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Spinach and ricotta cannelloni

This is fiddly and time consuming, but worth it in the end. It is a great dish to prepare in advance. If you leave the cannelloni stuffed with the ricotta and spinach mixture and covered with the tomato sauce, the pasta will be lovely and moist before you bake it, meaning it is less likely to dry out or for the pasta to get crispy during the baking phases.  
  • couple of bags spinach, washed
  • splash of olive oil
  • half onion, chopped very fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bottle passata
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, if available
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • a dribble of red wine if you have some left over
  • about 20g butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1/2 − 1 pt milk
  • handful grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 pots ricotta cheese
  • grated nutmeg
  • 1/2- 1 packet of dried cannelloni pasta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. In a large pan boil the spinach, remembering that you always end up with much less than you think.  Drain and leave in a colander to drain off as much excess water as possible.
  2. Fry the onion in a splash of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, passata, basil, sugar and red wine if using.  Leave to simmer gently for about half an hour. 
  3. In the meantime, melt the butter in a heavy non stick pan. Add the flour and stir to make a thick paste. Slowly add the milk, little by little until you have a thick white sauce. Add the cheese and stir to melt. If it is too thick, add a little more milk. If it is too runny, let it simmer more or add a little more cheese. Remove from the heat and let it cool. 
  4. Meanwhile, roughly chop the cooked spinach. Add to 1-2 pots of ricotta cheese, depending on how much spinach you are left with and stir well. Grate in a little nutmeg to taste.  Use a teaspoon to stuff each cannelloni with the spinach and ricotta mixture. I have tried making my own piping bag using an old plastic sheet but it gets just as messy and takes just as long so I have reverted to stuffing it by hand and teaspoon. If you can't be bothered with all this stuffing, use lasagna sheets instead and make a lasagna! Will taste just the same.  One by one, as the cannelloni are stuffed, place them side by side in  large oven proof dish.
  5. Pour the tomato mixture on top of the pasta and leave if you have time.  Add the beaten egg to the cooled white sauce and stir to incorporate.  This is not necessary, but will make the sauce a bit more fluffy.  Don't go and buy eggs especially for this.  
  6. Now top the cannelloni and tomato mixture with the white sauce and bake, covered with foil or a baking tray, in a medium-hot oven for about 45-60 minutes, give or take. You will need longer if you did not have time to let it sit.  10 minutes before serving, remove the top and add another handful of grated cheese on top of it, return to the oven uncovered and cook until the cheese is bubbling and browning.