Most busy families stick to simple meals on the weeknights and leave the recipes with multiple components off the menu until the weekend. This week’s Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni is a perfect meal to prepare on a Sunday afternoon, but it doesn’t have to take all day to prepare.
You can spend some extra time preparing cannelloni crepes, and I’ve included the recipe. However, you can save time by using a package of egg roll wrappers in their place.
Another way to save time is to use three cups of prepared Alfredo sauce in place of the homemade white sauce I call for in the recipe. And, while I really enjoy the béchamel sauce with the spinach filling, you can substitute your favorite marinara sauce for a tomato-sauced variation.
I use frozen chopped spinach when preparing these cannelloni, and it saves time at the cutting board and money (frozen spinach is much more economical than fresh). I like to sauté it with a little olive oil and garlic and simmer with wine or water until it is tender. A little cream cheese is stirred into the spinach at the end of cooking, which makes the spinach filling extra creamy.
The cannelloni can be prepared early in the day, covered and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking and add 5-10 minutes to the baking time.
Some sliced tomatoes or a big fruit salad can round out your menu.
SPINACH AND CHEESE CANNELLONI
8 cannelloni crepes or egg roll wrappers
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic, about 2 large cloves
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 16-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
½ cup white wine or water
4 ounces regular or reduced-fat cream cheese, cut into small pieces
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and ground nutmeg, to taste
16 ounces regular, reduced-fat or fat free ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded regular or part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus ½ cup more for the sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and Italian seasonings and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the white wine or water and simmer, covered, for 5-10 minutes, until the liquid cooks out and the spinach is tender. Stir in the cubes of cream cheese and cook, stirring, until melted. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground nutmeg and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine the ricotta cheese, beaten eggs, 1 cup of mozzarella and ½ cup of Parmesan cheese. Stir the spinach mixture into the cheese mixture. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese and season to taste with the salt and pepper and add a pinch of ground nutmeg.
Spoon 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Fill the cannelloni by placing ¼-1/3 cup of the filling down one side of each crepe or eggroll wrapper and rolling towards the other side. Place, seam side down, on top of the sauce and then repeat with remaining filling and wrappers. Spread the remaining sauce over the top.
Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and then sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and bake for 5-10 minutes longer, until cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes about 6 servings.
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons to ¼ cup melted butter, for brushing the sauté pan
Combine the eggs, flour, salt and water. Beat until smooth. Let stand 30 minutes, or longer.
Heat a small, nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Brush with some of the butter and pour in 3 tablespoons of the batter. Rotate the pan to spread quickly, and cook until top is dry. Remove to a wire rack, brush pan with some more melted butter and continue until all batter is used. Stack pasta sheets, placing pieces of wax paper in between each sheet. (May be made ahead and refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Makes about 18 cannelloni crepes.