Cannelloni

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.