Okay, this is the dish for which we made the Almond Pasta Dough. We had a large bunch of Swiss chard from the CSA, and had thought about making a Chard and Raisin Pie, but didn’t really want to have a dinner made with a full stick of butter. So, we thought of making cannelloni, instead. Think of them as the easy way to make ravioli, or perhaps an easy way to layer lasagna. They’re just tubes of pasta stuffed with a filling. And, by using fresh pasta dough, we don’t even have to boil the pasta before assembling. Everything just cooks up perfectly while baking.
When we were thinking of making cannelloni, we thought the mix of apricots and almonds would give the cannelloni a slight sweet/nutty flavor that would pair nicely with goat cheese. We’ll claim this as part of the 100% scratchin’ original series, so, when you make it for guests and they give you rave reviews, feel free to give us a mention.
Of course, you can use any type of fresh pasta dough, including our Basic Pasta Dough (or your favorite recipe). We used almonds, since they seem to go so well with apricots, but feel free to switch out either or both; unless you tell us, we’ll never know. For the goat cheese, we happen to use Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese that we can get from our CSA. It’s a very good cheese, plus, we’ve seen the goats and believe they’re treated well. We think that helps to make the best cheeses. For the sauce, we do use San Marzano tomatoes (the Cento brand, which we like best), as we think they taste better. And, as always, real Parmesan cheese does not come with cellulose (sawdust) added, so avoid the green shaker cans.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9x 13 inch baking pan.
Chop almonds. We would have just used a knife for this, but we knew that we’d be chopping the chard in our food processor, so we used it for the almonds, too. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they’re chopped into pieces smaller than about 1/4 inch on a side. You can go finer if you like, but we wanted a bit of texture. Once chopped, transfer to a medium size bowl.
Add apricots. If you haven’t already, chop the dried apricots into pieces about 1/4 inch on a side. For our apricots, we sliced them into 4 strips, then cut the strips into about 6 pieces. Place the apricot bits into the bowl along with the almonds.
Blanch chard. We need to partially cook the chard, so bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. How much salt? We add enough to make the water taste salty, about 1-2 tablespoons for 2-3 quarts of water. It doesn’t have to be exact. Once boiling, add the chard and cook, stirring, for about 2-3 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse with cold running water. Once the chard starts to cool, reach in and move it around so the cold water can reach all the pieces of chard. Squeeze out the excess water.
Chop chard. Place the chard in the bowl of the food processor — no need to clean out the almonds as they get mixed in, anyway — and pulse a few times to chop finely. Don’t run the processor to make a purée, just pulse to cut the chard into shreds.
Make filling. Add the chard to the apricots and almonds along with the cheese, egg, salt and pepper to taste, and the nutmeg. Use a spoon to mash and stir the mixture until the cheese is completely mixed in and you have a thick paste that doesn’t slump. If you happened to leave too much liquid in the chard, you can rescue your filling by adding bread crumbs.
Roll and fill pasta. Working with about one-fourth of the pasta dough at a time, roll into thin sheets about 3-inches wide by 12 inches long. Any dough trimmings can be re-rolled with the next piece of dough. Once rolled, spoon filling along the length of the pasta strip and roll into a tube. Slice into pieces about 3 inches long and place in the prepared pan. Continue until you’ve used the up either the pasta dough or the filling. Leave any excess filling to mix into the sauce.
Make sauce. Add the tomatoes to the excess filling, if any, and, using your fingers, remove any tough cores from the tomatoes and crush any large pieces. Add salt, pepper to taste, basil, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Stir until well mixed.
Cover cannelloni. Spoon the sauce over the cannelloni, making sure it’s covered. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the cannelloni are bubbling throughout and the cheese is nicely browned. Serve immediately.
We really liked this dish. For a while, we worried that the apricots would be too sweet for a main, but they provided a nice contrast to the slightly tangy goat cheese. The almonds added a nice contrast in terms of texture, softening just slightly while baking. While using the tomato sauce was good, it covered some of the flavors, so we thought that this would also pair very well with a bechamel sauce. And, while it’s a little troublesome to make the cannelloni, it’s not difficult enough to move this away from a five-star dish.