Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Vegetarian dishes. Now I know what you are thinking, vegetarian recipes are full of heavy starches, salads and carrot sticks. But, once in a while its refreshing break from eating meat. This recipe is a favourite in my family and it satisfies all your cravings for something cheesy, soft and yummy. The contrasting textures of the gooie cheese, to the soft perfectly cooked tubes of pasta to the indulgent filling that is surrounded by a fluffy, fresh sweet tomato sauce. Its making my stomach gurgle now. This recipe is a 'classic' Italian recipe but with my own twist. I have injected even more vegetables to make it healthy and taste even more delicious.

The filling can be adapted to any filling you like. I have chosen to fill my cannelloni with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts. But, you can replace the spinach with mushrooms to make it substantial.  Let your imagination take over.

This recipe includes 3 components that you must get right:
  • a fluffy tomato sauce
  • a rich filling that is seasoned to perfection
  • perfectly cooked cannelloni tubes

1. Tomato sauce: In a large deep pan, on a medium heat pour 2tbsp of olive oil and allow it to heat up for 2 mins.
2. Then sautee 1 diced onion and 3 cloves of diced garlic until golden. Stir with a wooden spoon and add 1 finely diced celery stick and 2 diced carrots and stir. Stir continuously until the mixture is slightly golden and turn down the heat.
3. Now finely dice  14 to 16 fresh vine tomatoes to your garlic and onion mixture. You must use vine tomatoes to give you that authentic 'taste' of Italy. Let the mixture to come to the boil for 5-6 mins and stir gently.
4. Season with 3tbsp of sugar, 1 tsp of cracked black pepper, 1tsp of salt and 100g of finely chopped green olives. Mix the seasonings into the sauce with a wooden spoon.
5. Add 1 finely diced red pepper and a large handful of freshly chopped basil. Season to taste. Now, to thicken the sauce add 2 tbsp of tomato puree and mix. Taste the sauce and re-season if needed you want a symphony of balance from the freshness of the tomatoes with a hint of sweetness to the metallic zing of basil.
6. Take the sauce off the heat and allow to cool.
7. The filling: Firstly wash your spinach and drain in a colander. In a medium pan, on a medium heat place your spinach in the pan and stir continuous until it is cooked. Now, place your spinach in the bowl and remove the excess juice from the spinach(use a tea towel).
8.  In the bowl add 1 tub of ricotta cheese, toasted pine nuts, 1/2tsp of salt, a pinch of pepper and 1/2tsp of freshly grated nutmeg. Mix together with a spoon. There is your filling. Place to the side.
9. Preheat your oven to 200C.
10. In a large baking tray, place 3 large ladle spoons of tomato sauce and spread around the pan.
11. Then start filling the canneloni tube with your spinach ricotta mixture and line the up side by side, until the pan the covered. Now place 3 ladle spoons of tomato sauce over your first level and spread it across the other tubes.
12. Repeat step 10. You are only making 2 levels. On the second level place the rest of your sauce to cover everything. Then place some sprigs of basil and some grated mozzarella cheese on the top.
13. Bake at 200C for 45-50 mins or until the pasta is cooked.
Enjoy with freshly grated parmesan cheese.  

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