Sunday, 19 October 2008

Leave the gun...take the cannelloni.

So I went a bit cooking-herical today. I don't know what got into me, especially as last night I was up until 2am making chutney (note to self: chutney takes a loooong time, don't start it at ten in the evening). Despite the late night exploits I still felt the need to make more jam, and then more chutney, and in between I knocked up a batch of cheese scones for lunch and a cannelloni for dinner.

Not bad for one little lady. N says he now understands why Italian women often spend between seven and nine hours in the kitchen! He was also very sweet indeed in his appreciation of our lunch of cheese scones and homemade chutney; a meal entirely homemade.

I don't want to reveal much about the preserves as I am possibly going to unleash them on people as Christmas presents. However I do want to talk about the cannelloni.

I've never made cannelloni before. My only experience of it is my childhood memories of my Mum standing over a pot of sauce patiently stuffing tubes of dried pasta and whisking white sauce. The result was one of my favourite meals back when I was a meat eater. Now it's the veggie versions that occupy that place. It has to be one of my favourite pasta dishes, and I might even go as far as saying it's one of my favourite dishes full stop.

And yet for some reason I'd never attempted it myself. Then last week a huge batch of spinach arrived in our organic box and I decided to attempt a spinach and ricotta lasagna. We'd had once at our last DnD session in Lancing and it was absolutely delicious. So there I was wandering our local shop searching for lasagna sheets, when the tubes caught my eye. The second I saw them I knew it was fate. Cannelloni it was going to be.

So it was that this evening, whilst stirring chutney with one hand, and chatting to a friend with the phone crooked in my neck, that I came to be messily and frantically stuffing dried pasta. I'd adapted the filling from Delia Smith's spinach and ricotta lasagna (and by this I mean totally changed. It still used the spinach and ricotta but that's where the similarities end!) and decided that since neither N or I care for white sauces that I would top it with a very basic tomato sauce. Nothing too rich, just a bright flavour to cut through the creaminess slightly.

Having stuffed the tubes, laid them in the dish and covered them in the sauce I popped it in the oven covered with foil for 40 minutes, then uncovered it for the final five minutes.

The result was a lovely mix of the earthy spinach, creamy ricotta and the clear taste of the tomatoes. We didn't even have anything with it. Another winner, and definitely worth posting as one of the few savoury dishes that makes it onto the blog (mostly because we eat them too fast and I don't get to photograph it, not because I don't make or enjoy savoury things!).

Spinich and ricotta cannelloni with tomato sauce (mine served two, but they were large portions, so it might serve four with a side dish and dessert).

NB: I did most of this by approximation in a bit of a Nigel Slater "toss it all in and give it a go" way.

For the filling:
150g ricotta (I've since discovered you can use tofu, hurrah for the vegans out there)
300g spinach (stalks removed)
grated parmesan (or vegan cheese)
freshly ground pepper
slug of milk (soy is what I used)
dried cannelloni tubes

For the sauce:
one small onion, or preferably a shallot
one 400g tin chopped tomatoes
squeeze of tomato purree
dash of balsamic vinegar
pinch dried basil
glug of olive oil

Put a small knob of butter in a large saucepan over a low heat and then add the spinach. Place the lid on and leave for a minute or two, then stir and leave for another a minute or so. When it's completely wilted strain using a sieve. When it's cool enough to handle squeeze it to get rid of the very last of the water. Then chop finely. In a bowl mix the ricotta with a small slug of milk and some freshly ground pepper. Then grate in some parmesan. Once combined add the spinach and mix together. Then stuff in the cannelloni tubes.

To make the sauce:

Finely chop the onion and the fry in some olive oil until softened, add the herbs and continue to fry for a minute to release the flavour. Then add the tomato puree and balsamic vinegar. Mix to make a slight sauce then add the chopped tomatoes. I also add a dash of white wine to make it a slightly richer, but bright flavour. Cook over a reasonably high heat to evapourate some of the excess liquid. Then remove from the heat and cool slightly. I then whooshed mine with a hand-held blender to make it smooth.

Spoon the sauce over the top of the prepared cannelloni and then cover with foil. Bake at 160C for 40 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 5-10 minutes to crisp up the top.

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