This months Daring Kitchen Challenge provoked my fading memories of a life briefly lived in Italy. How incredible to tap back into the warmth of Tiziana’s Sicilian kitchen where I learn how to make pasta, with a strong flour milled mere kilometers away and eggs from the galina’s that roost outside our window, my flour covered hands furiously scribbling the recipe in pidgin Italian. I remember marveling then, and many more times during our 6 month stay, at the communication cooking facilitated; food and recipes became the ice breaker, the glue, the common ground and the centre of our time in Italy and the people we met there.
Nostalgia satisfied I reach for my pasta maker, so lovingly lugged across Europe to be unceremoniously abandoned in my highest kitchen cupboard, I am admonished for such desertion by rust tinged rollers. Heavy friction with some paper towelling cleans the rollers and I’m ready to pay culinary homage to Bella Italia.
This is a labour-intensive recipe, make sure you’re able to spend a couple of hours cooking, appreciatively the actual processes involved are all quite straightforward. There are some important resting periods (pasta for 1 hour to soften the dough, spinach for 1 hour to drain excess water) that you should not short-cut, as long as these elements are honored I’m certain the dish will be buonissimo. Hope you try cooking it – let me know how you go if you do!
Blog Checking Line: Manu from Manu’s Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family’s treasured recipes!
Cannelloni Di Magro: Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni
Enough for 4 forks (best served with a plain salad of green beans)
Preparation time: 30 minutes to make fresh pasta; 20 minutes for the filling; 15 minutes to make béchamel sauce; 20 minutes for the assembly and 20-25 minutes for baking. This dish can be prepared in advance and then baked whenever required.
100 grams (2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 large egg
1 pinch salt
1 t tomato paste (optional – this just adds a bit of colour to the pasta)
2 cups (500 ml) milk, hot
3½ tablespoons (50 gm) butter
1/3 cup (50 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 pinch salt
1 pinch nutmeg
2 bunches (500 gm) (1 lb) spinach (raw to be cleaned)
1-2/3 cups (400 ml) (400 gm) (14 oz) ricotta
2 cups (480 ml) (120 gms) (4 oz) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated, divided
Salt and pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
1 large egg
1. Put the flour, egg, salt and tomato paste (if using) in a food processor and mix. When the dough looks like crumbs, pour it onto the bench top sprinkled with a little flour. Knead well by hand until you obtain a smooth dough. Make it into a ball, wrap it in cling wrap and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
2. Now you are ready to make your egg pasta. Cut out a piece of egg pasta dough and flatten it into a rectangular shape with your hands. Put a little flour on it and begin passing it though the pasta machine. Turn the dial to the widest setting (#1) and, starting with one of the shorter sides of the rectangle, feed it through the rollers. Now fold one side of the piece of dough into the middle, then fold the other side over that to form 3 layers. Starting with one of the narrower sides of the folded dough, feed the pasta through the machine, again at the widest setting. Repeat the folding and rolling technique on the widest setting for at least a couple of times.
3. Now you can start rolling it thinner, by turning the dial to the next narrowest setting (# 2). Roll the pasta through the machine without folding the dough between settings. Keep reducing the settings until #7 (it is the second last on my machine – about 1 mm thick). If the sheet of pasta gets too long, you can cut it in half with a knife. To make cannelloni, cut out rectangular pasta sheets (10×15 cm) (4”x6”).
NOTE: you can do this even without the pasta machine… just use a rolling pin to get a very thin sheet of dough and then cut it into rectangles.
1. Put the butter in a non-stick pot and let it melt. Add the flour and whisk constantly until well incorporated: this is the “roux”. Let it cook for a minute or two.
2. Now start adding hot milk little by little, while mixing continuously until the milk is well incorporated. Do not add more milk unless it is well incorporated. Keep doing so until all the milk is incorporated.
3. Add salt and nutmeg and cook it on a low flame for 10 minutes or until it thickens.
4. When ready, cover it to prevent a film to appear on the surface.
Note: If you still get a lumpy sauce, do not throw it out. You can still save it and make it smooth by using a hand stick blender.
1. Clean and wash the spinach. Cook them for 2 minutes in salty boiling water. Drain them and run some cold water on them to cool it down quickly (this will help them retain a nice green colour). Keep them in the colander for 1 hour to lose the excess water. Then squeeze them with your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Now cut them finely with a knife.
2. Put the ricotta in a bowl, add the minced spinach, egg, 1½ cups (85 gms/3 oz) of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Put a large pot with salty water on the fire and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta sheets in it for 1 minute. Do this in batches (I use a shallow but large pot and I cook them in 1 layer, so I am sure they do not stick together). Remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on a clean tea towel to cool down.
4. Now take one sheet of cooked pasta and put 1/8 of the filling along the long side of the rectangle. Roll it over to make a cannellone. Do so for the remaining rectangles of pasta.
5. Take a big enough oven dish to fit all your cannelloni tightly. Spray it with some cooking oil (or melted butter) and pour some béchamel sauce on the bottom. Spread it well, especially in the corners. Put the cannelloni in the oven dish on 1 layer.
6. Cover the cannelloni with the remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup (35 gm/1 oz) of Parmigiano Reggiano.
7. Bake them in a pre-heated moderate oven 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 for 20 minutes, then broil (grill) them at 400°F/200°C for another 5 minutes.
8. Serve immediately.
Freezing/Storage Instructions/Tips: You can easily make the pasta sheets in advance and freeze them uncooked for up to 3 months. Simply let them dry for a few hours and wrap them individually in cling wrap and then put them in a freezer bag. You can also prepare the full dish and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before baking it, or freeze it covered with aluminum foil. Defrost it and/or bring it back to room temperature before baking it.