I love lasagna and all other oven pasta dishes, and cannelloni is one of my favorites. They are so comforting to eat, especially when the weather outside it horrible. But, pressed for time in today’s hectic lifestyle, these are the dishes we don’t seem to get around cooking. I have found a way of adding a few shortcuts, and now it cooks like a breeze. Just assemble the ingredients, pop it in the oven and make a nice salad to go with it. Serves 6, or less – make more and freeze the rest, it keeps well.
You will need: two tins of plum tomatoes in their juice; eggs; [shortcut no.1] one package of fresh lasagna sheets from the supermarket (I used Albert Heijn lasagna, one pack has either 8 or 10 sheets. I forgot to count them). Two tins of ricotta cheese (250 grams each); two balls of mozzarella cheese; more grated cheese of your choice – I had a mixture of ordinary Gouda and Parmesan-; and [shortcut 2] a bag of ready-to-use fresh spinach leaves (300 grams). You will also need slices of ham or prosciutto, I used Belgian Ardenner ham. This amount will serve 12 cannelloni rolls.
Start with making a simple tomato sauce: put the two tins of tomatoes and their juice in a saucepan, mash them up (I use a potato masher for this and mash by hand), add a large knob of butter, some sugar and salt, and half an onion, unpeeled. Leave to simmer for at least half an hour. This is the unbeatable basic but brilliant Marcella Hazan tomato sauce. If you are so inclined, you could buy a ready made tomato sauce and create shortcut no.3 of your own.
Put the kettle on a boil to get enough boiling water, so you can precook the sheets of lasagna. You don’t need to [shortcut no.4], but I find this makes the end result much nicer.
Wilt the spinach in a pan with some olive oil. Add water if needed. Turn off the heat when it has wilted and put in a sieve to get all water out. Squeeze to get the water out and chop up coarsely.
Put the ricotta in a bowl, add 1 grated mozzarella ball, add nutmeg, lemon zest of 1 lemon and salt and pepper to your liking. Add two egg yolks and the chopped spinach. Mix and taste for salt.
Cut the lasagna sheets in half. One basic portion for one person is two rolls of cannelloni, so one sheet is one portion. I found it easier to make more, so I can freeze it. Pour the boiling water in a large saucepan so you have lots of room. Boil the pasta sheets in simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes until they are supple. Have a bowl of cold water ready, as soon as the sheets are finished, toss them in the cold water and rub them a little bit (get rid of the starch). Marcella Hazan says to ‘wring them like a cloth’. Then put on a towel to dry.
As you can see on the picture, I put them in rows on a towel to dry and assembled them on the spot. Put a slice of prosciutto on top of the pasta, and scoop a portion of the ricotta and spinach filling in the middle. Roll up and put in an oven dish, with the pretty side up. Cover the cannelloni rolls with tomato sauce and sprinkle more cheese on top. Grate your second ball of mozzarella for this. Put in a preheated oven at 175C for 20 minutes and you are ready to go. Serve with a green salad and a glass of red wine.
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