Bean and cheese cannelloni

I first made pasta when teaching English to newly arrived refugees at school. I just couldn’t teach grammar all week and I knew they needed to eat. So we had cooking every Friday, and ate it at lunch time. Before the end of the year we compiled the recipes, sold booklets around the school and sent the money to Blue Peter Water Aid. Never heard from them but the pupils were pleased – they believed in helping others.

This year, It took six months before I managed to get hold of some pasta flour. But now it’s here and I am starting with basic dishes, like bean and cheese cannelloni: Be warned – it looks like a one-dish dinner but takes many more.

  • Ingredients for pasta dough: I used the instructions on the packet, ie 275g /10oz pasta flour plus 3 eggs. Half this amount is plenty for two people. Excess dough may be frozen.
  • For the bean stew: one tin of borlotti beans, one courgette, 3 or 4 very ripe tomatoes, one red pepper, one onion, a clove of garlic, a few black olives, garden herbs, ground black pepper and salt. Small amounts of white wine and olive oil.
  • For the béchamel: half a pint of milk, a knob of butter, 1 Tbsp flour, 50-100g assorted cheese – parmesan, cheddar, gruyere, fontina are all good. Seasoning.
  • Method: first make the pasta dough. Combine the eggs with the flour using your hands. If it just won’t hold together add minute quantities of water. Once you can make a ball, knead and keep kneading until the dough is smooth. Mine looks orange and speckled here because the yolks were bright orange and I added ground pepper to the mix. Then break into four smaller balls and leave to rest. (Each ball will make enough for one hungry person).

Next, for each ball, roll out on baking paper as thinly as you can. This step is open to discussion – too thin and the cannellono breaks up. Too thick and it is hard to digest. But this is pasta al forno, and the sheets may be thicker than when boiling, say ravioli. Think of the dried lasagne sheets one buys in packets. Here, I rolled it out until I could just see my hand through it (with a back light).

Cut the sheet into rectangles approximately 10x15cm/4×6″. Hang them to dry for a while.

Then make the bean stew by slicing all the vegetables and sautéing them in a non stick pan, along with the herbs, beans, olives and a glug of wine. Add a little olive oil as well. Leave to simmer away until amalgamated, or put in the oven if it seems too wet.

When the pasta sheets have dried off somewhat, roll each again to stretch it a bit, then one at a time, blanch each rectangle by immersion in salted boiling water for a minute. Drain. Put a few spoonfuls of vegetables and liquid at the bottom of an oven dish. Lay each blanched and drained pasta rectangle in turn on a surface. Put a spoonful of bean mix on the pasta. Roll into a cylinder. Place the cylinder seam side down in the oven dish. Repeat until the dish is full.

Make a béchamel sauce in the empty bean pan – melt a knob of butter, using a wooden spoon stir in the flour and add the milk little by little while continuing to stir. When the sauce has thickened, turn off the heat and add the cheese and seasonings. (If you ended up with half an egg after making the pasta dough, now is the time to use it – just stir it in.) Stir until most of the cheese has disappeared, then pour over the cannelloni. Bake at 200°C for at least 30 minutes, checking occasionally and raising or lowering the temperature if necessary.

Let the cannelloni cool down a little before eating. Here it is accompanied by shredded kale.

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