Cannelloni! This labor intensive dish is well worth the time and effort. A wonderful way to pass the afternoon, and it’s easy when you break the recipe down into its four components: the marinara, the filling, the pasta and the besciamella. Follow the steps and you are on your way to an amazing meal. I made this batch as a test run, yielding 15 cannelloni and three of us polished it off for lunch. I plan on serving it for Easter as a “primo piatto”, and will double the recipe.
Part 1 – Make the marinara
- 1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
Combine all of the ingredients in a sauce pot. Simmer on low 2-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Toward the end of cooking use a stick blender to process into a smooth sauce.
Part 2 – Make the filling
- 1/2 lb. ground pork
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/3 of a large sweet onion, diced
- 1/3 cup white wine (I used pinot grigio)
- 1 small carrot
- 1 small celery stalk
- pinch of salt
- 1/3 tsp. rosemary
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 1-1/3 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 tsp. all purpose flour
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 2/3 cup grated parmesan
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- 1 tbsp. fresh Italian parsley
I found the filling to be the most time consuming part of the process, about 30 minutes total. Remember to keep the heat on low. Use an electric chopper to prepare the vegetables. Chop the carrot, celery, and half of the onion to a fine mince. Leave the other half of the onion in small dice. Chop the spinach and drain. Add the olive oil to a skillet on medium low. Cook the diced onion and ground pork, breaking up the meat with a wooden spatula. Add the wine and continue cooking slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the rest of the minced onion, along with the carrot and celery. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook 2 minutes before adding the chicken stock, salt, and rosemary. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture and stir in. Pat the spinach with paper towels to absorb excess liquid and add to the skillet. Simmer a few minutes longer until the spinach is cooked and the filling has thickened. The filling should be moist, but not watery. It should look like this.
Transfer the filling to a bowl and stir in the parsley, orange zest and the grated parmesan. Set it aside while you make the pasta and the besciamella.
Part 3 – Make the pasta
- 70 g semolina flour
- 70 g whole wheat pastry flour
- 70 g Italian “00″ flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 egg
- ice water 3-6 tbsp.
Whisk together the flours and salt. Add the egg to the bowl of a stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, begin mixing the flour into the egg. Add just enough water to bring it all together into a dry crumbly dough. The dough should hold together when you give it a squeeze.
Divide the dough into 3 sections and flatten each into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest 20 minutes. Using a pasta roller, roll each portion into a smooth sheet. Begin with the widest setting and continue to setting #5 thickness. Transfer the sheets to a clean dish towel that has been sprinkled with flour. Dust the sheets with more flour.
Step 4 – Make the besciamella
- 1-1/3 cups 1% milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. flour
- grated nutmeg
- ground pepper
- 1 tbsp. grated parmesan
I was a little apprehensive about the besciamella as I don’t always have good luck making a roux. I am happy to say it came out great, just follow the steps and do not stop whisking! Heat the milk in a small saucepot, with the bay leaf. In a stainless steel skillet, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk whisk whisk! I used a small silicone whisk. When the roux is just turning golden stream in the milk, whisking the entire time. Don’t panic if you see clumps, keep whisking! Be sure to get the entire surface of the pan. In about 5 minutes you should have a lovely smooth besciamella. Remove it from the heat and stir in a pinch of nutmeg, ground pepper and tbsp. of parmesan.
Now that the hard work is done, it’s time to assemble. Divide each pasta sheet into 5 pieces. Spoon the filling evenly onto each section. If the end pieces are uneven, place the filling near the narrow end.
Preheat the oven to 400º. Oil a baking dish, it should be large enough to accommodate all of the cannelloni in a single layer. Now ladle enough marinara to cover the bottom of the pan, and top with 1/3 of the besciamella.
Roll each cannelloni into a cylinder and arrange in a single layer, seam side down in the baking dish.
Spread the remaining sauce over the cannelloni, then top with the besciamella. There is some debate among cooks as to whether the fresh pasta sheets need to be blanched prior to filling and baking. They do not, just be sure that all of the pasta is generously covered with sauce, including the edges. As the pasta bakes, it will absorb some liquid from the sauce, the sauce will thicken and you can be confident that the finished dish will never be too watery.
Sprinkle with more grated parmesan and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.
This dish took 3 hours to prepare, from beginning to end. It was well worth the trouble. The fresh pasta baked to al dente, the sauce was beautifully thickened and the filling was delicious and moist. We couldn’t wait to dig in!
I hope that you have been inspired to give this recipe a try!
The Extruded Noodle ©