The GP Advent Calendar of Cuisine – Kent’s Festive Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Kent, Going Postal

As per my usual not a particularly festive or traditional recipe but if you’re a vegetarian or are having vegetarian  guests over for Christmas it would make an excellent alternative to a nut roast, or something like that. I’m not a  vegetarian but as far as vegetarian recipes goes it’s very good.

It’s quite a long winded recipe but the results are worth it – so for ease of following I’ll break down into easy to  follow steps.

Step 1 Basic Tomato Sauce

The tomato sauce is used as a base layer for the spinach and ricotta cannelloni, for the sauce you will need the  following ingredients:

  • 1 can of good quality tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Squeeze of tomato puree
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Finely slice the onion, get a pan on the go add some olive oil; the heat should be medium low. Put the onions and  crushed garlic into the pan give them a stir and cook for around 10 to 15 minutes or until the onions are  translucent. Then add in the tinned tomatoes, a dash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and a good squeeze of  tomato puree and around a ½ to a full teaspoon of sugar  and give it a thorough mix. Add a little water or whit wine  and simmer on a low heat for around 45 minutes you may need to add some water during the cooking. After around 45  minutes have a taste and check for seasoning. If it’s too acidic add in some extra sugar. Place in a suitable  container let it cool and set aside for later.

Step 2 Béchamel Sauce

The Béchamel sauce is used to pour over the finished and ricotta cannelloni much the same as a lasagne. It’s a bit of  a pain in the ass to do and I’m sure you could get a decent sauce from a supermarket, but for the sake of  completeness for this recipe you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1 pint of full fat milk
  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of plain flour
  • Half an onion
  • Nutmeg
  • 12 black pepper corns
  • 2 bay leafs

The first part is the infusion of the milk.  Place into the pan the milk, half an onion (peeled) bay leaves,  peppercorns and a good pinch of nutmeg and bring up to a simmer for around 5 minutes, take off the heat and drain the  milk through a sieve into a jug and set aside, discard the other ingredients.

Now for the sauce – this starts with a making a roux. Place a smallish pan on a medium to low heat and add in the  butter, let it melt (do not let in brown) when it melted add in the flour and beat vigorously until you get a smooth  paste, now with the milk you infused earlier add in a little at a time (stirring continuously) until you are left  with a thick sauce base, when you have reached this stage add in the rest of the milk and give it a good stir with a  whisk. You should now have a lump free glossy white sauce, add in some fresh black pepper and salt to taste. If at  this point the sauce is too thick just add in a little more milk. Set aside for later.

Step 3 Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

I’m not going to sugar coat this for you, this step is a right old pain in the ass and messy to boot. For the  cannelloni you are going to need the following ingredients:

  • 8 to 10 cannelloni tubes
  • Bag of spinach
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 ½ tubs of ricotta cheese (around 350g – 400g)

Finely dice the shallot get a good size pan on the heat (one with a lid is preferable) add in a good generous knob of  butter. On a low to medium heat sweat the shallot off for around 10 minutes or until translucent (do not brown). Add  in the bag of spinach and a little water (you could use white wine) put the lid on the pan or a large enough plate  and cook the spinach until it’s fully wilted, this usually  takes around 5 minutes or so. When the spinach is cooked  strain the water from the pan and leave to cool.

After a while when the spinach is cooled enough take a clean tea towel or muslin cloth place the spinach and shallots  in the middle and gather up the sides of the tea towels. Over the sink twist the tea towel together until all of the  water has come out of the spinach. Place the spinach onto a large chopping board and chop finely – once this is  complete place into suitable container and add the ricotta cheese along with some salt, pepper and a small pinch of  nutmeg then mix thoroughly.

Before you stuff the cannelloni tubes get an oven proof dish (see picture above for the right size) and into the  bottom of the dish spoon the tomato sauce that you made earlier.

Now you’re ready to stuff the cannelloni tubes. For this you will need a teaspoon and lots of patience. Take a tube  and fill with the spinach and ricotta cheese mix until they are full (this recipe will generally do around 8 to 10  tubes). When you have completed a tube place into the dish, do this until all the mixture is used up.

Get the Béchamel sauce that you made earlier and pour it straight over the stuffed cannelloni tubes. If it has gotten  a bit thick you can heat it up a bit or mix in a bit of milk to make it easer to pour.

Finally generously grate over some fresh parmesan cheese and a little nutmeg and place into a medium oven (gas mark  6) for around 45 minutes. Serve with a fresh salad and a nice cool glass of white wine.

© Kent B