I stopped of at an Italian cafe nearby recently and had an excellent coffee – a macchiato – and then spoiled myself with one of Tony Soprano’s* favourite treats, a chocolate filled cannolli – a hard, crunchy, flaky pastry tube filled with a succulent chocolate – Nutella? – filling

Inspired by all things Italian, I decided to try my hand at something more savoury today and opted for baked Cannelloni but when I fished out the box of dried cannelloni tubes, most of the tubes were broken, cracked and cockroach nibbled and in disgust I threw the lot out, along with another (already opened) box of dried lasagne sheets. I know they say that it is a poor man who can’t support a mouse but I draw the line at cockroaches – and in my dry foodstuff pantry too! 

So, for the first time ever, I bought soft pliable sheets of fresh pasta from an Italian deli down the road, as well as a tub of Ricotta cheese. I had fresh spinach at home, actually probably about a week old, as well as grated cheese and shaved parmesan along with a variety of nuts and a vague memory of spinach and ricotta cannelloni.

I remember when I was in Naples – Napoli 1980 or thereabout – I fell in love with these pasta tubes stuffed with luscious, voluptuous  fillings. I don’t know if they were  a speciality of the region but I rarely came across them elsewhere in Italy. Anyway, back in the day as it were, I remember them being served with two sauces – white and red while the pasta tubes nestled in the white, creamy sauce lavishly sprinkled with grated nutmeg and then topped with a rich tomato sauce and melted cheese. I also remember the hassle of trying to fill the pre-bought hard pasta tubes (so much enjoyed by my unwanted house guests), shoving the mixture down the tubes with the end of a spoon or with two chopsticks reversed so the blunt end could press the filling – sometimes with beef or pork minced meat – and spilling more than I could cram into the tubes. The obvious answer was to use a a pastry bag and funnel! 

Anyway, I am sure that somewhere over the last few decades I have cooked my attempt at Canelloni and with two sauces. I don’t remember the filling but it was probably spinach and ricotta and that is what I decided to do tonight. But not quite, because I wanted to do other things and I wasn’t prepared to make my own red and white sauces so I took a few shortcuts. And then, as I was getting the spinach and the cheeses out of the fridge, there was packet of my old standby – Serrano Ham, sliced ever so thinly – so I thought I would throw that in as well.

The spinach was a bit sad looking, I admit so I gave it a good soak in cold water before spinning it dry and chopping it finely. It looked a lot sadder then, I have to say.

A couple of cloves of finely minced garlic, half the tub of ricotta, a handful of pine nuts and some shaved parmesan, a fresh egg, a good dash of freshly ground pepper and a good hard mix with a fork took care of the filling.

The fresh pasta sheets were designed for lasagne and were much too big to use for cannelloni so I cut each sheet into quarters, and put a wafer thin slice of Serano on each square, followed by a dollop of the spinach & ricotta mix and rolled up the contents into an open ended tube.

Instead of the, I think, traditional white bechemal sauce the cannelloni would be rested in before being covered with the savoury tomato and cheese sauce, I opened a jar of commercial pasta sauce – Tomato and Basil, I think – and poured a bit into an oven proof dish before laying the filled cannelloni, seam side down, in the dish. A sprinkle of cheese and the remains of the bottled sauce spooned over the top. Into the oven form about 25 – 30 minutes at 175 degrees.

A fresh sprinkle of Cheese a few minutes before taking out of the oven.

Gorgeous – the ham melting into the pasta, the spinach and ricotta lushious on the tongue

  • The Sopranos – an HBO TV Serial from a good few years ago concerning Tony Soprano, his family and associates. While purportedly in the ‘waste disposal’ business, in reality, Tony, the family man, is an unscrupulous Mob boss heavily involved in prostitution, enforcement, loans and much more. A super tv show, with stellar performances from all the cast, including Tony’s aged mother, – a withered harridan whose main purpose in life seems to be to make everyone’s else life a living hell.

Potato Terrine

I’d heard of terrines, of course, compressed dishes of fish or meat, usually served cold and an apparent staple of French cuisine but I don’t remember ever having one. Recently, however, I visited a new, for me, restaurant down on the river between the two traffic bridges.  More of a place to sit and enjoy a drink I felt, while watching life on the river flow past, as the menu was a bit limited and portions were small – more tapas sized than a main meal. I ordered the pulled lamb with the potato terrine and while the lamb was tender and tasty, I was blown away by the slice of potato terrine – a rectangle the same size and thickness of my middle and index fingers together. I have never had anything like it before – it was gorgeous. Ever so slightly crisp on the edges, the slice of terrine with its layers of thinly sliced potato cooked in some type of creamy sauce was an absolute winner. So here is my third attempt at mastering this dish – my first try was adequate, my second one fell apart (I didn’t overlap the layers of potato sufficiently) – I’ve learned from my mistakes – and this, my third attempt, has made up for past errors but can still be improved upon the next time, while adding my own little twist.

IMG_4466Here’s what I had –

a kilo of russet potatoes, washed but not peeled

250 ml cream

salt and pepper


a fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

100g Serrano ham

a rectangular oven dish or a loaf tin

grease-proof paper

tin foil

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Place cream, minced garlic, salt and pepper and the chopped rosemary leaves in a small bowl and stir.IMG_4467

IMG_4474Scrub the potatoes, and use a mandolin, if you have one, to slice the potatoes finely. Use a knife if you have to. I used an old late 1960’s Moulinex food processor, liberated from my mother’s kitchen back in the eighties, to cut almost a kilo of spuds into almost transparent slices and quickly dropped them into the cream mixture.

IMG_4481 IMG_4477

Very lightly butter your dish or loaf tin. I use a low rectangular glass dish. If you use a loaf tin, only fill it about halfway, unless you want loaf size slices of the terrine. Then line whatever you are using with grease-proof paper leaving considerable overhang on each side. You’ll eventually fold the paper sides over the top of the dish.

Build up the terrine in layers by taking slice after slice of potato and placing them into the dish. Spoon over the creamy stuff as you go but don’t drown it. Lay every slice down in the same shape and direction. Allow for overlaps and after every second or third layer, I put in two paper-thin slices of Serrano ham.IMG_4476 A few tabs of butter here and there among the layers will later contribute to the firmness. Another few layers of potato and another two slices of the Serrano and so on until the dish is filled to the top. I used all but two of the kilo I started with and six slices of the ham.

Wrap the overhanging greaseproof over the top, then cover the top of the dish with foil. Bake for at least 90 minutes or longer. When you can easily poke a skewer, not through the tinfoil and greaseproof paper, but through the actual terrine itself, you know it is done to perfection.

Cover up again, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Now, weigh down the dish, still wrapped in the greaseproof paper, until you can put the dish, weights and all, in the fridge for at least an hour – preferably over night! The more you wait and weigh it, the more solid it becomes! House bricks are ideal, if you have a few clean ones handy. Otherwise, use whatever you have, tins of beans, bags of rice, barbells, whatever.

IMG_4483Remove from the fridge and bring to room temperature for around 15 minutes. Carefully remove from the dish, unwrapping the paper and unveil a solid block. Tidy it up the sides if necessary, revealing one perfect rectangle, layers exposed.

Heat a pan, and add in any fresh herb – thyme, marjoram whatever – and a crushed garlic clove to the pan for extra flavour. Then cut rectangular slices of terrine and slide them into the pan. IMG_4485Cut side, flat side down? Up to you! Fry gently for about a minute a side as it can burn easily!

Place the finished slices on some kitchen paper to absorb any oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper, a pinch of coarse sea salt. Super as breakfast with a poached or fried egg. Use it as an accompaniment to any meal, hot or cold.  A dab of chutney or a smear of chilli jam, hmmm, a spoonful of sauerkraut?IMG_4489