Saturday, April 26, 2008

Recipe: Cannelloni with Spinach Filling (Κανελόνια με Σπανάκι)

Last week I found a bag of cookbooks in my basement that I’d never read.

I’d bought the books last year at a thrift store two days before my head exploded. By the time I was up and cooking, I’d completely forgotten about the thrift store cookbook score. My recent discovery was a lovely Easter present. A new cookbook always puts me in a good mood, and here were five of them. A bonanza!

The first book I picked up was Michael Field’s
Culinary Classics and Improvisations: Creative Leftovers Made from Main Course Masterpieces.

Michael Field was a successful concert pianist in the fifties and early sixties who had a passion for cooking. By 1964, that passion had become Field’s career. He got started by holding “
socialite cooking classes in his Manhattan apartment.” Ultimately, he started a culinary school in New York City, wrote cookbooks and magazine articles, and was a consulting editor for the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

died in 1971 at age 56. Among the accomplishments cited in his Time magazine obituary are debunking “such myths as the need to wash mushrooms, devein shrimp and press garlic” and preaching the “imaginative use of leftovers.”

Field’s primary rule for using leftovers is the source of leftovers must be “of the highest quality.” To this end, Field provides classic recipes for roasted and braised meat, fish, and fowl. He uses the leftovers from these dishes for the remaining recipes.

For example, Field gives a recipe for Yankee Pot Roast, the leftovers of which can be used in his recipes for Pot Roast Pie with Braised White Onions and Mushrooms, Pirog of Beef, Bigos, Cannelloni with Beef and Spinach Filling, Pâté of Pot Roast, or Cold Braised Beef Vinaigrette.

Here’s my take on Field's Cannelloni:

Cannelloni with Spinach Filling (Κανελόνια με Σπανάκι)
Serves 4 (makes 8 cannelloni)
Adapted from
Culinary Classics and Improvisations by Michael Field (Alfred A. Knopf 1967)
Cannelloni is a very flexible dish, and is a terrific way to use up leftovers. For stuffing, combine the spinach with sautéed mushrooms or leftover chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or roasted vegetables. It’s great with homemade pasta, but can also be made with plain crêpes or store-bought manicotti tubes. The tomato sauce may be made special for Cannelloni, but the dish tastes great with leftover or jarred sauce. I made my own pasta, hand-cutting noodles with the extra dough. The noodles are terrific in homemade chicken soup. Although Cannelloni may be made in one large pan, I like using individual gratin dishes for ease of serving and because it allows me to freeze assembled but unbaked cannelloni for future use.

Pasta (or substitute crêpes or purchased manicotti shells):
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. water

Cream Sauce:
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 pound cleaned, fresh spinach or 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
1 cup diced onion, 1/8” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped leftover roast meat or leftover roast vegetables (see vegetarian variation below)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 egg

1 cup tomato pasta sauce, puréed (use your favorite tomato sauce recipe or a good quality jarred pasta sauce)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Make the Pasta: Mix all the ingredients in a food processor and process until the dough clumps together, adding water if necessary. The finished dough should be very stiff. Dump the dough out on a floured surface and knead for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, use a pasta machine to roll out the dough, half at a time, until the pasta has gone through the second to the last setting on the pasta machine. Let the pasta sheets dry for 10 minutes. Trim the edges and cut the pasta sheets into 5” lengths. You need 8 pasta rectangles. (NOTE: Cut the rest of the pasta into noodles, let them dry, and store in an air-tight container until ready to use.)

Cook the pasta rectangles in boiling, salted water until they are al dente. With a slotted spoon, lift out the pasta sheets and put them in a bowl of cold water. Dry the pasta rectangles by laying them out on paper towels.

Make the Cream Sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cream in a slow stream, whisking rapidly and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the cayenne and salt, remove from the heat, and set aside until ready to use.

Make the Filling: Blanch the spinach in boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the blanched (or thawed) spinach, and finely chop it. Put in a bowl.

Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the onion mix, meat, oregano, and parmesan to the filling and mix together thoroughly. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Mix in the egg.

Assemble the Cannelloni: Preheat the oven to 375°F

Lay out 8 rectangles of pasta, evenly divide the filling between them, and roll them up. Spread a little white sauce in the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all the cannelloni or 4 individual gratin dishes. Place the cannelloni in the pan seam side down and side by side. Cover the cannelloni with tomato sauce and then cover the tomato sauce with the remaining cream sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point and refrigerated or frozen.)

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling. Put under the broiler until the tops are nicely browned; watch carefully, it is easy to burn the cheese.

Vegetarian Cannelloni
For meat in the filling, substitute 2 1/2 cups diced mushrooms (1/4” dice). Sauté the mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil until the mushrooms are nicely browned.
This is my entry for
Weekend Cookbook Challenge: Vintage Cookbooks hosted by Chocolate Moosey.


Anonymous said...

This is a great find Laurie with great advice also. Cannelloni are very flexible and you have proved it with the variety of fillings. A great and informative read as always. Happy Easter. Kali Anastasi!

Lisa Turner said...

I'm liking the sounds of the vegetarian mushroom version. I'm a total cookbook addict. I simply cannot help myself. But I guess you can never have too many recipe ideas.

Maria Verivaki said...

talk about telepathy - i was just wondering what i was going to do with the leftover lamb chops from the Easter meal - here's the answer!
Kali Anastasi!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

What a wonderful treat to find cookbooks you'd forgotten that you had! Sounds like a great post-Easter meal.

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Peter - I think it may be one of my best ever obscure cookbook finds. The recipes read remarkably modern. Happy Easter!

Lisa, I don't even like to talk about my cookbook addiction. It's gotten so bad I don't have enough shelves...

Maria - so glad to help out! Χριστός Ανέστη!

Lydia, I felt true joy in my heart when I realized what was in the bag.

Núria said...

Happy Easter Laurie!

What a great find! I'm running to my garage to see if I'm lucky too!!! I never throw away anything :D

YOur pictures are mouthwatering as always! I wish I could use leftovers in great dishes like this one, but most of the times they end up in a fridge corner :(

Cheryl said...

Just catching up after a long weekend...what a great find and what a fantastic recipe!!

test it comm said...

Those spinach Cannelloni look so good. With home made pasta as well!

Judy said...

This is one of my favorite dishes. The first time I tasted cannelloni was in Mexico City. It had a spinach/chicken filling with a bechamel sauce but no red sauce. Needless to say, it was memorable. I'll be sure and give your recipe a try.

The Apron Queen said...

Oh you're killing me! These look awesome! I love Italian!!

For your daily dose of vintage goodness & a bit of silliness, stop by Confessions of an Apron Queen, the home of Vintage Thingies Thursdays.

Anonymous said...

I am so hungry ow. :P

Johanna GGG said...

wow what a great discovery in your basement! and the canneloni looks like a good one.

I think , in the spirit of the book, just as you suggest using leftover meat you could probably use leftover roast veggies (apart from potato) - roast pumpkin and cauliflower are some of my favourites at the moment and would be great with the spinach, So I will be keeping this recipe in mind for next time I have roast vegies over

Sara said...

That looks really really really good! Thanks for sharing with us for WCC.

Katie Zeller said...

Easter presents! What a great find!
I have kind of switched to using crepes for this sort of thing - 'cause I can buy really good buckwheat crepes ready made - one of the few convenience foods available - and worth it.
I love his philosophy of good leftovers starting with good ingredients the first time - how true!

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Nuria! I really need to get rid of more stuff - I'm afraid if my "collecting" goes on for too long that after awhile I'll turn into one of those crazy people whose house is full of junk! The key to using leftovers is to think of them as an ingredient to use in something else, and not just as something to reheat as is. It becomes a pretty fun challenge to think of new ways to use leftovers. Come on, I know you can do it!

Cheryl, thanks! Yes, I'm definitely in catch up mode. Haven't read "my" blogs (including yours) in a week!

Kevin - the homemade pasta is good, but not necessary unless you're a nut like me.

Judy, your Mexico City cannelloni sounds great. As for the red sauce, I only use a little bit for flavor. And cannelloni with only red sauce, for me, isn't a good thing. Thanks for visiting!

Apron Queen, glad you like the cannelloni!

Marye, food pictures will do that to you...

Johanna, you are absolutely right, this would be a great use for leftover roast veggies. Great idea - I'll add it to the recipe.

Sara, you are so welcome! I really liked the retro cookbook idea.

Katiez, mmm, ready made buckwheat crêpes are a terrific convenience food - you are so lucky! They sound wonderful, and would work perfectly for the cannelloni.