Spring Time Manicotti

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A new and different way to pair the last of your Easter ham and spring vegetables, this recipe takes a little longer than some to prepare but it is really easy to do.

1 pound fresh asparagus
8 oz ricotta cheese
4 oz shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper, divided
1 1/2 cup baked ham, diced
3/4 cup frozen green peas, thawed
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
2 tsp garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
2 cups 1% lowfat milk
8 no-boil lasagna noodles

1. Prepare the asparagus by first snapping off and discarding the woody ends. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Steam the asparagus spears for 1 1/2 minutes, then shock in the ice water to stop cooking; remove to a clean dish towel and allow to dry briefly, then trim the tip ends to 4 or 5 inches in length and remove to a plate, leaving the empty dish towel for later. Reserve the remaining stalks for another use, like risotto or stir fry. (Since the stalks have been blanched, they can be frozen.)
2. In a medium bowl, combine 2 oz. shredded Swiss cheese, ricotta, 1/2 tsp salt, and1/4 tsp pepper; blend well. Add the diced ham, and again blend well. Gently fold in the peas. Set the cheese mixture aside.
3. For the sauce, in a small saucepan, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften; add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Whisk in the flour along with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper; cook two minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened. Cover and remove from heat.
4. Add 2 quarts boiling water to a 9×13 or similar 2 1/2 qt. rectangular baking dish. Submerge the no boil lasagna noodles, staggering them to prevent sticking. Let stand 5 minutes then remove from the water and arrange in a single layer on the now empty dish towel.
5. Heat the oven to 350°. Clean out the baking dish and spread about 1/2 cup of sauce in the bottom.
6. Divide the cheese mixture between the 8 softened noodles, forming a log across the short side of each about 1″ up from the bottom. Lay 3 or 4 asparagus tips across each log of filling. Roll the manicotti tightly, starting with the filled end and place seam side down onto the sauce in a single layer. Pour the remaining cream sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the rest of the shredded Swiss cheese.
7. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or so, until bubbly, then uncover and bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Servings: 4
Oven Temperature: 350°F

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