Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Shared Favorite: Spinach Cheese Cannelloni

    I have a wonderful pen pal in Germany who I have been writing back and forth with for well over a year now, and she has a love for food and cooking just like me, so sometimes we share favorite recipes back and forth. In her last letter she sent me the recipe for her favorite food to make, Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni.
   When I first scanned the recipe I noticed there were some ingredients that one does not normally find in a cannelloni or manicotti recipe. Mint leaves, pine nuts and feta cheese are all in this recipe, as well as a homemade tomato sauce.
   The quantities in this recipe are metric, but I shall convert them as best I can. If you have a kitchen scale that measures in both metric and American system like I do, then no conversion is necessary. Which is awesome, of course.
   I ended up only using 1/2 as much spinach as was called for, and a little extra ricotta....simply because I love ricotta just a little too much. Using half spinach was not what I originally intended to do, I just didn't get enough at the store, and was too lazy to go get more.
   This recipe does require some time and effort, but oh my goodness gracious was it ever worth it. Let's just say my friend certainly knows how to pick a favorite food! Personally I think the mint really makes this dish, combined with the homemade sauce. Erich thought the pine nuts were the best thing about it. The other unexpected ingredient, feta cheese, really added a nice tangy zing to the filling, a nice contrast to mild ricotta.
   So, to my dear pen-pal: Your recipe was a great and delicious success, thank you for sharing it with me!!

Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1.2 kg (about 2-2.5 lbs) tomatoes, diced (I only used about 1 3/4 lbs, and it made just enough sauce)
2 fresh rosemary twigs
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

500 g. (1 lb) spinach
150 g. (about 6 oz) crumbled feta cheese
150 g. ricotta cheese (I used about 10-12 ounces)
50 g. (3 1/2 Tbs) grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. mint leaves, chopped (I used about 1 1/2 tsp. dried chopped leaves)
2 eggs
2 Tbs. pine nuts
16 cannelloni or manicotti shells (I only managed to fit 12 manicotti shells in my Pyrex 9x13 pan)
200 g. (7 oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded or chunk

For the sauce, heat olive oil, and saute onion and garlic. Then add the tomatoes, herbs and tomato paste. Bring it to a boil, and reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes. Add the salt and pepper to taste and remove the rosemary twigs and bay leaves.
Boil and drain the noodles. Blanch the spinach, squeezing out the excess water, and roughly chop. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the chopped spinach with the feta and ricotta cheese, mint, eggs, pine nuts and salt and pepper. Fill the shells with the mixture. Put some of the prepared sauce in a large casserole dish and place the noodles into it, and then pour the remaining sauce over the top. Slice the mozzarella cheese (if using chunk) into thin slices and layer over the top of noodles; or top with shredded cheese. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

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