Asparagus-and-Ham Casserole

Maybe this recipe isn't re-writing the culinary history of casserole making, but it sure makes a great weeknight dinner! Ready in less than 45 minutes, it is colorful, flavorful, and going to leave you full...y satisfied. You will find it hard to stop taking that "one last forkfull" of this somewhere-between-delicate-and-hearty dish. Can we just say comfort-food? I can hear you already, "Okay, now, this is the last fork-full. ... Ah, what the heck, just one more. ... And one last one - for the road. ..." ;-) And you know what? Best thing of all, you don't have to feel the least bit guilty about it: This is a decidedly low-fat, low-sodium recipe. So, dig in!

Ingredients (to serve 4):

4 cups uncooked extra-broad egg noodles
3 cups (1 1/2-inch) sliced asparagus
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup whole milk, skim, if desired
1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup finely diced onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 oz. cubed ham, low-sodium, if desired
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, packed
1/4 cup breadcrumbs, seasoned, if desired
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Preparation (30 minutes plus 15 minutes baking time):

1. Cook pasta in boiling water 7 minutes, omitting salt and fat. Add asparagus, cook 1 minute. Drain.

2. Lightly spoon the flour into a measuring cup. Place flour, thyme, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Gradually add milk and broth, stirring with a whisk until well-blended.

3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sauté 4 minutes. Add milk mixture, cook until thick, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

4. Combine the pasta mixture, milk mixture, ham, and parsley in a large bowl. Spoon into a 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese.

5. Bake in a preheated oven (450 degrees Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown.

Serve with a nice glass of light red wine ... Enjoy!