Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Peter Flynn

Cannelloni: ready to eat

I could have sworn this was a Rick Stein recipe from his Weekend series, but it turned out to be a hybrid of the plain one from the Silver Spoon and one of the Jamie Oliver recipes. I've adapted it here for two people: if there's tomato sauce left over, freeze it for use in another recipe.

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Makes 12. Serves 2. Heat your (fan) oven to 180°C. Prep time: 40 minutes. Cooking time: 25 minutes.


Ingredients

Tomato sauce

  • 1 small onion (or half a dozen scallions)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 stick celery
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 × 400g tin chopped tomato (or 1 × 500g box of passata)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp basil | finely shredded

Filling

  • 300 g frozen spinach [if you use frozen spinach, defrost it and squeeze all the water out]
  • knob butter [optional]
  • 1 egg
  • 300 g ricotta (or make it yourself using the recipe elsewhere on these pages)
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 25 g grated parmesan
  • 12 tubes cannelloni

Béchamel sauce

  • 500 ml milk
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 25 g butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 25 g parmesan
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • handful of pine nuts [optional]

Method

Tomato sauce

  1. Chop the onion, garlic, and celery very fine.

  2. Heat the butter in a saucepan (big enough to add the tomato to later).

  3. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and celery and cook gently until softened.

  4. Add the tomato and bring to the boil.

  5. Add the salt, pepper, and basil.

  6. Whiz briefly in a food processor or liquidiser, just enough to break down the celery.

  7. Pour about 300g of the mixture into your casserole dish, freeze the rest for another recipe.


Filling

  1. Defrost the spinach and squeeze out as much water as you can, taking a small handful at a time.

    If you are using fresh spinach, heat a very large saucepan and the small knob of butter, add all the spinach and cover for 30 seconds. Then stir and leave again. Within about a minute it will have wilted down to a handful, which is what you want. Let it cool, then squeeze out all excess liquid.

  2. Beat the egg in a bowl.

  3. Add all the ricotta, spinach, nutmeg, and parmesan and mix well. The mixture must be quite stiff, not at all sloppy, or it will run out of the cannelloni.

  4. Spoon the mixture into the cannelloni with a narrow spoon (or use a piping bag, or a plastic bag with a tiny piece of the corner cut off; make sure the bag is robust and sealed well because you're going to be squeezing very hard). Make sure the tubes are all completely filled (no air-pockets).

  5. Lay the filled cannelloni on the tomato sauce in the casserole dish in a single layer, spaced apart so there is room for the béchamel.


Béchamel sauce

  1. Heat the milk gently in a saucepan with the peppercorns and bay leaves until hot but not boiling.

  2. Pour into a jug through a sieve to remove the peppercorns and bay leaves (discard them).

  3. Melt the butter in the saucepan.

  4. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon, and cook gently for about 30 sec.

  5. Turn off the heat and add a little of the milk, beating vigorously with the wooden spoon. The mixture will solidify, looking like choux pastry (which is basically what it is at this stage).

  6. Add a little more milk and repeat the mixing.

  7. Repeat again and again, adding a little more milk each time and mixing it well in. The surface should glisten.¹.

  8. Turn the heat back on gently, add nearly all the parmesan and parsley and bring to just to the boil, stirring gently. The sauce needs to be rather thicker than you would make it for a pouring sauce.

  9. Pour the sauce over the cannelloni in the casserole dish, sprinkle with the pine nuts and a little more parmesan and bake for about 25 mins at 180°C until golden on top.


¹ Nicholas Freeling says “a well-made cream sauce is shiny.” (Cook Book).


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