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!
Note the basil, which came from our little herb windowsill! (Ben’s Herb Box has yet to be re-filled this year!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then I rolled it up! And laid them all in a lasagna dish next to each other, like little sardines in a tin!
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.
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.
25 minutes later (quite a short cooking time as the pasta is fresh!) I lifted this beauty out of the oven.
(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.