The Daring Cooks #21 Cannelloni with spinach and ricotta filling - Cannelloni di magro...

Manu from Manu’s Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family’s treasured recipes!

I was so happy when I found out what was this month's challenge. I like cannelloni a lot, but never tried to make a spinach & ricotta filling. The result was fantastic! Delicious! My grill isn't in use at the moment that's why my dish may lack in colour a little bit ;) I ate definitely too much... even lil baby J ate one whole cannelloni! And that's a lot for her. Anyway! This is definitely a keeper - although maybe for big occasions as there's a lot of work involved... We divided a workload here at Casa di Anula - I made the sauce and filling (making even FRESH home made ricotta!) and Hubby made pasta.

How to make it...

Ingredients (to make enough cannelloni for 4 persons):
- 100 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1 large egg

Put the flour and eggs in a food processor and mix. When the dough looks like crumbs, pour it onto the bench top sprinkled with a little flour. Knead well by hand until you obtain a smooth dough. Make it into a ball, wrap it in cling wrap and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
Now you are ready to make your egg pasta. Cut out a piece of egg pasta dough and flatten it into a rectangular shape with your hands. Put a little flour on it and begin passing it though the pasta machine. Turn the dial to the widest setting (#1) and, starting with one of the shorter sides of the rectangle, feed it through the rollers. Now fold one side of the piece of dough into the middle, then fold the other side over that to form 3 layers. Starting with one of the narrower sides of the folded dough, feed the pasta through the machine, again at the widest setting. Repeat the folding and rolling technique on the widest setting for at least a couple of times.
Now you can start rolling it thinner, by turning the dial to the next narrowest setting (# 2). Roll the pasta through the machine without folding the dough between settings. Keep reducing the settings until #7 (it is the second last on my machine – about 1 mm thick). If the sheet of pasta gets too long, you can cut it in half with a knife. To make cannelloni, cut out rectangular pasta sheets (10x15 cm) (4”x6”).

Bechamel sauce:
Ingredients (enough to make cannelloni for 4 people):
- 500 ml milk, hot
- 3½ tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch nutmeg

Put the butter in a non-stick pot and let it melt. Add the flour and whisk constantly until well incorporated: this is the “roux”. Let it cook for a minute or two.
Now start adding hot milk little by little, while mixing continuously until the milk is well incorporated. Do not add more milk unless it is well incorporated. Keep doing so until all the milk is incorporated.
Add salt and nutmeg and cook it on a low flame for 10 minutes or until it thickens. 
When ready, cover it to prevent a film to appear on the surface.

Ingredients (serves 4):
- Cannelloni sheets per recipe above (you should have about 8 sheets)
- 500 g spinach (raw to be cleaned)
- 1-2/3 cups ricotta
- 2 cups  Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated, divided
- salt and pepper
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 large egg
- Béchamel sauce as per above recipe

Clean and wash the spinach. Cook them for 2 minutes in salty boiling water. Drain them and run some cold water on them to cool it down quickly (this will help them retain a nice green colour). Keep them in the colander for 1 hour to lose the excess water. Then squeeze them with your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Now cut them finely with a knife.
Put the ricotta in a bowl, add the minced spinach, egg, 1½ cups of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Put a large pot with salty water on the fire and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta sheets in it for 1 minute. Do this in batches (I use a shallow but large pot and I cook them in 1 layer, so I am sure they do not stick together). Remove them with a slotted spoon and put them on a clean tea towel to cool down.
Now take one sheet of cooked pasta and put 1/8 of the filling along the long side of the rectangle. Roll it over to make a cannellone. Do so for the remaining rectangles of pasta.

Take a big enough oven dish to fit all your cannelloni tightly. Spray it with some cooking oil (or melted butter) and pour some béchamel sauce on the bottom. Spread it well, especially in the corners. Put the cannelloni in the oven dish on 1 layer.
Cover the cannelloni with the remaining béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup  of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Bake them in a pre-heated moderate oven 180°C for 20 minutes, then broil (grill) them at 200°C for another 5 minutes. Serve immediately.