of the paste and repeat after another 30 minutes. Cook until the top of the ham is a rich, golden brown. Let the ham rest for five to 10 minutes before carving.

Ham Gravy


Drippings from the pan


½ cup flour

2 tablespoons cold water


Combine the flour and cold water to prepare a slurry, which is used to thicken the sauce and create the gravy. Set aside.

Place the roasting dish on the stove over medium heat and whisk vigorously to release all the drippings. Add a little water if necessary.

Transfer the drippings into a small or medium sauce pan and add the slurry in small amounts, starting with 1 tablespoon. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking vigorously to incorporate all the ingredients and remove any lumps. The gravy is ready when it has achieved a smooth consistency. Transfer to a serving dish and serve over ham and potatoes.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at . All previous recipes can be found at


Tony and Sara Nasello
Goo-Goo's Baked Ham is a flavorful, simple recipe that makes an ideal centerpiece for Easter dinner. Photos by Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Forum file photo

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