So this weekend I held my first ese ne tekrema cooking experience via Zoom.
Despite a few technical hitches it was great to cook with two friends in Portugal and the UK, both of whom were making fresh pasta for first time. I’m calling it an ’experience’ rather than a ‘lesson’ because for me cooking is about so much more than technique…it’s about delicious ingredients and smells and shared experiences. That said I wanted to choose a dish that would give my friends some new ideas and show them how easy it is to make fresh pasta, a staple of home cooking here in Italy. This recipe is also very versatile…we made cannelloni by rolling a rich lentil and mushroom ragu in sheets of fresh pasta and then topping with a creamy cheese and pesto sauce, but you can also layer the elements up to make a classic lasagne….or leave the ragu out to make a lasagne bianche…or cut the pasta into tagliatelli and serve with the ragu and a sprinkle of parmesan. And if you are feeling very adventurous, you can use the pasta to make a simple and delicious spinach and ricotta ravioli with zucchini and garlic sauce.
For the ragu
A red onion
Two sticks of celery
Three cloves of garlic
400g tin of brown lentils
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Two tablespoons of tomato puree
1/2 a jar of pesto, approx. two tablespoons
A splash of soy sauce or balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
For the cheesy pesto sauce
60g butter or margarine
60g plain flour
750ml milk (any type)
120g hard cheese
1/2 small jar of pesto, approx. 2 tablespoons
Salt and pepper to taste
For the cannelloni
200g plain white flour, type 00 if possible but no a problem if not!
Two large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Start by making the ragu as it will need time to cool down before you can wrap it in the pasta make your canneloni. Finely chop the onion, celery and mushrooms and crush the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes, taking care not to let it burn. Add the celery and mushrooms and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, lentils and pesto. Stir together and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, add a splash of soy sauce or balsamic vinegar and season to taste. Simmer gently for a further 5 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Next you need to make the pasta dough. You can make a start on this while the ragu is cooking, just don’t forget about it!
Weigh the flour, add the salt and tip onto a smooth work surface or board. Make a well in the flour and crack in the eggs.
Using a fork, gently beat the eggs bringing in more and more of the flour as you go. If the yolks try to escape simply rebuild the wall with some of the flour! The mixture may seem too dry but keep going, using your hands to knead the mixture and bring it all together into a dough. If the mixture really won’t stick together and you have dry flour remaining you can add a little water.
Knead for a further 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic then pop it into a plastic bag or wrap in cling film and to rest for 10 minutes.
While the dough is resting you can prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan and then mix in the flour. Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring occassionally then slowly add in the milk whisking all the time to prevent the sauce from becoming lumpy.
Switch to a wooden spoon and bring to sauce to the boil. Turn down the heat, add two tablespoons of pesto and the cheese, grated. Cook for a further 5 minutes, season to taste and remove from the heat.
Now you are ready to assemble your cannelloni!
Cut the pasta dough in half and roll out thinly on a floured board or work surface. If the pasta is too thick it won’t cook properly so keep going until you have a large piece. Straighten the edges with a sharp knife and cut into rectangles for your cannelloni tubes. Repeat with the other piece of dough. You should end up with around 12-14 cannelloni shapes.
Pour around half of the cheesy pesto sauce in the bottom of a square or rectangular baking dish. Place 1-2 desertspoons of the cooled down ragu lengthways in the middle of each piece of pasta, roll into a tube and place in the baking dish on top of the sauce. Repeat until the dish is full. Any leftover ragu will keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Cover the cannelloni with the remaining sauce. If you have any parsley or fresh herbs to hand these can be chopped up finely and sprinkled on top for extra colour.
Bake in a hot oven (200C) for 30 minutes so that the pasta cooks in the sauces and the top turns golden brown.