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Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni

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Serves 4 to 6.
By Dennis W. Viau; modified from a recipe in
The Fine Art of Italian Cooking by Giuliano Bugialli.

If you love cannelloni, this recipe won’t fail you. It delivers a bold flavor of spinach and cheese along with the delicate creamy flavor of a béchamel/balsamella sauce. It’s a little complicated to prepare, but it benefits from simple natural flavors. This would be appropriate for any special occasion.

Ingredients:

For the Pasta:
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup (43g) duram wheat semolina, more as needed
¼ cup (35g) all-purpose flour, more as needed
For the Filling:
1¼ pounds (20 oz./567g) fresh spinach
2 anchovy filets
8 ounces (227g) ricotta cheese
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white)
½ cup (57g) freshly grated Parmigiano
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg to taste
For the Balsamella:
1½ tablespoons (21g) butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (240ml) milk
Salt and nutmeg to taste

Directions:

Prepare the pasta dough by combining all the pasta ingredients. More flour may be needed to achieve a dough that is stiff enough to knead without being dry. Knead until smooth, wrap in plastic, and set aside until needed.

Heat about ¼ cup (60ml) of water in a large skillet. Add the fresh spinach, cover, and cook 1 to 2 minutes until it starts to wilt. Turn the spinach with tongs to cook evenly and add the anchovies. Cover and cook an additional minute or two until thoroughly wilted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.

Squeeze the excess water from the spinach with your hands or press in batches in a potato ricer. Discard the liquid. Chop the cooked spinach well and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well. To taste for salt, cook a small amount in the microwave oven. Cover and set aside until needed.

Melt the butter in a medium-small saucepan and add the flour. Cook 1 minute. Then add the milk and seasonings. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Adjust for salt. Remove the heat and cover. Set aside until needed.

Roll the pasta dough through a pasta machine until thin (#5 on my machine) and cut into squares about 6 inches (15cm) on each side. Heat several cups of water to boiling in a large skillet and cook the pasta squares, 1 or 2 at a time, about half a minute. Set aside on a tray lined with parchment paper or foil.

Begin heating the oven to 375°F (190°C). Arrange a pasta square on the counter and put a generous portion of the filling close to one edge. Start rolling the pasta to enclose the filling in a tube. Moisten the final edge with egg white and press into place. Arrange the rolled cannelloni, seam side down, in a well-buttered baking dish. Drape the cannelloni with balsamella sauce, reserving about half the sauce for garnish when serving.

Cover with foil and bake 20 to 30 minutes until thoroughly heated all the way through. Plate and drape with additional heated balsamella sauce (thin with additional milk if too thick). Garnish, if desired, with a little chopped fresh parsley. In Italy cannelloni is never served as a main course, but as a starter. Feel free, however, to make this cannelloni the center of a meal.