Saturday, March 10, 2012

A big dish of Cannelloni

Mmm, cannelloni! It's like lasagna, but in tube form! It's so good, but I had actually never had this (maybe I had never even heard of it) until my 3rd year of university. My friends and I needed a 4th flatmate so we put signs up around campus and chose the first non-crazy person that called us. Turns out that she was a great cook who made an amazing white sauce, which featured in both her pasta bake and cannelloni. I immediately tried my own cannelloni, with varying results, but I blame that on having to cook the tubes first. Instant cannelloni tubes made life much easier, but this isn't a dish that I make very often. It's the type of thing that takes a little more time than other meals, a lot more dishes, and really needs a lot more people to eat it. So a dinner party was called for! I made this to take to a friend's, where we all brought a dish and proceeded to eat far too much. This is a meatless cannelloni but the sauces are rich enough to make up for that; I highly doubt that anybody will complain about the lack of meat!

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Tomato Sauce with Wine:
Olive oil or butter (about 2 tablespoons)
1 onion
2 carrots
1 red peppers
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cans tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups white wine
Salt and pepper

Instant cannelloni
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic
About 1 tablespoon dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
1 large bunch spinach (about 400 grams)
400 grams ricotta cheese
30 grams parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

White Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper
30 grams parmesan cheese

First, make the tomato sauce because it needs to simmer for a good long time. I made mine the night before, and actually made way more than what I have stated above, so that I could freeze some. Now whenever I want spaghetti in the next couple of weeks I can just pull out some sauce and be ready to eat in 10 minutes! But anyway, the sauce is very easy. First, dice all of the vegetables up fine and crush the garlic. Then heat the oil in a large pot and throw everything in. If you want to you can cook the onion and garlic for a bit first, but it's not really necessary. Just throw in all the ingredients and let it simmer for a half hour or so, until it's thick. Then you can either leave it chunky or blend it until it's smooth. Take a large lasagna dish or square casserole dish and place a thick layer of sauce in the bottom.

Next you need to prepare the cannelloni. Begin by heating the butter in a large pan. Crush the garlic and stir it about in the butter quickly along with the oregano, then begin to add the spinach. If you have large spinach leaves you might want to rip them up as you add them, but if you have baby spinach it's not necessary. Fill the pan with spinach and stir it about until it is wilted and reduced in size, then add more and more spinach until it is all in there. Remove it from the pan and place it in a bowl, to which you can add the ricotta cheese. Grate the parmesan over top, sprinkle on the salt and pepper and mix it up well. Then use a teaspoon (or your hands) to stuff the cannelloni tubes full of the spinach mixture. Place the stuffed cannelloni tubes on top of the tomato sauce.

If you have too many tubes for one layer, add some more tomato sauce over the top and add a second layer of tubes. This is what I did because I was cooking for too many people but cannelloni really isn't supposed to have layers like that.

Finally, you need to make your white sauce. In a medium sized pot, melt the butter and then stir the flour into it until it is a thick paste. Keep stirring this over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then begin to add the milk a little bit at a time. Every time after you add the milk you need to stir it into the paste so that there are no lumps. Do not add more milk until what you already have in the pot has thickened. If you do it properly it is quite slow but much yummier. If you do it fast, you will probably need to use a whisk to get rid of the lumps, but it will still taste good. When all of the milk is in you need to taste it and then season it with salt and pepper until it is yum. Then grate the cheese into the sauce and stir it in.

The last step is to pour the white/cheese sauce over the cannelloni (hopefully you have plenty because everybody loves plenty of sauce), sprinkle more parmesan over the top and bake until the cannelloni is cooked. Basically, if you put a skewer or fork into the middle of the dish it should easily slide through the cannolloni. It won't harm it to overcook a little if you are not sure. So if you are making your meal all at once, you should have started heating the oven up when you began to prepare the spinach filling. However, you could also prepare this and then place it in the fridge to bake later, which is why I didn't put the preheating the oven part earlier. Truth be told, for something like this the preheating is not that important - you could put the dish into a cold oven and then switch it on and it would just take a little longer to cook.

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