Whenever we go to Spain (which in an ideal world would be every summer!) we try to spend at least a few weeks at the home of our beloved friend, Julio-Carlos Pérez Sánchez, in his and Salvelio’s home town of Guijuelo near Salamanca.
Julio’s mother is a wonderful cook and the two of them make a great team in the kitchen; when Señora Isa’s sister Henedina is visiting from Medina del Campo then there’s even more energy and fervour in the kitchen; the two sisters are like mini whirlwinds that whip up the most fantastical of dishes, and sitting down at their table is a true privilege even if the upshot is returning home to SA with 5 or 6 extra kilos of ‘baggage’ around the waist!
Canneloni is traditionally an Italian dish but never mind; it’s been embraced around the world after all, including in Señora Isa’s kitchen!
The recipe yields two dishes of cannelloni, or around 30 smallish cannelloni tubes, which is great if you’re expecting between 6 and 8 people. It tastes even better if made the day before and baked and grilled just before serving.
If you don’t have the time or strength to make the pasta, you can use sheets of shop-bought dried lasagne which have been pre-soaked in batches in a bit of boiling, salted water until al dente – that’s how Henedina and Isa make it. Roll them in a tube once filled; just as you would’ve done with the home-made kind. However, if you are doing the home-made pasta thing as Salvelio and I like to do, and as per the recipe below, it’s advisable to get your partner or a faithful side-kick to help. While you’re making the pasta they can start on the filling and sauce, which cuts prep time in half! – Louise Liebenberg
Ingredients for the pasta
4 extra-large eggs, beaten; 400g of bread flour
Ingredients for the filling
1 x 410g tin of chopped, peeled tomatoes, ½ a 410g tin of tomato puree, 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1 biggish onion, chopped; 1 x 418g tin of pink salmon, drained and mashed; about ¾ tbsp of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes; salt to taste; olive oil for frying; about a tbsp of flour, mixed in a little water, for thickening.
Ingredients for the bechamel sauce and topping
100g butter; about 8 heaped tablespoons of flour; 1 litre of milk; 1 tsp of salt; a good pinch of grated nutmeg; a bayleaf; grated cheese for serving (Parmesan is good).
Method for the pasta
Mix the eggs into the bread flour in a large mixing bowl, until it starts to come together. Knead until it forms a stiff dough; keep working it till it looks smoother. Even if the dough is very stiff keep at it; there is no need ever to add water to it if you’ve measured correctly. Split the dough into manageable balls; then pass each through a pasta machine until the dough becomes smooth and almost silky, with no lumpy, floury bits. Keep reducing the setting on the machine until the pasta is a desired thickness – setting number 3 on most pasta makers should do fine. Do it in batches and keep the rest of the pasta balls covered till you get to them, so they don’t dry out.
Cut the pasta into squares of around 11 x 11cm; this is approximate as some of our strips will be a bit wider or narrower. Spread them out on trays or the kitchen counter until you’re all done; you should have around 30 little sheets now.
Method for the filling
Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil till softened; add the rest of the filling ingredients except for the flour mix and cook till the acidity of the tomato has been completely tempered and the sauce is glistening. Add the floured paste to thicken the sauce as you don’t want a runny filling in your cannelloni.
Method for the bechamel sauce
Melt the butter over low heat (no marg please, horrors!); then add the flour and nutmeg, mix through with a wooden spoon for about a minute till a ‘roux’ is formed. The quantities are approximate so use your common sense! Add little bits of milk at a time, mixing enthusiastically each time. If there are lumps immediately ditch the wooden spoon and go at it with your whisk like a crazy cook! Add the bayleaf and salt around half-way through so it gets a chance to cook into the sauce. Simmer until the sauce loses its raw ‘floury’ taste, stirring all the while (you can go back to your wooden spoon once the lumps are gone). Ditch the bayleaf and set aside the sauce till needed (you can cover the top with clingwrap to prevent a skin from forming on top of the sauce).
To assemble the dish
Grease two biggish oven dishes with a bit of butter. Start filling your pasta by placing a few tablespoons of filling in the middle of each sheet, then rolling up the pasta so it looks like a cannelloni tube. Don’t double it over too much as the pasta will be too thick in places.
Place the filled tubes seam side down in rows the oven dishes; then cover both dishes with white sauce; top with grated Parmesan.
Bake in a preheated 180 degree oven for 30 minutes, then grill for 3 to 5 minutes until the topping is golden. Of course you can also freeze the second dish, or you can keep it in the fridge for cooking the next day. Even if you are going to eat it straight away, it’s always a good idea to let the cannelloni ‘rest’ for five or so minutes before serving.
Que aprovechen – enjoy your meal!