Crazy Cheesy Baked Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

A couple of weeks ago I was craving something cheesy, creamy and pasta-y. I searched my new Nigellissima book for a recipe but nothing quite hit the spot, so I just decided to make it up. Interestingly, whilst Googling, most of the American blogs were showing something that looked very similar to what I know as cannelloni, but calling it manicotti. This sounded way more exciting so I was calling it baked manicotti all the way through the cooking process til Ben said “…sooo, it is just cannelloni?” Yes babe, yes it is. Cannelloni!

Although the dried cannelloni tubes were super cheap in Sainsburys, I decided to go for the fresh lasagna sheets instead, thinking it would be easier to roll the filling up in them rather than trying to stuff it into little skinny shells. On reflection, we realised we could just buy the cheap dried lasagna sheets and boil them til they are pliable, to achieve the same effect. The fresh lasagna sheets were delicious but they were pretty expensive and quite frankly, January is not the time to be chucking money at fresh ready-made pasta!

I started off the filling mixture by sauteing garlic and fresh basil leaves in olive oil, to infuse the oil which would in turn flavour the spinach. I’ve learnt with spinach you have to add a lotttttt of seasoning otherwise it can be incredibly bland. I love the flavour of spinach on it’s own but it really is better with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper.

I’m afraid we are briefly reverting back to iPhone photos as I did not have my new camera at this point!

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Note the basil, which came from our little herb windowsill! (Ben’s Herb Box has yet to be re-filled this year!)

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I then added the spinach (I used frozen, defrosted in the microwave as it’s how I roll) and cooked it for a few minutes in the oil.

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I then added the spinach mixture to a bowl of ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, 2 beaten eggs and seasoning. I let this sit for a little bit while I made the tomato sauce.

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The tomato ‘sauce’ is just a couple of cartons of chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh basil and seasoning. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes until it thickened.

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And then, it was just a case of layering! I’m very sad and really enjoy this bit; such satisfaction to see the final product! I laid out the fresh pasta sheets and spooned the mixture along one of the edges.

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Then I rolled it up! And laid them all in a lasagna dish next to each other, like little sardines in a tin!

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I then poured the tomato sauce all over the tubes, making sure they were all covered so we wouldn’t get any nasty burnt bits on the edges.

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Then covered it all with MORE CHEESE! You really can never have enough cheese in a recipe. Although, this recipe is just about my limit for cheesiness, you have been warned! I think only our baked tortellini dish is cheesier…and that is a whole new level of cheesiness.

I used medium cheddar, expertly grated by my boyfriend as I cannot be trusted with our Ikea grater (the first time I used it I grated the heel of my hand and still have the scar…it was deep.) followed by a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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25 minutes later (quite a short cooking time as the pasta is fresh!) I lifted this beauty out of the oven.

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(I love how in my photos it looks like I’m cooking for a family of 6 and in reality it is just me and Ben)

It was perfect! It was a real medley of textures with a lovely crunchy, cheesy topping, al dente pasta and smooth, creamy filling. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten and I’ve battled not to make it every night since.

And heres a confession – I confidently piled two tubes onto my plate with some nice fresh, crunchy salad to balance the richness. And shock horror, I could only eat one!!!! The cheesiness really did beat me and I had to admit defeat and return my second tube to the baking dish, head hung in shame. This dish served two of us for 2 nights and 1 lunch! Pretty impressive.

Next time I make this, I’m going to make a few changes. As previously mentioned, I’m going to use dried lasagna sheets and boil them. Not only are these a lot cheaper than fresh pasta sheets but I also think they’ll look nicer than the fresh ones. They are long and thin and will produce much shorter tubes, leading to a much less daunting plateful!

I’d also like to try and make the filling in general a bit cheaper; I already used frozen spinach instead of fresh seeing as I had some in the freezer and I’m also going to experiment with different cheeses. We were shocked at the price of cottage cheese! I’m not even joking! Crazy money. I think playing around with low fat cream cheese would work quite well. The ricotta isn’t too obscenely priced (I think it was £1 for 250g?) and is an essential ingredient so I’ll let that one slide.

Overall this was an insanely delicious dinner and I think I even preferred it to lasagna! And I REALLY like lasagna. Give it a go if you like cheese even the tiniest bit, you will not be disappointed.

 

Pan Fried Gnocci with Pesto and Ricotta Cheese

We’ve been eating regular boiled gnocci for quite a while now but it was not until recently that I came across the idea of pan-frying it, after watching a classic Nigella episode in which she did just that. The recipe is called ‘Rapid Roastini’ and she basically treats the gnocci as a potato accompaniment to meat, rather than the base of a pasta dish. Very interesting!

I tried out the pan fried gnocci with a few simple ingredients in order to let the gnocci be the star of the show. I started by boiling the gnocci for a few minutes according to the instructions on the packet. I then drained it and transferred it to a hot pan with a splash of olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.

After about 10 minutes of pan frying, the gnocci were crispy, crunchy, golden little nuggets. Don’t they look amazing!? I had to forcibly stop myself ‘testing’ them as the number in the pan was dwindling at an alarming rate.

I was STILL in the thick of my pesto phase when I made this dish so added a generous spoonful to the pan along with some sliced, deseeded cherry tomatoes. We always deseed our tomatoes as I hate when they go all watery – I recently discovered Our Lady Nigella does too, therefore this is the way forward. I also added a few big handfuls of baby leaf spinach in order to up the nutrients and general goodness in what has the potential to be a pretty unhealthy dish. The spinach wilted and mixed in perfectly with the pesto and tomatoes to form a pretty convincing sauce. I think this would be a perfect way to sneak in some extra greens for kids (or fussy boyfriends!)

I did consider adding some chicken or Quorn chicken pieces but decided it didn’t really need it. I do think the addition of some protein could make it into a more substantial dish though.

I topped the gnocci mixture with a few tablespoons of ricotta cheese and placed it under the grill for a few minutes. Ricotta cheese doesn’t really melt or obviously change as most cheeses do but it did add another depth of flavour to the dish. And clearly, cheese is always going to be a successful addition to dinner.

(Can you see how much salt is on there!? I do like a bit of food with my salt.)

This was such a simple, delicious plate of food. I bought all the ingredients again the following Friday night and made the exact same dish because it was just that good. It consists of 5 ingredients and comes together in less than 15 minutes –  the perfect simple recipe for a Friday night when you just want something a bit more special than a pizza. 🙂

TJ’s Bistro – Paignton

On our first night in Paignton we arrived at our luxury hotel (Travelodge) and freshened up before heading out for dinner. I had hoped we would eat at The Boathouse restaurant which has a lovely, inexpensive menu and is literally across the road from the Travelodge but unfortunately they were too busy to seat us. Onwards, then, to town!

My second choice for dinner was TJ’s Bistro, the number 1 restaurant in Paignton according to Tripadvisor which offers a choice of main meals or tapas style dishes. I generally treat Tripadvisor reviews as the gospel if there are a lot on any one place – we’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants this way and have never been disappointed! So, although TJ’s didn’t look a lot from the outside (which I had also been warned of by the reviewers!) we decided to go for it. You enter the restaurant through a little door to some stairs which take you upstairs to a lovely outside verandah with lots of chairs and tables. The view from here was spectacular!

There is a large, airy conservatory area behind the verandah and the indoor section holds the kitchen, bar and a waiting area with sofas and comfy chairs. There were a couple of tables in this bit that I am glad we didn’t get as it was pretty dark in there.

A lovely man asked us if we were looking to stay for a meal and we said yes. He said if we waited 5 or 10 minutes he’d have a table for us as a group was just finishing. Perfect! We wandered over to the bar area and ordered drinks before realising there was no-where to sit. The man noticed this and after giving us our drinks informed us that we could sit out on the verandah and he’d come and get us. Doubly perfect.

It was really lovely sitting outside in the warm air with a beautiful view of the harbour below and I was almost disappointed when the guy called us a few minutes later! Almost. We grabbed our drinks and were led to a lovely big table in the conservatory area where we started to peruse the menus. There wasn’t much on the main menu that tempted us so we decided to order a selection of Tapas dishes as we don’t often get to try Spanish food.

We actually ordered rather a lot of food but, in our defence, we were starving. It was almost embarrassing telling the waitress what we would like…almost.

We started with the breads and assorted dips. We love a bit of carb to start a meal so ordering this was a no brainer.

We were impressed with the presentation and the actual food was delicious! There were two types of bread which we only realized when we stopped stuffing it in our respective mouths for just a second; a plain ciabatta and a strong olive flavoured crusty number. The dips were olive oil, dark, sticky balsamic and a slightly random combination of what we thought was sweet chilli dipping sauce and mayo. Nice! But probably our least favourite of the three.

After we’d finished our starter, our main courses started to come out and pretty soon our table was full. I had to move the candles over and our waitress removed our excess wine glasses…embarrassing! We each ordered three dishes and shared the perennial tapas favourite, patatas bravas.

For my first dish I ordered deep fried goats cheese. Deep. Fried. Goats. Cheese. How could this not be amazing? The cheese was encased within a dense, hearty batter that would have been quite at home in the fish and chip shop, none of this ‘light tempura’ nonsense thank you very much. It was drizzled in honey and topped with a juicy orange slice. This was possibly the richest thing I’ve ever eaten and it ticked all the boxes – sweet, salty and tangy with a complex combination of textures – I sliced it like a pizza and nibbled on wedges in between my other courses because it didn’t really go with anything else. This was a dish with flavours unlike anything I’d experienced before though and it did work well amongst the more savoury dishes I had ordered. A palate cleanser, if you will!

My second dish was one of the most expensive on the menu, oops! I chose the bacon wrapped scallops and my excitement levels were almost uncontrollable when they arrived.

Unfortunately, as you can probably tell from the photo, they weren’t great. I was expecting a real crispy bacon wrapping but it was undercooked and flaccid. In the end I pulled it off because it was actually detracting from the scallops which were beautifully cooked. It’s not like me to turn down bacon! This was probably best though because it saved valuable tummy space for all the other delicacies on the table.

Ben ordered a few veggie dishes to enjoy with the patatas bravas – vegetable fritters, jalapeno poppers and spicy lentils. The spicy lentils looked slightly uninspiring but tasted delicious with a deep tomato flavour and strong hit of chilli.

The poppers were jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese and battered. You really can’t go wrong with that combination and this effort from TJ’s was lovely. I was reluctant to try them at first as I’m a chilli wuss but Ben persuaded me and I thoroughly enjoyed my sample.

His favourite dish though was the ‘vegetable fritters’ which came out completeley different to how we were expecting – he was pleasantly surprised to see that they were tempura battered whole vegetables like aubergine, courgette and pepper. This was a huge portion and he was unable to finish it even with my added valiant efforts! The fritters were served with a minted mayonnaise which we were initially sceptical about but which actually went really well with the dish.

Our patatas bravas was a good sized portion with perfectly cooked potatoes and a nice, tangy tomato sauce. But, is it wrong that we missed the ‘con queso’ version that we normally have at La Tasca? You can take the kids out of a chain restaurant but you can’t take the chain restaurant out of the kids!

My final dish came out a few minutes after the others. I have to say I was quite disappointed when it was served, mainly due to the size which was a far cry from the amount I would expect to receive for a dish that cost £7. This was ‘lobster thermidor’ and it consisted of 3 king prawns and two thin medallions of lobster meat in a creamy cheese and mustard sauce.

Hmmm. It was nice, but I was expecting a hot, bubbling cheese crust and a slightly larger portion size. Had I known, I would have ordered a different, cheaper king prawn dish as this was not what I expected when I chose lobster thermidor.

That said, everything else was delicious and we really enjoyed our meal here. The service was lovely and the views can’t be beaten – get here early to enjoy a few drinks out on the balcony before your meal or better yet, pick a warm evening and eat al fresco! We really did feel like we could have been in a Mediterranean harbour whilst we were in TJ’s and I think the food and relaxed eating style enhanced this. Our meal came to about £60 with a couple of drinks each and it was a lovely, relaxed way to kick off our minibreak. TJ’s, we will be back!