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Daring Cooks' June 2012 Challenge: Cannelloni

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!

I, for one, was very excited about this challenge because a) I love pasta even though my hips don't and b) I actually have a pasta machine at home! In fact, I had all the ingredients/equipment required at home and there's something about having everything at your hands that just boosts your motivation to make a particular dish. That, and seeing that there are no tomatoes or red sauces involved in the recipe, just a wonderful bechamel sauce. That pretty much sealed the deal for me because I knew that my dad would be able to eat it too :)

It came as an advantage that I had some prior experience using a pasta machine; I've made pasta many times before with my mother. What I haven't done is actually knead pasta dough from tiny little crumbs of an egg/flour mixture, which was my task for this challenge. Admittedly, I ended up having to ask my mother for some of her arm strength because my scrawny arms weren't able to accomplish much.

At first glance, the small ball of dough that I had formed didn't look like it was going to make me eight sheets of pasta, let alone four. But my mother reassured me that it would expand once I passed it through the machine...and that it did. Not only that, but it ended up giving me even more than 8 sheets. I was able to make about 12 sheets, and I still had a bit of extra dough left over.

My sheets look kind of small though right? That's what I thought. In comparison to the ones Manu and other Daring Cooks posted, I felt that my mine were considerably smaller even though I cut them out the same 4" by 6" as instructed. Luckily, the boiling water must have had some magical powers or something because the sheets expanded when I cooked them and they looked more like proper cannelloni that way. I was so proud of how they turned out.

But that was just step one of the three steps to this dish. I still had bechamel sauce to make and the spinach-ricotta filling. I used the recipe for bechamel sauce that Manu posted but found a different filling recipe on epicurious and adapted it to my liking. The bechamel was pretty simple to make, though I did require an extra set of hands when adding the hot milk because whisking the "roux" vigorously to make sure there's no lumps and pouring in milk at the same time is virtually impossible.

The filling was also really simple--just some basic sauteeing and wilting of the spinach, and then some combining of the ricotta with the spinach and other things. And then all that was left to do after that was fill the cannelloni and then roll them shut. Or is it, roll it shut? Is cannelloni plural or singular? I'll have to Google that later. But yeah, like I was saying. I rolled the cannelloni shut, but to be honest, the cannelloni itself did most of the work because it was sticky, and so just lightly pressing it against itself created a wonderful seal.

Manu mentions that cannelloni is not something her family eats every day, it's more of a dish for special occasions. But the way that it had me coming back for seconds and thirds gives me a hunch that that rule won't apply in this household. Yes, I'll admit, putting it all together was a bit time-consuming, but the pleasure of eating my own fresh pasta was totally worth it. And even my hips would agree on that. 

Cannelloni Di Magro (Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni)

Yield: Recipe for pasta dough is said to yield 8 sheets of pasta, enough to serve 4 persons. Mine made 12 sheets, possibly because I rolled it out thinner.
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For the pasta
2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg

For the béchamel sauce
2 cups hot milk
3½ tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 pinch nutmeg

For the filling
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
One package (10 oz) fresh spinach
1 and 3/4 cups ricotta 
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided


For the pasta
Put the flour and egg into a food processor and mix. When the dough looks like crumbs, pour it onto a flat work surface 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.

After the dough has rested for 15 minutes, cut off a small piece 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.

Then 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 Manu's 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”).

To cook the cannelloni, bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Cook the pasta sheets in the water for 1 minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon and then put them on a clean tea towel to cool down.

For the béchamel sauce
Melt the butter in a non-stick pan. When the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until well incorporated; this is the "roux". Let it cook for a minute or two. 

Then start adding the hot milk little by little, while continuously mixing, 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 from appearing on the surface.

For the filling
Heat oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and sauté, stirring, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Stir together ricotta, egg, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup cheese in a bowl, then stir in spinach mixture.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread 2/3 cup sauce in buttered baking dish that will fit your cannelloni tightly. Spread about 1/3 cup of the filling in a line along the long side of one pasta rectangle, then roll up to enclose filling. Transfer, seam side down, to baking dish. Do the same for the remaining pasta rectangles, and arrange them snugly in one layer in the dish. Pour the rest of the béchamel sauce over the cannelloni and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven until sauce is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes. Then, turn on broiler, remove foil, and broil cannelloni about 5 inches from heat until lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Let stand 2-3 minutes before serving.

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  1. Beautiful pictures. Great job for this month's challenge!

  2. Looks really good - the homemade pasta was good - wasn't it.

  3. Stunning photos, and a delicious looking meal!


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