Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cannelloni or Manicotti - Who cares, let's eat!

Cannelloni (which in Italian means "large reeds") are rectangular pasta sheets that are rolled into a cylindrical shape encompassing a filling. If you buy them pre-made in your supermarket you will notice the pointed end on each tube because they were made from a rectangular sheet. Some people call them manicotti, but I was always told that manicotti are smaller and have a flat round tubular end. Whatever you call them, they are wonderful to eat.

This week I made meat cannelloni, with some ground beef and pork, and the addition of some cheese and chopped onions, carrots and celery. It's a simple technique really. You simply brown the meat in a large skillet, then deglaze with finely chopped onions, followed by the carrots and celery and cook until tender. I put just a tablespoon or two of tomato paste into the mixture along with some Italian seasoning, and let it cool somewhat before adding the shredded cheese. (You can use pretty much whatever you have in the house.) While it cools make some of your favorite pasta sauce.

After the pasta has been par-boiled and rinsed in cold water to stop cooking, it is filled with this type of savory stuffing, but also can be filled with a simple ricotta cheese and spinach mixture. To fill the tubes, I generally use a pastry bag or a heavy plastic bag with the corner cut off. I find it easier to fill the tubes this way, although I know others that simply use a teaspoon. Place some sauce on the bottom of your baking dish (to prevent sticking) then cover with your sauce, typically a classic tomato or b├ęchamel sauce, topped with a bit more cheese and baked briefly (20-30 minutes) in a 350F oven.

Then voila! Remove from the oven, let set for 15 minutes and serve. It looks elegant and tastes wonderful. If you haven't tried it lately, winter is a good time for a hearty, savory cannelloni.

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