What do you make when you need something for a casual dinner event? That question arises about every other month, as one of us has an evening potluck/meeting. While it’s not required that we make up a dish from scratch, or even go to a huge amount of trouble, we find that we really like making a dish from scratch, possibly something that’s even a bit different or special. It doesn’t take too much extra effort, and, since we know in advance, we can sometimes make part of it in advance, and just finish it the day of the meeting.
That’s exactly what we did with this cannelloni. We mixed up the filling the day before; then, the next day, made the sauce (tomorrow’s post), rolled out and filled the cannelloni. Then it was just a bit of time in the oven, and done.
Originally, we’d thought of some sort of cannelloni; it’s pretty easy, but we did want to make up something that took into account the fresh food of the season, which for us, includes Swiss chard. “Well, that’s a good start,” we said, “but what to pair with chard?” We ended up deciding on making a chard and walnut filling, because those flavors go well together. (We had made a Chard, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Ravioli in the past, so this is an easier variant).
Makes 9×13 inch pan (about 24 cannelloni).
Before we start on the ingredient discussion, we’ll point out that the pictures are for a double batch of cannelloni; this recipe will make less.
Use a tomato sauce that you like. If you don’t have one, we suggest using a 28-ounce can of high-quality, whole peeled tomatoes that have been crushed a bit and drained for a few minutes. The egg, even though it’s only one, should come from a happy and well-tended hen. And, it goes without saying, Parmesan cheese never comes in a green can, but you can use Grana Pardano in place of Parmesan.
Procedure in detail:
For the filling.
Chop chard. You don’t need to chop it very finely, a coarse chop will do. After all, later we’ll be putting it through the food processor and it’ll get chopped to bits. So, just cut it up into pieces that are perhaps an inch by two inches in size.
Blanch. We do this mainly so the chard will keep its color. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat, place a colander in the sink, and get ready. Ready? Good! Drop the chard into the boiling water and stir. Stir for about a minute, then drain into the colander and immediately start running cold water over the chard to stop it cooking. Nice and green, see. Now squeeze out the excess water.
Toast nuts. Easy, preheat the oven to 350°F, place the nuts on a baking tray, and toast for 8 to 12 minutes. The walnuts will turn a deeper shade of brown, not too brown, mind you, and start to smell extra nutty. Take them out and let cool. If you’re going to be assembling and baking the cannelloni soon, you can leave the oven on.
Sauté onion and garlic. While the nuts are toasting, you have time to sauté the onion and garlic. In a small skillet over medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in the oil until tender and just slightly brown. Remove from heat and let cool.
Process. Place the nuts, onions, and chard in the bowl of a food processor and give it a few whirls to chop up everything. Not so much that you have a purée, but enough chopping to make it the consistency of pesto. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add cheese. Add Parmesan cheese and the ricotta and give everything a stir or two to check the consistency. It should be like a very thick pesto. If it’s a bit too thin, you can add bread crumbs. Too thick? Add a bit of water.
Season. Add the recommended spices, stir them in thoroughly, then give it a taste. Adjust as necessary, and add salt and pepper, if needed. We know that some people are afraid to, or don’t like to eat raw eggs; that’s why we suggest tasting and adjusting the flavors now.
Add egg. Stir in the egg that will act as a binder and hold everything together once the filling is baked. There, your filling is made and ready to be put in cannelloni or ravioli. You can do that today, or you can always save the filling and finish up this dish the next day — just cover and refrigerate. Your choice. We did the latter, since we were making multiple pans of cannelloni.
For assembly and baking.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, then add about a cup of tomato sauce to cover the bottom of the pan.
Roll out pasta dough. To make this as easy as possible, we want the pasta to cook while everything bakes, so we need to roll out the dough as thin as possible. Very thin. Less than 1/16 of an inch. We have a pasta machine which makes this easy; otherwise, you’ll be working some with a rolling pin. You want to make a strip of pasta about 4 inches wide and then cut that into 12-inch lengths.
Fill. Spoon the filling down the center of each strip, and roll it up as though you were rolling sushi. Cut the filled cannelloni into 3-inch logs and place on the sauce. Continue rolling and filling until your pan is full.
Garnish. Top the cannelloni with a bit more tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.
Cover. Slide a piece of parchment over everything, then wrap with aluminum foil. We like to put the parchment between the tomato sauce and the aluminum foil. Otherwise, the tomato sauce corrodes the aluminum, leaving small holes and bits of aluminum in your food. Not optimal.
Bake. Bake for 30 minutes with the aluminum foil in place. Finish with another 15 minutes without a covering, so the cannelloni will get a bit browned and bubbly.
Serve. We like to put a few of these on each plate to show off the effort that was involved. After all, half of eating is done with the eyes.
We like making cannelloni; they seem difficult, but they really aren’t. In fact, the rolling and filling for two pans took us about 40 minutes. Not bad for a nice-looking meal. This filling was very good, and it was well received at the dinner event. Both pans were gone (okay, there was one widgy cannelloni left, but no one likes to take the last one) but it was good enough that we made another batch the next day (we had pasta dough and tomato sauce left). This is a five-star filling, but because it is a bit time-consuming, we’ll give it four.