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.

 

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!