Ricotta and spinach cannelloni

There is nothing you can do: there are some traditional Italian dishes strictly connected to holidays and festive occasions. When you see those dishes on the table, you immediately think about Sunday, you smell home, you recall the whole family sitting around the table. Usually those dishes, at least in my imagination, are (almost) all piping hot… well, maybe because in my imagination they always came out of the oven.

Think about it: lasagna, pasta al forno (pasta -usually with ragù or tomato sauce- baked in the oven with cheese -usually mozzarella and parmigiano- and bèchamel sauce), casseroles, eggplant parmigiana, pot roast (with baked potato, of course), then pizza and focaccia, and so on and so forth. Well, in my humble opinion,  the dishes baked in the oven are synonymous with holidays, care for food, conviviality.

Among these dishes we can anso include cannelloni. You can stuff and garnish them in every possible way, but the version that I love the most is the most famous and perhaps the simplest one: ricotta and spinach filling, topped with tomato sauce and béchamel sauce. I admit it, prepare them from scratch requires a certain commitment: Everything in this dish could (and probably should) be done by hand, and this is the challenge that conquers me every single time I make them. Because I love being in front of a dish that I can really define “homemade” (well, maybe I should make my oven dish, too – for philological accuracy), a dish that is able to speak for you and say to the people sitting around your table “I love you” at the first bite. And this is not something that all the dishes are able to do…

Ricotta and spinach cannelloni

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Recipe type: Main course, First course, Fresh pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 20 cannelloni – 5 serves
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA (you’ll have some leftovers)
  • 400 g all purpose flour
  • 4 whole eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • FOR THE FILLING
  • a knob of butter
  • 500 g fresh spinach
  • 500 g ricotta cheese (for me half cow ricotta and half sheep ricotta)
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • a whole egg (optional)
  • salt
  • FOR THE SAUCE
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • carrot
  • onion
  • celery
  • tomato sauce (for me home-made)
  • salt
  • FOR THE BÈCHAMEL SAUCE
  • 40 g unsalted butter
  • 40 g all purpose flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • TO GARNISH
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Instructions
  1. First thing make the sauce, so it will cook while you prepare the rest. Sauté carrot, onion and celery in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Then add the tomato sauce, season with salt and leave it to simmer until the sauce is ready (when I use home-made tomato sauce, it takes about 30-45 minutes; store-bought tomato sauce requires more cooking, about 60 to 90 minutes). When ready, leave it aside.
  2. Prepare fresh pasta for your cannelloni: mix the flour with the eggs and a pinch of salt and knead until you have a smooth ball of dough. Wrap it in plastic (so it doesn’t dry out; otherwise you could place it under a bowl turned upside down) and let it rest for at least half an hour.
  3. Roll out the dough in not too thin sheets (if you use the pasta machine, roll out until the penultimate notch) and then cut with a wheel or a sharp knife 10×14 cm rectangles (more or less; well, actually you can cut them however you like them).
  4. Bring to a boil a frying pan filled with water, slightly salted and oiled. Blanch your rectangles of dough for 2 to 3 minutes each (you can blanch 3 or 4 at a time), then drain and let them dry on dishclothes.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling: melt a knob of butter in a saucepan, then sauté spinach (wash them well, ’cause they can be very dirty), season with salt and let them cook. Leave them aside to cool down.
  6. Chop spinach with a knife or with a food processor, then add ricotta, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, season with salt (if necessary, but taste it first) and, if you want, an egg (this will help the filling to stay put, but it’s not strictly essential). The filling is ready.
  7. Prepare the béchamel sauce: in a small saucepan coddle the milk (you can microwave it); in another saucepan, melt the butter and toast the flour for a couple of minutes. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; season with salt and nutmeg. Let the sauce cook, stirring constantly, until it reaches the desired consistency.
  8. Take a baking dish large enough and, if you want, put a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of it.
  9. Now you can fill your cannelloni and compose the baking dish: take a pasta sheet and place in the center a tablespoon of filling (make a line with it), wrap the sheet until you get a sort of “cannolo”. Place the cannelloni side by side in the baking dish.
  10. Top with plenty of tomato sauce, then add the bèchamel sauce and finish with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
  11. Bake in a 356°F (180°C) preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown (even scorched, if you like it) and piping hot (test the filling with a toothpick, if necessary).
Notes
If you use baking dishes that can go from freezer to oven (for example the disposable aluminum ones), you can freeze the baking dish and simply bake cannelloni last minute. Obviously, cooking will take longer so, to prevent the surface to burn, it may be appropriate to cover the pan with aluminum foil for some time.

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