December 8 marks L’Immacolata (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), the Christmas tree lighting at Piazza Venezia in Rome and the start to the Christmas season across Italy. With the long weekend behind us, I have Neapolitan-style cannelloni on my mind… comforting and decadent, I look forward to it every December.
On Christmas Eve Southern tables celebrate with Il Cenone. The dinner of numerous fish courses always includes eel and usually baccalà. My Italian-American family sits down to the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Dishes served on the 24th are meant to cleanse the body and be light. I am still not sure how fried seafood qualifies as light but I’ll play along.
Feasting continues on Christmas Day when dishes are rich and include meat. Although traditional holiday recipes change with different tastes, ingredients and busy daily life, stuffed pasta appears on tables from North to South. Fresh meat and cheese filled cannelloni is the pasta course made with love by my adopted Neapolitan family on the 25th.
Food historians argue that the first cannelloni pasta dates back to the early 19th century when a Neapolitan cook made pasta filled with ground meat and cooked it in tomato sauce. Others argue that the first cannelloni appeared in Amalfi. Regardless of its origin, it is one of my favorites, luxurious and reserved for special occasions.
Everyday is a special occasion in my book so let’s get cooking. Cook, eat & be merry. #grateful
Ingredients for fresh egg pasta dough (dry cannelloni shells can be substituted to fresh pasta)
- Approximately 2.5 cups/325 g ‘00’ flour or AP flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- warm water as needed
Pile flour in a mound on a flat work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour. Place the eggs and salt into the well. Use a fork to gradually draw in the flour from the inside of the well. Continue until all the flour is incorporated and it forms a ball. If this happens before all of the flour is incorporated, add a small amount of warm water and keep mixing until all of the flour is incorporated. Flour your hands and knead any remaining flour into the dough until a slightly sticky dough is formed. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
Cut dough into three equal pieces. Flour them lightly and cover them with a damp kitchen towel to keep the dough from drying out while you roll the rest. Working with one section of dough at a time, form it into a rectangle (approximately 4 x 3 inches). Roll it through a pasta machine at the widest setting 2 to 3 times. Reduce the setting by one and pass the dough through again 2 or 3 times. Continue reducing the setting until the machine is at the next to last setting. Dust the sheets of dough with flour as needed. Repeat with each piece of dough.
Cut each pasta strip into rectangular sections for the cannelloni (approximately 6” x 4” in size).
Bring water to a boil. Cook sheets for 1 minute in boiling water. Remove and place immediately in a bowl filled with cold water. Remove from cold water and place on paper towels to dry.
For the Sauce – approximately 28 oz. of tomato sauce of your choice, cooked/prepared
Ingredients for bechamel
- 1 1/4 cups full fat milk
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 1/2 Tbsp. plain flour
- Salt and black pepper
Heat the milk over a low flame. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour. Keep on a low flame and stir for approximately a minute. Add the hot milk, gradually stirring continuously. Add salt and pepper. Cook until it starts to bubble slightly. Stir and taste for seasoning.
For the Filling
- 1 lb. ground beef or mix of ground beef and veal
- 9 oz. mozzarella, cubed
- 7 oz. ricotta
- 2 or 3 slices of prosciutto cotto (ham), chopped
- 5 Tbsp Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 1 onion, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Brown the onion in the olive oil. Add the ground beef. Add salt. Let cook for 5 minutes. Add ½ of the tomato sauce and prosciutto cotto. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Add bechamel, ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino or parmigiano. Mix until incorporated.
To assemble the Cannelloni
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spoon the filling onto the pasta sheets. Roll it round the filling. Spread a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange the cannelloni on top. Top with additional tomato sauce. Dust with grated cheese. Bake for between 30 and 40 minutes.