I had originally planned to make canneloni when we had a friend over for dinner one day, but the supermarket didn't have canneloni tubes any so I had to improvise with the pasta. It was to be a blessing in disguise, as although using large shell pasta is much more work, I reckon it tastes even more delicious.
This recipes makes enough for 4 people.
For the pasta filling:
- 500g of any large shell-shaped pasta that you can stuff; I like to use lumaconi. You could also use canneloni tubes.
- 800g of fresh spinach
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 egg, beaten
- 300 g ricotta cheese
- 200g ball of mozeralla
- 100g cheddar (of your choice), finely grated
- 100 g (low fat) crème fraiche
For the tomato sauce:
- 2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- Few sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
- A large handful of basil leaves, torn
- Pinch of salt
- Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
- Fry the shallots and garlic in the olive oil on a low heat, until they start to soften.
- Before they begin to brown, stir in the oregano and fry for a minute more.
- Chuck in the tomatoes and stir in the balsamic and the tomato puree.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes - you don't want the sauce to cook down too much.
- Season with salt and black pepper.
- Transfer the sauce to a blender and give it a give it a quick whizz. (It doesn’t have to be completely smooth sauce, but I like to get rid of the largest bits of tomato and shallots.)
- Set aside until the pasta has been prepped.
For the pasta:
- Set the pasta to boil according to the instructions on the packet. As the pasta will continue cooking once it’s in the oven, cook it for a little less (2 minutes less for pasta that takes 12 minutes). Soft pasta is the worst thing.
- Whilst the pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a pan and layer on the spinach. I prefer this dry method of cooking spinach (as opposed to boiling it) as it helps keep the flavor and it’s easier to handle once it’s cooked. You may need to do cook the spinach in several batches, depending on the size of your pan and the spinach leaves.
- Let the spinach cook down and then transfer to a bowl to cool.
- In the meantime, whisk together the ricotta cheese and the beaten egg, along with a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.
- Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible and then finely chop.
- Add the chopped spinach to the ricotta mixture and stir well.
- Once the pasta is done (2 minutes less than the recommended cooking time, remember), drain and toss in a little olive oil.
- Preheat your oven to 225C.
- Filling the pasta with the ricotta/spinach mix is the most time-consuming part of this dish. I find it easiest to just use a teaspoon to fill the pasta, but you can also make a simple piping bag by cutting the corner of a food bag (I tend to make more of a mess with the bag than with a spoon). Once you’ve filled each bit of pasta, place in an ovenproof dish, packing them in pretty tightly.
- 566t5666666666666666Add dollops of crème fraiche in the gaps between the pasta.
- Spoon over the tomato sauce, making sure to cover all the pasta.
- Sprinkle over the torn mozerella and grated cheddar
- Stick it in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown.
It’s a very filling dish so you don’t need anything more than a simple salad to go with it. Rocket leaves and chopped tomatoes (piccolo are my favourite), with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of good quality olive oil is my favourite.