Sunday, 9 October 2011

Autumn Glory

"Cannelloni" Siciliani con Bietole, Carne Macinata / Salsa di Pomodoro e Besciamella
Sicilian "Cannelloni" with Swiss Chard, Ground Meat, Tomato Sauce and Bechamel

Time for more comfort food- and what can be more comforting than a meal from your childhood, that you mother used to make? This always was and still is, one of my favorite dishes- wonderfully simple but rich and flavorful and delicious! All I can say is Thank You Mom!

This dish is actually not a traditional Cannelloni at all, as it is made using pancakes and not the pasta tubes. They are given their name from the method of making them, wrapping the sheets of dough around a cane, or "canna"- hence the name: "Cannelloni". Traditionally a length of bamboo or broom handle would be used and the same is true of the sweet "Cannoli". But we are having none of that! We are going to make ourselves little pancakes and roll them up as we go along... and this is how...

The pancakes are made from a simple egg and flour batter. I used 2 tablespoons of flour, a little milk and one egg to make 4 small pancakes. Stir a little milk into the flour using a whisk and making sure to not have any lumps in it. It should be a runny, smooth mix. Now add the egg and beat that in too- add a little salt and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

In that time, you can start the first of the sauces going. Make a fine "soffritto" of carrot, onion and celery as usual and put this, together with the ground meat and a finely chopped clove of garlic into a saucepan. Turn the heat up high and get that meat sizzling so that the juices cook and fry the chopped vegetables nicely. After 5 minutes or so, add a squirt of tomato paste and some dried basil, oregano, salt and pepper. De-glaze with a little water, to loosen and dilute the tomato paste and then add some chopped canned tomatoes. Reduce the heat and get back to the pancake batter...

Make sure to fry the pancakes in as little fat as possible. I use a Teflon pan for mine and they work just fine with no fat at all. As I said, I managed to get 4 saucer-sized pancakes from one egg and a little flour- and that is perfect for 2 people. Fry the pancakes up lightly and set to one side to be filled later.

Next step is to coarsely chop the Swiss Chard and to steam it in a little salted water for 3-5 minutes until it begins to soften nicely.  Set this to one side too and make a little Bechamel sauce. This is easily made by melting butter, sprinkling flour into it, whisking briskly to turn it into a light cream and then gradually stirring milk into it until it becomes smooth and creamy. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. The amount of butter you use is a matter of taste- I like to keep my butter to a minimum as you know- but hey- if you want it richer- that's just fine! Just make sure not to have any lumps in it... that's not fine!

So now we are ready to put our little pancake-rolls together. Spread a little cooked chard along the center of a pancake and then spoon some of the meat sauce on top of it. Add a trickle of Bechamel, a little parmesan cheese, grate with nutmeg and add salt and pepper and fold shut. Repeat this for all of your pancakes. Now spread a little tomato sauce into the bottom of your baking dish and arrange the pancake on top. This will keep them moist and keep them from sticking and burning to the dish. Drizzle with Bechamel and a little more of the tomato sauce... sprinkle with Parmesan and grate with a little extra nutmeg and you are ready to go!

Bake for 20 minutes at a moderately high heat, covered in foil and a following 5-10 minutes under the broiler without- all of course depending on your oven. Serve with some freshly picked basil and maybe add a little seasoning by way of some ground chili... and be happy that the time of the year is there where we can leave the salads behind and enjoy such wonderful, comforting meals! So have yourself some friends over and share and enjoy!

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