Sunday, 15 July 2012

Cannelloni Ripieni di Carne e Mozzarella ( Cannelloni With a Beef and Mozzarella Filling! Simply the BEST!)

I really wish I hadn't had to wear a tutu`! Why is it, that every time I was a bridesmaid I was made to wear that short little white tutu`, with white socks and hairband with bow! Why did that lovely wedding photo have to be spoilt by the fact that my mother had to take me to her hairdresser and have my beautiful very light blond hair cut? How much I cried, inside, nobody ever knew... my lovely hair on the floor... dead, lifeless... why?
But the weddings were always beautiful (my cousins' weddings always were!) and I can still smell the sweet scent of gardenias and fresh orange blossom and I still get that sense of excitement deep within me, when I remember. I loved weddings and, more than everything, I loved seeing my mum and dad on the dance floor, doing all the old fashioned Latin American "numbers."  My dad always asked me to dance with him, once or twice. I was so little, I had to stand and dance with my feet on his shoes. We would twirl and laugh together, until I lost my balance. Then he would pick me up, hold me in his arms and do a Tango with me!
Weddings were special occasions and the menu, when I was little was always the same and it included lasagne or cannelloni, as a pasta course!
Wedding menus are now much more varied and just unbelievable! Cannelloni, when I was little, wasn't a dish we would normally have at home. It was confined to weddings, until... weddings became very expensive and sophisticated  and cannelloni became a dish relegated to everyday Italian cooking, or part of a Sunday lunch.
My mother would never had made cannelloni, maybe because she didn't like meat, especially if it was minced  ( cannelloni are very big pasta tubes, usually filled with minced beef) so... as a teenager, I made the dish for my family. Big success! Everyone loved it and, as my mother wouldn't make it, it was always up to me to prepare it, every now and then (often on a Sunday!)
I would never have ricotta in my cannelloni (they sell these ready made in supermarkets in UK and in the USA: not nice!) I find anything filled with ricotta,  heavy, the texture is too soft and as interesting and exciting as eating slugs. No, thanks! I make my filling with meat, and I also created my own vegetarian version, where, instead of meat, I use diced courgettes (zucchine.) It's delicious! If you wish to, before baking the dish, you can cover it with a layer of Bechamel sauce (I very often do!)
Here is my recipe for Cannelloni Ripieni di Manzo Tritato.
Cannelloni Ripieni
(Serves 4)
16 cannelloni tubes
300 g (10 oz) lean minced beef
1 egg
4 slices of white bread
or: 200g ( 7 oz) bread
a very small onion
2 small mozzarelle, diced
some parsley
black pepper
a generous handful of Pecorino
or Parmesan cheese

For the sauce:

6-7 tbsp Olive oil
1 onion
a few pieces of pancetta
700 mls  (1 and half small cartons) passata
a handful of Pecorino
or Parmesan Cheese
Sprig of basil

Before you make your cannelloni filling, make the tomato sauce. I heated some olive oil in a medium saucepan. Next I added a small amount of pancetta, cut into small pieces and let it cook until golden. This was followed by my onion, which I had previously chopped and, when this was golden and translucent, I was ready to add my passata.

 When my sauce came to the boil, I turned down the heat and let it cook for at least 25 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, I added some basil and a lovely big handful of grated cheese! This is the simplest of sauces and is so delicate! Please don't use garlic in this, as a garlic based sauce is pungent and not as delicate tasting (it can spoil a dish!)

While my sauce was cooling down (it needs to be cold, otherwise the cannelloni will crack!) I made the filling, by heating a small amount of olive oil (you can use butter instead, if you prefer.) To this I added my beef, which I let brown very slightly, followed by the onion, finely chopped.  

I let these ingredients combine. As the flavours mingled, I could smell a wonderful, kind of homely smell, much improved by the addition of my grated cheese, salt, pepper and some parsley. Having mixed these ingredients together, I was ready to add my bread, torn into very small pieces (no crust!) and one egg. I quickly incorporated the last two ingredients, to make a soft mixture. After five minutes or so, I took my pan off the heat, as the filling needed to be cold, like the sauce, if I wanted my pasta to stay whole!

When I was ready to fill each of my cannelloni, I chopped a mozzarella into small dice and added to the beef mixture, which was so delicious, I could actually have eaten it there and then.

I placed my filled cannelloni in an oven-to-table dish, made sure it was covered by a very generous layer of my delicious tomato sauce, and sprinkled more cheese on the top ( a layer of bechamel sauce improves the flavour and texture of this very delicate dish.) Be generous with the sauce, otherwise the top of your dish will stay hard and dry (not nice!)


I made a silver foil lid for my dish and baked in a moderate oven (200C /400F/gas6  ) until the sauce was bubbling up. 

Towards the end of cooking, I removed the "lid" so the top of the dish would brown. You will know when your cannelloni is cooked, by testing it: if the fork sinks into the side of a cannellone, then it's done! I think about three or four per person is the right amount, though when I was a teenager... I... ate... I'd better not tell how many!

As you can see, I also made a little side dish, by  slicing two courgettes into thin ribbons, with a vegetable peeler.

 I then fried two garlic loves in olive oil, with lots of lovely red chilli pepper. When the garlic was a nice golden colour, I added my courgettes and cooked for 3 or 4 minutes. I can't tell you how delicious it tasted, but... you can guess, can't you?