Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni

Canneloni. Stuffed with ricotta and spinach. Sunday dinner. A few weeks ago. The plan was made at 6 pm, after my mum was done with class. She tutors high school kids in Math and is usually extremely busy on weekends because kids who needs tutors outside of school are either the kind that are in a fierce competitive school atmosphere or just hate paying attention at school. Anyway, the past few weeks, she’s had pasta cravings on Sunday. Those or an urge to dine out. So canneloni, it was. I think she had this secretly planned because we’ve never had canneloni stashed up in our pantry. There’s penne and even conchilgio, at most times. But canneloni – never. Except this one time.

All other ingredients were pulled out from the refrigerator. My mum made the white sauce. I made the red. My grandmum washed and cleaned out the spinach. It was blanched and the paneer was crumbled. Thre three parts to this recipe were ready in about 30 minutes. All that really needed to be done was fill the canneloni and put it to bake. Yay for family values! And team work!

A word of advice before you begin cooking: the recipe involves four different components – the canneloni, a tomato sauce, white sauce and the filling. You will be making all, but the first, fresh. And each of them needs salt. Be sure to use less salt than you might usually like because three components with salt all coming together, just might make the dish terribly salty.

This recipe makes some 12 tubes of canneloni. We used a square baking dish about 8 inches wide.

The measures are approximate because we weren’t really sure how it would turn out so we didn’t keep track of the exact measures. But most people who have a decent(ish) hand at cooking should be able to cook this recipe by taste. In fact, here’s a little confession: all food I cook (except baked goodies or dessert) are by taste. The measures I include for such recipes on the blog are for noobs (And I don’t mean that in a bad way). Or may be I should use the ‘politically’ correct term and call them newbies.

Tomato Sauce:
3 – 4 tomatoes, pureed or finely chopped
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
8 – 10 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh basil (or 1/2 a teaspoon dried basil)
salt to taste

Without getting into step wise details here, all I’ll say is that the tomato sauce is pretty much the sauce you put on a pizza or in your penne a la vodka. You can use the recipes I’ve posted for these posts to make the tomato sauce.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffing:
1 1/2 cups Blanched spinach finely chopped
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (or paneer) crumbled
1 teaspoon nutmeg, fresh ground
salt to taste

A simple stuffing can be prepared by mising together the ingredients mentioned above, in a bowl.

White Sauce:
2 teaspoons all purpose flour (You might need more if the white sauce doesn’t thicken enough. Alternately, you can use regular wheat flour – only, your white sauce will be off-white sauce)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon fresh crushed pepper
1 teaspoon butter
salt to taste

1. Heat some butter in a pot and add the milk to it.
2. When it comes to a boil, add the salt and pepper and stir well.
3. Add the flour and mix until the sauce thickens.

Other ingredients:
Parmesan cheese

Method to prepare the canneloni and bake it:
1. Lightly grease a square baking dish.
2. Prepare a layer of the tomato sauce at the base of your baking dish.
3. Pick a whole canneloni tube from the box of canneloni and using a small spoon (or your fingers), stuff the tube with the spinach and ricotta mixture.
4. Place each filled canneloni in the baking tray over the tomato sauce.
5. Once all the filled canneloni tubes are laid out, top with white sauce and parmesan cheese.
6. Bake at 400 F for about 35 minutes (or until done).

You know the canneloni is cooked if you can cut through it with ease. Uncooked canneloni is brittle while under-cooked canneloni will tend to be chewy.

On an aside, the cute Gujjuness my mum displays was evident this evening when she asked me to grate paar-may-zee-aan cheese.

The recipe was a success. My pasta loving grandmother, whose recipe for white sauce was a tonne of molten cheese mixed with milk, was stunned that the only cheese that went into the recipe was the parmesan. Well, ricotta *is* cheese. But it’s also what we call paneer. And the frequency of consuming paneer in Indian households is fairly high. We’re better off not referring to it as cheese – just so that we can enjoy it better and more often.


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