This month’s daring cooks challenge was to make cannelloni from scratch, including fresh pasta and sauces. In the US cannelloni is erroneously referred to as manicotti which is actually a pre rolled dinner crepe as opposed pre rolled pasta. However you call it the dish required you to make an egg pasta from scratch, divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece through the pasta machine into a long rectangle. Each pasta piece is then filled, rolled up, placed in a baking pan and topped with the sauce and cheese. Meat and vegetarian sauce recipes were provided and since D and I have essentially cut meat entirely from our diet I went with the vegetarian option.
After making fresh pasta for the first time in a previous Daring Cooks challenge I just can’t look at regular store bought dry pasta the same way. The analogy I would compare this to would be staying in a hostel vs a 4 star hotel. Yes when you’re in the mood for slumming it or looking for an easy fix by all means grab the $1 box of Giant pasta, but if you’re looking to savour every bite and be transformed into another world, you’ve got to put the hard work in and make your own pasta.
And so, before I even started this challenge I knew it would be a long time commitment, but one that would be worth it in the end. Two hours later I floated up into foodie heaven as I took my first bites of the finished product. Nothing compares to freshly made pasta as it literally melts on your tongue. When paired with a bechamel sauce made from scratch and good quality freshly grated melted cheese and marriage of flavors is true perfection.
So if you’ve got a couple hours to spare and want to tickle your taste buds give this recipe a whirl.
- ⅔ cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 2 cups milk, hot
- 3½ tablespoons butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 16 oz spinach
- 14 oz ricotta
- 2 cups (4 oz) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated, divided
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 large egg
- Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and mix. When the dough starts to resemble crumbs, place on cutting board dusted with a little bit of flour. Knead hand until you dough is smooth. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest for 10-15 minutes.
- To make the pasta: cut out ⅛ of the 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 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. 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 a couple of times.
- Roll the down through the next setting. Roll the pasta through the machine without folding the dough between settings. Keep reducing the settings until you reach the narrowest one. To make cannelloni, cut out rectangular pasta sheets (4”x6”).
- Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until well incorporated: this is the “roux”. Let it cook for a minute or two.
- Start adding hot milk a little bit at a time, while mixing continuously until the milk is well incorporated. Do not add more milk unless it is well incorporated. Keep adding milk until all of it is incorporated.
- Add salt and nutmeg and cook it on a low heat for 5-10 minutes or until it thickens.
- Clean and wash the spinach. Blanch for 2 minutes in salty boiling water. Drain them and rinse with cold water to cool it down quickly. Keep spinach in the colander for 1 hour to lose the excess water. Then squeeze them with your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Add ricotta to a bowl, add the spinach, egg, 1½ cups (3 oz) of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Bring a large pot with salty water to a boil. Cook the pasta sheets in it for 1 minute. Do this in batches – best to cook them one at a time. Remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on a plate to cool down.
- Now take one sheet of cooked pasta and add ⅛ of the filling along the long side of the rectangle. Roll it over to make a cannellone. Repeat for the remaining rectangles of pasta.
- Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with some cooking spray and pour some béchamel sauce on the bottom. Spread it well, especially in the corners. Place the cannelloni in the baking pan in 1 layer.
- Cover the cannelloni with the remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup (1 oz) of Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then broil 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately.