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 Β£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.

 

Proper Job Pizzas

A thousand apologies for my prolonged absence from Polka Dot Kitchen! Life has rudely barged in the way of blogging and I’ve really missed it. In the last month a lot has happened…I took voluntary redundancy from my job of two years after finding out Β the company was merging and there would be job duplications. I applied for a LOT of jobs, went on a few interviews and started to get TENSE when my last day at work was approaching and thoughts of unemployment, JobSeekers Allowance and cancelled Florida holidays (GOD FORBID) were looming. In my last week at my job, I went on two interviews. One was absolutely amazing and I was hoping and praying they’d offer me the job, I wanted it SO MUCH!

I then secured a ‘chat with the CEO’ the following week; brilliant, but no guarantee of a job! The second interview that week was before this ‘chat with the CEO’ of the job I really wanted. The interview was great but I just didn’t think the job was for me. Obviously, they then phoned me an hour after the interview and offered me the job. Dilemma! I politely asked the very pushy recruiter if I could let them know Friday. What followed was an extremely tense 48 hours in which I ran through all possible scenarios with Ben and went to sleep the morning of the ‘chat’ convinced I would not get the job and had also ruined my chances of getting the other one.

LONG story short, I was offered the job I really wanted. YES!!!!! Me and Ben then skipped off to Disneyland Paris for a very very very well deserved weekend away and I returned on Bank Holiday Monday pretty much on top of the world. I’ve been working at my new job nearly a month now and I’m feeling very happy, settled in and ready to get back to blogging. Obviously I’ve been eating a lot during this stressful time (mainly carbs…) so I have lots of backed-up posts to get through!

So. Lets start with my favourite food in the world – pizza! But, not just any pizza. Proper job, home-made, from scratch pizza. Yeahhh! Homemade pizza dough has fast become mine and Ben’s newest obsession. Nicer than any shop-bought pizza we’ve ever had, home-made is super quick to make and I keep finding myself knocking up fresh pizza dough when I get in from work during the week. Say goodbye to Lazy Boy Pizzas, we’re never going back!

The recipe I use is a very simple one found on Jamie Oliver’s forum, thanks to a Google search for ‘easy pizza dough fast action yeast’ or something along those lines. It serves 8 to 10 people but although we like pizza a lot, we halve the measurements due to the pressing need to stop gaining weight.

The first time we made them we were seriously amazed with how quick the dough was. Chuck in the flour, yeast, water, salt and sugar and mix it all up and that was it! DOUGH! Next time we’re going to get a bit adventurous and maybe add some flavourings into the mix, I’m thinking a cheesey, garlicky pairing would be a winner. Next was a generous spread of tomato paste, followed by some serious topping assemblage. I was recreating the magical Padana as it had been at least 4 days since I’d had my last hit. Caramelised onions, wilted baby leaf spinach and goats cheese. Always a winning combination, if a little time-consuming with the onions.

After a lengthy caramalisation sesh, I added the onions and spinach to my pizza base, followed by an overly generous sprinkle/slather of the goats cheese. Tada!

 

Ben naturally opted for a spicy, veggie meat based affair. He used the classic Linda McCartney veggie sausages, chopped tomatoes, red pepper flakes and jalapeno peppers, as well as some of my very generously donated onions.

 

This is his pre-oven pizza! Proper crust!

 

 

25 agonising moments then passed, spent mainly staring through the oven door watching cheese bubble. Finally, they were ready and we proudly retrieved our pizzas from the steaming oven, ready to slice ’em up.

 

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to put the entire pizza on my plate. I was very restrained though, and only put half on. As it was, all the excitement got a bit too much for me and in fact I was only able to eat a measly 4 slices. Call myself a pizza fan!

Ben was equally thrilled with his resplendant, golden circle of goodness.

 

MOUTH. WATERING.

It was too spicy for me but he absolutely loved it. My pizza was gorgeous too; sweet, sticky onions, fragrant tomato and sharp, piquant goats cheese. If you have never sampled a Padana-inspired pizza, I suggest you get on board immediately. You won’t regret it.

So once again, apologies for the brief disappearance and I hope you enjoyed my unemployment to employment sob story and the photos of these pizzas. More exciting food to come. Mainly carbohydrates though, this will never be a salad blog!

 

 

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 – Β the perfect simple recipe for a Friday night when you just want something a bit more special than a pizza. πŸ™‚

Piccola Roma – Bishops Waltham

We’d been wanting to try this new Italian restaurant for ages but only got a chance last Thursday, a good excuse to celebrate the start of the long weekend!

We went for drinks in the newly refurbished Crown Inn beforehand – absolutely beautiful inside and worlds away from it’s previous incarnation – I actually struggled to believe it was the same pub once we were inside! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the village and the perfect place for a cozy glass of wine before dinner.

We arrived at Piccola Roma about 8pm and it was very quiet in the small restaurant with only a couple of tables occupied. The lovely owner greeted us and said we could pick any table we wanted, a huge bonus in my book! We chose a little table for two right in the window and ordered a glass of wine and a beer.

The decoration is really lovely inside with dimly lit tables and a generally romantic atmosphere. There was a couple on the table next to us and a family Β on a larger table near the door. There was a huge print of the Colosseum stretching over the wall next to us which got us chatting about how much we’d like to visit Rome one day.

We perused the menu first and decided to share a couple of starters in order to leave room for what sounded like a stellar line-up of main choices.

We ordered mixed olives and the bruchetta. Both came out looking magnificent!

The olives were perfect – fat, pitted and doused in a flavourful garlic, chilli and herb oil. The bruchetta was presented as a trio and we halved each one to ensure a complete tasting experience. My favourite was the chopped olives – perhaps an olive overdose for some given our second starter but the intense olive hit was just perfect teamed with the crispy grilled bread. The mixed pepper and sliced tomato bruchetta were also lovely and we obviously scraped the plate clean of balsamic glaze.

I was having some trouble deciding what to order for my main and was stuck between a having a bowl of cheesy, creamy, comforting tortellini or just going for it with a massive steak. The owner came over and chatted to us for a bit and eventually I plumped for the steak after she declared it “the best I’ve ever eaten!” Obviously biased but I’m not going to let a declaration like that pass me by and before I knew it I’d ordered it, medium rare please.

Ben was absolutely spolit for choice at this restaurant and had a choice of at least 3 different main courses! We had seen on the online menu that they served an aubergine parmigana which he was quite keen to try but after asking our server we learned it had been taken off due to lack of interest. Unfortunate but understandable. In the end he went for the pesto pasta with a side salad of onions and tomatoes.

Our main courses were brought out and I literally could not have been more excited to see the sheer size of my steak. Ben said as soon as he saw it he knew we’d be coming back! It was a 10oz rib-eye steak with a creamy dolcelatte sauce, chips and a salad. I have recently become obsessed with blue cheese and have been adding it to pretty much everything I eat so the chance to have a steak slathered in it pretty much made my day.

We were both impressed because I have only ever had a steak like this in Florida – sitting proudly on the plate, taller than everything else. Normally I get a bog-standard sirloin or similar which, while delicious, cannot match the impressive appearance of a fillet or rib-eye. The steak was perfectly cooked and in fact next time I may have to chicken out somewhat and order it medium as Β the thick, meaty centre was very very rare. As it should have been! Only I wasn’t expecting the sheer girth of it and overcompensated thinking they would err on the side of caution.

The insanely rich sauce complimented every single bite of the steak. I was so tempted to ask for more sauce (pretty much to just drink) but I remembered I am actually on a ‘diet’ (using the MyFitnessPal app, it’s amazing!) and although we had walked to the village and so burned an additional 300 odd calories, I really shouldn’t push my luck. As it was I really scraped my plate clean, using the chips more as a vehicle to get sauce into my mouth than a side dish in their own right. They deserved more than that really as they were lovely chips.

Ben was very happy with his main course and although it appears quite small and forlorn in the vast bowl, he was actually struggling to finish!

His side dish of onion and tomato salad was somewhat resplendent in appearance and rather stole the show from his main.

More balsamic glaze, score! He was pleased because the pasta was cooked al-dente (they actually state this on the menu and you can ask for it to be cooked longer if you prefer) and the pesto was fresh and flavoursome. The salad provided a lovely contrast to the pasta and helped break up the unavoidable monotony that afflicts most pasta dishes.

We were contentedly full after our main courses and I was pleased we had shared a starter (although does it really count as sharing if you order 2…) and happy to leave without dessert in order to avoid the wrath of MyFitnessPal. Our dinner came toΒ Β£42 which we thought was really very reasonable with a drink each and starters. Saying that, I did order the most expensive thing on the menu so we could have quite easily kept costs down if I’d gone for the tortellini. Oops.

We will definitely be going back to Piccola Roma given it’s fantastic food, convenient location and friendly service. The owner was very pleasant to chat to and we learnt that she lived in Rome for 6 years and actually met her husband there, the chef at Piccola Roma! Fantastic to hear we were receiving real authentic Italian food and for me, lovely to hear the back story from someone who is so obviously passionate about Italy and Rome.

Quick Weekday Dinner

I had had a really, REALLY bad day. Due to insanely high winds and general antisocial weather conditions, the trains had completely failed. There was a tree on the line a couple of stops before mine which I only discovered upon reaching the station in the morning. I could see people turning around and walking back the way I was coming, never a good sign…

To cut an extremely long and frustrating story short, all trains were delayed or cancelled and I had to walk back home and drive to work (45 minutes away) having already paid for my ticket which, due to the almost painful lack of decent customer support at South West Trains I knew I wouldn’t receive a refund on. The final straw was having to stay late at work, meaning I got home about 2 hours later than I would normally. Not at all ideal.

I was also absolutely starving and as any food lover knows, hungry + angry = hangry which is not the sort of position you want to find yourself in very often. If at all. I needed food and I needed it fast! There was a packet of Sainsburys Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini in the fridge which sounded absolutely stunning, confirmed by the realisation that it only took 2 minutes to cook. I put the kettle on and started the hunt for a pasta sauce. Hmm. A fruitless search. There was however a carton of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard so I set about making a quick and easy pasta sauce. I hate the taste of canned and chopped tomatoes and prefer to simmer them for a while with other flavours to remove the metallic/cardboard taste.

I started off by chopping some cherry tomatoes into halves and sauteing them with olive oil and lots of black pepper. They smelt absolutely amazing and I nearly abandoned the pasta idea in favour of good old tomatoes on toast! I saw sense though and continued my original plan. Once the tomatoes were quite broken up I added the chopped tomatoes and a minced clove of garlic. I let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes to get rid of all the liquid, then added two teaspoons of red pesto at the end. This was the best thing ever! The pesto added so much flavour to the tomatoes, mmmmm.

While I simmered the sauce for the last few minutes I quickly cut and toasted a slice of tiger bread. Before mincing the aforementioned garlic clove, I sliced the end off and rubbed it all over the toasted bread before adding a generous layer of Lurpak. I then switched on the grill and put the toast under there for a couple of minutes. Once it was crisped up nicely I added some grated chedder cheese and set it aside to toast right at the end. It smelt amazing! Nothing quite like the smell of garlic, I absolutely love it.

Finally, I poured my boiling water into a medium saucepan and once it was bubbling, added the pack of tortellini. It literally needed a minute and a half, I often overcook it as I worry it won’t be done but I have learnt to err on the side of caution and take it out about 30/45 seconds before I think it looks done, as it will continue cooking and heat the middle, leaving the pasta perfectly al dente. I popped the pasta in the colandar to drain and placed the now cheese topped bread under the grill. There were a few frantic minutes of trying to simultaneously plate up, clean up the kitchen and keep an eye on the garlic bread but it all came together quite well and I was so proud of my quick dinner!

 

 

It was the first time I’ve really made a homemade pasta sauce and it tasted amazing. I added a sprinkle of cheddar on top as clearly there is not enough cheese in spinach and ricotta tortellini.

 

 

 

 

The garlic bread was amazing due to the award-winning combination of garlic, bread and cheese and I can assure you that not a crumb was left on that plate.

 

 

 

 

Quick, easy, perfect weekday dinner, just what I needed after a long and stressful day. Pasta is one of my top comfort foods and since discovering the wonders of tortellini I am finding it difficult to go back to plain, un-filled pasta shapes.

One of these days I would love to make my own tortellini or ravioli but that, I think, will be the subject of a much longer blog post!