This recipe started with a tub of ricotta sitting in the fridge. It had been there for a couple of weeks, and it wasn’t getting fresher, so we knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer before we’d have to consign it to the trash. So, what to do? what to do? Naturally, we took a walk.
During our walk, we talked about what we could make. Something easy that would use a pound of ricotta cheese, of course. Well, that tends towards lasagna, ravioli, or cannelloni. We settled on the last, because that’s actually the easiest of the three. Now, what should go along with the ricotta filling. Chard, of course, because we just picked up a huge bunch at the CSA this week. Anything else? Walnuts? Maybe. How about walnuts and raisins? Yes, that sounds good. So, on our walk, we had this back and forth discussion about the cannelloni filling. Finally we settled on chard, apple, and raisins. A nice fall trio. And, in keeping with the fall theme, we went with a bit of sage mixed in for good measure. To us, sage just seems to have the taste of fall.
So, that’s the story of how we came up with this recipe. No other references, just a bit of discussion about what flavors pair well, and presto, an idea for a meal. Let’s scratch it up and put it to the test.
Makes filling for 16-20 cannelloni
For tomato sauce, we do not mean the stuff in the can labeled as such; we mean a tomato-based pasta sauce that you like. Scratched up by you, of course. For this to be as easy as possible, you do need to use fresh pasta. If you use dried, you’ll have to boil the pasta first, but with fresh pasta, provided you roll it thinly enough, it will cook as the cannelloni bakes. Your egg, should be free range, natch.
Procedure in detail:
Plump raisins. In a small bowl, cover the raisins with warm water. Warm tap water is fine. Let them stand for about 30 minutes to plump up. This plumping will prevent them being chewy in the filling, and it will have the added benefit of giving off moisture while baking, helping the pasta to cook properly.
Steam chard. In a large saucepan, steam the chard until it is tender; about 5 to 7 minutes is long enough. Place in a colander and run cold water over to cool the chard and stop the cooking. Finally, squeeze out the excess moisture.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking pan.
Make filling. In a large bowl, combine cheese, chard, raisins, egg, and sage. Stir until everything is well-mixed, then taste and add salt and pepper as needed. If you’re worried about eating raw egg — we aren’t, as we’ve met the hens, and the rancher — put it in after adding salt and pepper. It’ll be the same.
Add apple. Dice and chop the apple and stir it into the filling. Why now? Well, we didn’t want our apple to turn brown from oxidation, so we waited until the last minute before chopping and adding it. No other reason.
Roll and fill. Roll out a piece of pasta dough into a very thin sheet about 4×12 inches, and place a row of filling down the center. Roll it right up as you’d roll sushi, then slice into 3-inch logs and place on the bed of tomato sauce. Continue with remaining filling.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake, uncovered, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until everything is nice and bubbly and heated through. Serve immediately.
From the first bite, we knew this was worth five stars. The apples and raisins kept the cheese filling nice and moist (sometimes cannelloni filling can be dry), while adding a bit of sweetness (from the raisins) and tartness (the apple), making for an interesting flavor profile. Ricotta is a bland cheese, so adding flavors is required, in our book. The hint of sage helped to bring out both of those flavors (we might consider adding a bit more sage next time) and pulled everything together into a nice fall-style dish, one that we think would surprise most people. We happen to think that both apples and raisins are underutilized in savory cooking, and that’s a real shame, because both pair so well with other flavors.