Tuesday, April 26, 2016


My father loved the cannelloni served at Ferd’s, a local Italian restaurant that sadly no longer exists. He ordered it almost every time we ate there. It can be an extremely rich dish depending on the cannelloni filling and the sauces you use. This recipe is a recreation of that version so loved by my father. I will offer other options as well. Cannelloni are a tubular pasta similar to manicotti. Typically, manicotti are stuffed with ricotta cheese and other ingredients and baked in a marinara. You can use cannelloni in a like manner. There are many recipes using various fillings. You can buy cannelloni tubes in a box or use some of the no-bake lasagna noodles or buy some fresh or frozen pasta sheets at a local market. Tubes are more difficult to fill than sheets which are simply rolled up around the filling.
This recipe will make about 10 to 12 cannelloni, depending on the kind of pasta you use.
  • If you use the box pasta, cook 12 of them only 1/2 the time as directed on the box. Drain and set aside to cool so you can handle them. Do not rinse them under cold water. 
  • If you use the no-bake noodles, boil 12 of them in some water just to the point they become pliable (about 3 minutes), remove to a sheet pan and keep them apart or they will stick together. 
  • If you use frozen pasta sheets, let them thaw and come to room temperature. Cut them in 3 inch by 6 inch pieces. 
Oven Temp - 425 degrees F. 
Cooking Time - about 40 minutes
Tools: 9” by 13” broiler-safe ceramic or metal baking dish (not glass)
Serves: 5-6 (2 cannelloni per person)

  • 12 cannelloni tubes or a box of no-bake lasagna noodles or pasta sheets as described above
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (ground or if in casings, remove casings) 
  • 12 ounces ricotta cheese 
  • 1/2 box of frozen spinach thawed and water completely squeezed out 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 4 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley 
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese 
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 5 tablespoons flour 
  • 4 cups milk 
  • 1//4 teaspoon nutmeg 
TOPPING: 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  1. Brown the sausage in a skillet. Once almost browned, use a potato masher to break it up. Remove and drain off the fat. Set aside. 
  2. In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan, mozzarella and parsley. Mix in the cooled cooked meat. Set aside or refrigerate covered until you are ready to fill the pasta. 
  3. In a large saucepan melt the butter on medium heat. Add the flour and stir to blend. Let the roux cook for 2 minutes. Now slowly add the milk while stirring constantly. Add a little at a time. Bring to a boil while constantly stirring. Once it comes to a boil, turn it off and remove from heat. Mix in the parmesan cheese. 
  4. Grease a broiler-safe baking dish with some butter or cooking spray. 
  5. If using the cannelloni tubes you will need a small zip-lock type bag to create a piping bag. Fill the bag about 2/3rds full with some of the filling mixture. Squeeze out the air and seal the bag. Cut 1/2” off one of the bottom corners. Hold the piping bag in one hand and squeeze the filling into the pasta tube until it is filled. Place it, seam side down, in the baking dish. Add more filling to the piping bag as needed. 
  6. If using pasta sheets, place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling near the end of shortest side of the sheet and shape it into a log. Then gently roll up the pasta to create a tube. Place it, seam side down, in the baking dish. 
  7. Arrange the tubes evenly in the baking dish. Leave some space between them so you have room for plenty of sauce. Pour the sauce over the tubes. Do not completely cover the tubes with the sauce. Leave a little of the tops exposed. Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese. 
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake at 425 degrees F. until it is bubbling. Remove the foil and turn on the broiler. Lightly brown the top. Remove and let cool 10 minutes before serving. Serve with some additional grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley for garnish. 
  • You can use a simple marinara instead of the parmesan sauce. In that case you will not use the broiler at the end so you can use a glass baking dish.
  • Omit the sausage in the filling, use a whole box of the frozen spinach for a meatless version. You can use either the parmesan sauce or a marinara.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Good Stuff - Two Favorite Brands

Recently a friend turned me on to Field Peas. Say what? Field peas are one of the oldest domesticated crops, cultivated for at least 7,000 years. Who knew? Apparently they are Southern mainstay so how have I never heard of them being from the South? There are several varieties. Anyway, Glory brand Field Peas with Snaps is what you must try. These peas are quite small, but very flavorful. They are seasoned with a bit of smoke - not too much. Never buy a can of baked beans again - get these instead. They taste like a bean, not a pea. For some reason pieces of snap green beans are also added, but there is very little of them in the can. All you do is just bring them to a simmer and serve. There are other brands of field peas with snaps, but I have not tried them. 

Apparently adding snap beans to field peas is also another Southern tradition. 
So one night I decided to add a can of green beans to the field peas thinking the smoky peas would also infuse the beans and make them taste like beans you had cooked all day with a big ol' piece of ham. I was right! The peas and beans make a delicious combo. Of course, the peas are good just by themselves, too.
QUICK RECIPE: Put your field peas in a sauce pan and stir in a can of drained green beans (see below). Add a little water so the contents of the pot are fully submerged. Bring to a simmer. Turn off the burner and cover the pot. Let them sit at least 30 minutes. This will help infuse the green beans with the smokey flavor of the peas. Reheat when ready to serve. You don't want to cook the peas a long time since they are already essentially cooked and could get mushy.
The field peas by themselves or with green beans added make a great side for any meal you cook on the grill. Think a perfect side for a BBQ. These peas would also be delicious with grilled salmon. It's popular to serve salmon over lentils, but these would be a great alternative to that.

That brings me to another best brand: Walmart's Great Value brand Whole Green Beans. For some reason, these green beans do not get mushy if you cook them a long time like your typical canned cut green beans. They are quite tender, but firm and really don't require long cooking like cut varieties. They don't have that strong green flavor you find in canned cut green beans. I will never ever buy a can of cut green beans again! I have tried Kroger's version of whole green beans. Not nearly as good.  
QUICK RECIPE: Dice 2 strips of bacon and fry in a saucepan until crisp. Add a small chopped onion and saute until soft. Drain the beans and add them to the pot. Add water to just cover. Add salt and pepper, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat, cover them with a lid and let them sit an hour. Then just reheat when ready to serve. Sometimes I add a can of drained diced tomatoes which gives them a really nice, fresh flavor.
NOTE: I always drain the water from a can of green beans. The water tends to be "strong." I prefer adding fresh water if I need it.