Okay, so let me start this off with a quick apology. Things around here have been a bit busy, which has caused things to be a bit slow on this here blog. We're spending a lot of time playing outside, swimming, playing with friends, crafting, preparing for ballet recitals, trying gymnastics, running, jumping and generally making merry. And while we're cooking and eating and all that good stuff, June will remain a very slow blog month. So I apologize for that.
We'll be back to our regular routine soon, but we're going to keep enjoying the start to our summer.
That being said, June's Daring Cooks' challenge was a wonderful one, and I am very pleased to share it with you.
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!
Now, I had no doubt the challenge would be outstanding when I saw that Manu was hosting it. She is a fantastic cook, amazing blogger, and an overall sweet, wonderful person.
The fact that she chose a delicious challenge was no surprise.
Cannelloni is a filled, baked pasta dish that is traditionally served on special occasions. And, as I said, it is delicious.
There are several components to this dish, meaning that you have to be a bit organized about making it, but it is straightforward and not all that difficult.
It starts with egg pasta.
Yup - eggs and flour. That's it. Mix them together and knead it into a dough.
Once the dough has rested, it is time to roll out the pasta.
Which is super easy.
If you have a pasta roller.
Which I don't.
So my sheets of pasta weren't exactly even... but I got a good workout.
The next component to prepare is the filling.
Many provided some really yummy looking options. I chose to wing it.
I sauteed some diced onion and frozen spinach, then threw in some chopped, cooked chicken.
Once that mixture cooled, I mixed in a whole lot of ricotta and grated paremsan.
There was then one more component to prepare - the bechamel. A bechamel is basically a white sauce. It starts with a roux - a combination of fat (here - butter) and flour, and serves as a classic thickener.
To the roux, hot milk is added, then a bit of spice and voila. Basic bechamel.
Once everything is prepared, all that is left is to construct and cook.
Construction requires a bit of dexterity and timing...
The pasta sheets are quickly boiled to soften them, then they are filled.
The filled sheets are rolled, then laid into a baking pan.
The dexterity comes into play when placing them into the pan. As in, trying not to let them come completely unrolled in the process.
I mostly succeeded...
Then the pasta is covered in the bechamel. I topped my bechamel with a can of crushed tomatoes. And a generous sprinkling of parmesan.
And then it bakes.
And smells lovely.
And tastes delicious.
I actually wanted to make so many versions of this. Still do. But, with all of that busy we have going on right now, rolling my own pasta by hand has taken a bit of a back seat. But you can bet I will be making plenty of variations of this, because it is well worth the effort.
Manu, thank you so much for this wonderful and delicious challenge, and for the wonderful inspiration and support you have provided all month long.
To see the other wonderful dishes cooked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.
For the egg pasta (from the challenge):
(to make enough cannelloni for 4 persons):
100 grams (2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons) (170 ml) (3½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 large egg
*note - 100 grams is an approximation - you may need less, so it's best to start a bit light and add more as needed!
Put the flour and eggs 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.
Not having a food processor, I did this by hand - combining the eggs and flour together with my hands then just kneading the mixture together.
Now you are ready to roll out the 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.
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 (10x15 cm) (4”x6”).
Or, without a pasta machine, use a rolling pin and roll the dough as thinly and evenly as you can by hand. I divided the dough into four and just kept at it, trying to create even sheets of pasta. It works, but it takes time and definitely gives you a workout!
For the Bechamel sauce (from the challenge):
(enough to make cannelloni for 4 people):
2 cups (500 ml) milk, hot
3½ tablespoons (52½ ml) (50 gm) (1¾ oz) butter
1/3 cup (80 ml) (50 gm) (1¾ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 pinch salt
1 pinch nutmeg
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.
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.
Add salt and nutmeg and cook it on a low flame for 10 minutes or until it thickens.
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.
For the filling (my own creation):
1 small onion, chopped
1 10 ounce box of frozen spinach
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped, cooked chicken
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
Sautee the onion in a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the spinach. Saute until tender throughout. Add chopped chicken and stir to combine. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.
When the sauteed spinach mixture is cool, combine it with the cheeses, adjusting the spices to taste.
Set the filling aside until you are ready to construct your finished cannelloni.
For the final dish:
You will need the rolled pasta sheets, the prepared filling, the prepared bechamel sauce and a large can of crushed tomatoes and some grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling.
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.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
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.
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.
Cover the cannelloni with the remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the grated parmesan.
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn oven to broil and broil for about 5 minutes (watching carefully so it doesn't burn).
Serve right away.