Monday, December 22, 2008

Cannelloni with Squash and Ricotta

This is one of those dishes where you take one bite and immediately think "Oh my goodness! Why haven't I been making this before and how soon can I make it again?!" Yes, they are that good.

I don't know if I've ever eaten cannelloni before, yet alone made them, but I can guarantee that after these, I'll be making (and eating) them again soon! The idea to make cannelloni occurred to me mostly because I have a whole lot of ricotta to get rid of. I'm leaving on Friday and won't be back for a week and a half, so my meals for these past few days have consisted of creative combinations of perishables that must be eaten or suffer the sad fate of being thrown away.

Anyways, I'd had a lot of spinach and ricotta recently, so I decided to try something different and mix the ricotta with a nice acorn squash I had, and then I just needed to figure out what kind of pasta to pair it with. Squash and ricotta cry out stuffed pasta to me, but I was a bit tired of ravioli and tortelli, and I wanted to try something different. So... baked pasta! An interesting experiment that turned out quite deliciously.

The squash ricotta pairing yields a lovely, delicate taste and a topping of béchamel and grated parmesan finishes it off perfectly. This recipe makes about 6 cannelloni:

For the pasta:
6 pasta sheets (if you want to make your own, see here for a pasta dough recipe - though you'll probably need to double it)

For the filling:
1 medium-sized squash (acorn worked very well here, I'm sure other winter varieties like butternut squash would too)
250 g ricotta
Grated parmesan

For the béchamel:
50 g butter
A few large spoonfuls of flour
200 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 355º F/180º C. Cut the squash in half and scoop out all the seeds. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the squash halves onto it, cut side down. When the oven is hot, put the squash in and let bake until soft, about 30-45 minutes depending on the size and type of squash.

When the squash is done, remove the baking sheet, turn the squash halves over so the cut side faces up and let them cool. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add the pasta sheets, a few at a time if necessary.

After a few minutes, remove the pasta sheets and place onto a clean towel to dry and cool.

While the pasta and squash are cooling, make the béchamel by melting the butter in a saucepan, then adding the flour and stirring up. Add the milk and whisk everything thoroughly. Butter a large baking pan, and pour in enough béchamel to cover the bottom.

By this time, the pasta and squash should be cool enough to deal with. Scoop out the fleshy part of the squash and mash it up in a bowl. Add the ricotta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and a healthy dose of grated parmesan and mix again.

Preheat the oven to about 400ºF / 200º C. Spoon 1/6 of the squash ricotta mixture onto the short end of one of the pasta sheets, leaving a bit of room at the edge. Roll up the pasta sheet and place into your baking pan.

Repeat for the remaining 5 sheets, and then pour the rest of the béchamel over the cannelloni. Finish it off by grating some parmesan over everything and then place into the oven and bake 20-30 minutes.

Serve warm.

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