Remember when I mentioned that we indulged in a long Italian lunch last Saturday while watching Australia take on Italy in the Rugby World Cup? Oh and remember when I promised you some recipes??? I sure do! And I haven’t forgotten. So let me begin shall I? Being a lunch ‘party’, I wanted to keep the dishes fairly light, something that Italian food is often not renowned for. So, I decided to steer clear of the usual lasagne or pasta route, and try something new. Cannelloni to be exact. And seeing as I really love ricotta, but ‘the books’ say that I should avoid it during pregnancy unless it is cooked / heated…. I decided that spinach and ricotta cannelloni would be a fun lunch option. Coming together in 4 fairly straightforward parts. Part 1 – the noodles I am in no way qualified/inclined/talented enough to make my own pasta sheets, so I picked up this box of gluten free cannelloni tubes last week. I have, however, had mixed success when it comes to dried GF pasta (particular when baking it – ugh crunchy lasagne anyone?!), so I decided to also have a safe option for my non-allergy family members and purchased some fresh lasagne sheets from the markets also… (ps. I thought that purchasing the fresh sheets at the market would be cheaper than at the supermarket. They weren’t. Woolworths stock something similar for almost half the price. Food budget fail?! Although small business win perhaps?) Part 2 – the filling With the noodles sorted, it was time to think about the filling. I found 3 big bunches of spinach on sale at the market, and after removing the leaves, washing them, blanching them in boiling water and then squeezing out as much water as I could, the spinach was ready to go! Combined with ricotta, parmesan, pan fried mushrooms, basil and oregano, seasoned to taste… And our cannelloni filling was complete! Part 3 – the sauce I had originally planned to use jarred passata, but decided to jazz up some peeled tinned tomatoes instead. So into a pot went the tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, roasted capsicum and sundried tomatoes, Simmered for half an hour, then pureed until smooth. The result? A rich, vibrant and flavoursome tomato sauce, which makes me wonder why I have never done this before! Sauce complete! Stage 4 – the construction With the noodles, filling and sauce all ready to go, it was time to put this lunch together. Starting with a layer of the tomato sauce in the bottom of two baking dishes (one for the GF pasta, and one for the ‘regular’ pasta). I stuffed the gluten free shells with the ricotta mixture first, to avoid any chances of contamination by their wheat-filled counterparts. This was rather messy work, but after a little effort, I had myself a baking dish filled with the GF cannelloni. Laid side by side, and finished with another layer of the tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Covered with foil and into the oven for 45 minutes, with an extra 5 minutes uncovered to allow the top to brown slightly. Then, it was on to the ‘regular’ cannelloni. As I was using fresh lasagne sheets, and not dried sheets or tubes, I spooned about 1/2 cup of the ricotta mixture along one of the short edges of the sheet, Then rolled the sheet up around the filling to form a tube. Placed seam side down in the other baking dish… and repeated until we were out of both the lasagne sheets and the ricotta mixture. Again, finished with the remainder of the tomato sauce, And a sprinkle of mozzarella. As this version used fresh lasagne sheets, and not dried pasta, I baked the dish for 30 minutes only, removing the foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking also. And the result? One big baking dish of ooozey cannelloni, that would keep even the biggest cheese lover happy! And, while I can’t personally attest for the taste of the wheat version, I am calling it a success given that everyone went back for seconds 😉 And, as for the gluten free version, I was pleasantly surprised that the noodles had softened, yet retained their shape, making them a decent GF pasta substitute. So what are my post cannelloni thoughts?? While there was certainly a bit of effort involved in making the dish, it could put together in advance, making it a perfect ‘heat and eat’ option once my guests had arrived. And, when combined with a couple salads or side dishes, we had ourselves a relatively simple yet tasty meal for all appetites. Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni (makes 14+)
- 14 fresh rectangle lasagne sheets (or equivalent GF cannelloni tubes)
- 2 cups homemade tomato sauce (*see recipe below)
- 800g ricotta
- 2-3 bunches spinach, leaves removed, blanched and shredded
- 6 button mushrooms, diced and sautéed for a couple minutes
- 60g grated parmesan
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbs fresh basil, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 2/3 cup grated mozzarella (or more / less depending on what you prefer)
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Pour 1 cup of the tomato sauce into a large baking dish and spread to cover.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, parmesan, oregano and basil until well combined. Season to taste.
- Working with one lasagne sheet at a time, spoon approximately 1/3 of the ricotta mixture along the short edge of the sheet, and roll to enclose. Place the roll, seam side down in the prepared baking dish. If you are using GF cannelloni shells, as best you can, spoon or pipe the ricotta mixture into the tubes.
- Repeat with the remaining lasagne sheets, until you have a full tray of cannelloni.
- Spread the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the cannelloni, and sprinkle with grated mozzarella.
- Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes if using fresh lasagne sheets, or 45-50 minutes if using dried shells.
- Remove foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking, to allow the cheese to become golden brown and bubbly.
Homemade tomato sauce (makes 3 cups)
- 800g peeled tomatoes (tinned is ok)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tbs dried oregano
- 5 sundried tomatoes, sliced
- 1small roasted capsicum, sliced
- Heat a splash of olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes or until soft.
- Add the remaining ingredients, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat, and use a stick blender to puree until smooth.
But cannelloni aside, stay tuned for part 2 of our long Italian lunch……there are salads and brownies involved!! What about you? Ever made your own cannelloni? What is your favourite cannelloni filling?