There is definitely something special about baked pasta. My Italian ancestors were onto a winner with that combination, and I think they knew it. What I love about Italians is that when they find something they love they explore it to the absolute limits with each region of Italy having their own special versions.
I must confess that I am a bandit for baked pasta. My mother used to make pasta al forno (penne pasta baked in the oven with bechamel and parmesan) every Wednesday night growing up as she was out playing sport. Over the years a friendly competition began to develop between the remaining members of the family as we all rushed home to collect the crispiest baked corner slice – I often won… and I was the youngest in my family by a long way.
The cannelloni feels to me like it often gets overshadowed by its more beloved brother, the lasagna. But with this recipe, I hope to show that it can be more flavoursome and interesting. Also, cannelloni is still exotic enough to serve at a dinner party and is just as easy to make as lasagna.
When one thinks of cannelloni, it’s easy to get caught up in the stock standard spinach and ricotta version. True, spinach and ricotta cannelloni is great for the vegetarians amongst us, but why not think a little more outside the box and you could have yourself another great vegetarian version – pumpkin and mushroom cannelloni.
For this recipe I chose to make the pasta from scratch, but it will work just as well with dried cannelloni (par boil them before you fill them) which will cut down the prep time. I do have to say that making fresh pasta from scratch gets easier and quicker the more you make it.
You’ve just got to give this one a try – do it for the humble cannelloni who deserves a bit more attention. I’m sure you will love the flavourful outcome just as much as we did!
Pumpkin and Mushroom Cannelloni
PASTA (OPTION ONE)
Place flour on a clean bench. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Then add the olive oil.
Knead the dough together with your hands until one large lump of dough forms. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth and silky (about 8 minutes).
Wrap the dough in cling wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest. After resting, flour your bench top, cut off a quarter of the dough, and flatten the lump with your palm against the bench top.
Set the pasta machine at the widest setting and roll the lump through. Then set the machine down a level and roll the dough through again. Continue this process going down a level each time until you get it to the second last setting. Cut pasta sheet into three equal lengths. Repeat with remaining dough.
Pre heat oven to 200° Celsius. In a baking dish combine pumpkin, olive oil and sage leaves and bake for 20 minutes until cooked. Remove from oven and place in a blender pulsing until blended. Transfer to a small bowl, add 100g ricotta, nutmeg, salt and pepper stir and set aside.
Place mushrooms and shallot slices in blender, pulse until well blended, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
To fill the cannelloni lay down a length of pasta and place a tablespoon of pumpkin mixture on one end of the pasta, top with a teaspoon of the mushroom mixture and then place a teaspoon of the remaining ricotta on top. Roll the pasta gently until a tube of pasta has formed with the filling in the middle. Repeat with remaining pasta and filling.
PASTA (OPTION TWO)
To a pot of boiling water, add dried cannelloni tubes and boil until softened (do not boil too much or it will be hard to fill the cannelloni tubes. Remove tubes from water and drain.
Take a cannelloni tube and fill with a tablespoon of pumpkin mixture, teaspoon of mushroom mixture and teaspoon of remaining ricotta. Repeat with remaining pasta and filling.
Preheat oven to 180° Celsius. Place tomato passata at the bottom of a large baking dish (or two medium baking dishes) and add crushed garlic and lemon zest. Place the filled cannelloni tubes gently in the tomato passata and top with salt and pepper, ricotta, almonds, mozzarella cheese and sage leaves.
Place dish in oven and bake for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and golden. Serve with a green side salad and glass of wine.