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Cannelloni al Forno
On weekends it’s fun to do a cooking project that can involve the family and hopefully also end up with a spectacular dinner, worthy of the effort. Homemade lasagna (made from scratch) would be one such project, and this cannelloni recipe is reminiscent of that. It’s lighter than lasagna, and the tomato-free meat filling is very quick and easy to cook compared to a slow-cooked ragu needed for lasagna. The recipe is adapted from Mario Batali’s cookbook.(There’s an online version of the recipe, but it’s full of errors).
I made a big portion to take to a friend’s potluck dinner and it proved to be very popular. This is one of the classic do-ahead dinners, where the entire dish can be assembled in advance, with only last minute baking needed. It does, however, require a fair amount of work, so I would make the effort for a special occasion.
I do recommend making your own pasta for this recipe, but you will need a pasta machine to roll out the pasta. Else, if you can buy fresh pasta sheets, feel free to use those.
All the components can be made ahead of time. The recipe makes twice the tomato sauce needed, so freeze half to make a pasta pomodoro or to use for pizza. You will also need 1 recipe of the fresh pasta dough. See above for the link.
In a large frying pan, heat the butter over high heat until it foams and subsides. Add the ground pork and veal and cook over high heat until it begins to brown in its own fat. If there’s too much fat, drain the excess.
Add the Parmesan, flour and the milk and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir in the egg. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the basil (or thyme) and chilli flakes if using. Cook a minute more.
Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, mashing and stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the sauce is thick.
Season with salt and black pepper. Extra sauce can be frozen for 3 months in the freezer.
Bescimela (Béchamel Sauce):
In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth (I use my trusty small wire whisk to create a lump-free roux). Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat milk in the microwave or in a separate pan until it’s hot (not boiling). Add milk to butter mixture gradually, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.
Divide the pasta dough into 4. Roll each one through the pasta machine at the thickest setting at least 5 times until it starts looking smooth and satiny.
Then roll down to the thinnest setting on a pasta rolling machine and cut it into rectangles measuring 4 inches by 6 inches.
Boil water in a large saucepan (I used a wok as I like the wide mouth) and drop the pasta rectangles into the water 5-6 at a time.
Cook just for 1 minute and take out and drain. Don’t skip this step as the cooking makes the pasta easier to roll and handle.
Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling just above the long edge of each rectangle and roll the pasta around the filling.
For assembling the dish, use a large flat oven-proof baking dish, as ideally you want all the cannelloni to fit in a single layer. A 13”x9” dish should works well.
Spoon half the tomato sauce across the bottom in an even layer. Carefully lay each pasta cylinder in the casserole so that it’s in a single layer.
Top with the remaining tomato sauce then spread the béchamel. Finish with grated Parmesan. At this stage, the dish can be covered and refrigerated till you need to serve.
An hour or so before eating, preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan). Bake for about 20 25 – 30 minutes, until the sauces and cheese are bubbling and the edges of the pasta are crispy and browned. Serve hot.
Leftovers freeze well. To reheat, sprinkle some water and reheat preferably in an oven. You can use a microwave but you will lose the crispy bits.