I love vegetarian food. Pizzas with roasted vegetables, layered capsicum and zucchini lasagne, maybe even a mushroom risotto. But my confession of the week? I almost always add some kind of cured meat to the recipe. I can't help it. I look at a perfectly delicious veggie and grain based recipe and decide it could be made delicious-er by adding a piece of old pig.
Once, at a joint birthday picnic in the park with my friend Anik, I cooked up a feast of food for our mutual friends. My gorgeous roast spuds, glistening, crispy and redolent of duck fat were pretty tempting. Unfortunately, these potatoes were also appealing to the only vegan at the picnic, and I didn't react fast enough to tell him they were not safe for his consumption. It might be my forte: meat disguised as vegetables. Delicious, offensive, animally vegetables.
I'm not sure why, but to me, vegetarian lasagne tastes better with a spicy salami snuck in between the layers. I've also been known to slather a zucchini pizza with prosciutto just after it slides out of the oven. That's why when whipping up a spinach and ricotta cannelloni dish, I knew my smokey prosciutto would end up in there somewhere. I decided not to fight it: as with most of my addictions, I knew it would only get worse if I tried to fight it (I'm looking at you, online-Anthropologie-shopping).
Cannelloni has always played second fiddle to lasagne in the baked pasta stakes. It's super tasty, but has less bang for your pasta-buck. When I'm eating pasta, I like to eat pasta, mountains of the stuff. It's my Everest, and I normally conquer it, leaving my sherpas shuddering in my wake with altitude sickness. It's never pretty.
But I've cracked the code. The ricotta and spinach filling was always good, but never outstanding. The topping was also kinda meh. The filling here is laced with garlic, parmigiano reggiano and a few anchovies. The tomato sauce was peppered with smokey pancetta and really, what's better than that?
This is a total winter dish. It's warm, filling and will likely send you to the couch with your nanna rug for a three hour nap. Not necessarily Everest, but Kozciuszko at the very least.
15-18 cannelloni tubes (depending on their size)
400g ricotta cheese
200g spinach (frozen is fine)
100g parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
200g smokey pancetta, cut into lardons
800g canned tomatoes
50g unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups milk
5 balls of bocconcini
parmigiano reggiano, extra
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180º celsius.
To make the filling, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy based saucepan and saute one garlic clove and the anchovies until just turning golden. Add the spinach and cooked until it has wilted. Pop into a bowl with the ricotta and parmesan. Season well and mix to combine. Fill a piping bag with the mixture and pipe into the tubes.
To make the sauce, saute the other garlic clove in olive oil. Add the lardons of pancetta and cook until golden. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, or until reduced and thickened slightly. Pour over the cannelloni.
To make the white sauce, melt the butter over low heat and add the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes until the roux starts to go a little white on the sides. Add the milk slowly, whisking to ensure to lumps form. Season well and pour over the sauce. Top with torn bocconcini and extra grated parmesan. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly.