This recipe is a long standing Christmas eve mains in our family, but its great to have anytime. The original published recipe (Step by Step Pasta Cookbook, p.117) has a good core, but is badly written – the book is quite old too.
Beside sharing a favorite dish, I also want to point out what makes for good recipe writing and what does not. In the picture above, this is the entire recipe! They have sacrificed space on the page taken up with an uninformative and mediocre photo to condense the recipe so that one has to continually ask, “ What exactly did they mean??” As a result, I’ve – shall we say – ‘rephrased’ it so it makes more sense.
I also made changes to the procedure. In the recipe, the spinach is boiled and squeezed. (Who would ever dare boil spinach these days?) In mine, I give it my standard green vegetable braise treatment.
A note about the mascarpone is in order. Mascarpone is essentially a sweet cream cheese. Its flavour and sweetness is important in the recipe. This year when we did the cannelloni it was in a covid time lockdown, and it was very difficult to get into some stores to buy the required mascarpone.
I was about to give up, but then asked myself, “Can I do a workaround?” Once the question was asked, I realized I could! It was remarkably simple. Take organic cream cheese and add a spoon of honey. It does taste different: the organic cream cheese is a more fermented product and so you get a bit more of a tang to it but I quite like that. Besides which, mascarpone isn’t really any kind of a special cheese except that it’s really expensive. Take a look at the picture showing the ingredient list of the mascarpone and the cream cheese. The mascarpone is on top. After the milk, it is an entirely manufactured chemical product. It’s part of the big cheese industry, whereas the organic cream cheese is much more natural and a lot cheaper too. From now on I’m not going to worry about Mascarpone. Much easier to get a good quality cream cheese and add a little honey.
And on the subject of cheese:
Try Emmental/Gruyere/Swiss. The original recipe calls for Fontina. We prefer these other somewhat harder cheeses, for both texture and taste.
Ingredients & instructions for each step
The most efficient way to do this is to prepare the different components in the following order:
- And, of course, the final bake
- olive oil or unsalted butter for sauteeing.
- 2 bunches of spinach or chard
- 1 large onion
- 250g mascarpone or cream cheese with honey
- 250g ricotta
- 3 tbs unsalted butter
- Pepper, salt and nutmeg to taste
- Approximately 500g of slices of fontina/ementhal/gruyere/swiss cheese. Its not necessary to lay down perfect squares of cheese. Rough slices with a potato peeler are fine.
- 100 g grated Fontina/Emmental/Gruyere/Swiss cheese.
- Finely chop a large onion and saute with olive oil and a little salt on medium until onions are translucent. Cover and turn low for about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash the spinach or chard, chop fine (including the stems) and add to the onion mix but do NOT stir it in.
- Leave the greens on top of the onions so the onion layer gently steams the spinach/chard. Put a lid on it. It should very gently simmer. Add pepper and a little nutmeg to taste. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes (while you make the pasta.)
- Once cooked, thoroughly mix filling ingredients: spinach/chard/onion mix, 250g ricotta, 250g mascarpone, grated cheese. Taste for flavor: salt/pepper/nutmeg
Make a pasta dough with
- 4 eggs – but weigh them! They should come out to about 200g.
- flour = weight of eggs divided by .6 – about 333g
See my blog on making perfect pasta every time. Here is what it should look like when it is properly mixed:
Although you could use a rolling pin, it will go faster if you use a pasta maker. The pasta should be thin, but not too much so. The main idea is to roll it through so that it eventually takes up the entire width of the pasta maker, which you cut into 5-6″ /13-15cm squares.
The main part of the assembly is done before the sauce is made.
- Turn oven on to 375F/190C.
- Place slices of cheese in the middle of each square. You need to cover about 90% of the square’s area.
- Spoon a dessert spoon of filling on the pasta squares with cheese slices. Spread out the filling so it covers the whole square.
- Roll up the caneloni and place seam down in a large glass serving dish.
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 cup whole milk (the original recipe does not make enough sauce!)
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 3 tbs all purpose flour
- Pepper, salt and nutmeg to taste (You want to make your sauce sing a little.)
- Grated cheese that is dropped on the casserole as it is going into the oven.
Sauce instructions & final assembly
- Make a roux: in a pot on medium-low heat, mix 3tbs/44g butter with 3 tbs/30g flour.
- Once combined and cooking, slowly add cream, then milk, & keep stirring as it thickens.
- Add in salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
- If too thick, add more milk. The sauce should pour, but barely.
- Pour over cannelloni, dot with grated fontina/emmental/gruyere/swiss cheese and butter
- Brown in 375 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes
This recipe makes enough for about 8 servings (not 4 as the original recipe suggests). Should it not all be eaten, they make amazing day-after canapes when cut into half inch slices.