I’ve written a lot about my fairy godmother but not so much about my fairy godfather as I sadly see him and his family less. As a child, I was wholly unaware of his distinguished academic career at Harvard, which ran the gamut of teaching courses on repressive societies to presenting Nelson Mandela with an honorary degree. I was far more impressed by the fact that he was a bona fide member of The International Magician’s Guild and performed wondrous magic shows for me and my brother.
I have always attributed the fact that I am the lucky godmother to 6 super cool children to my constant bragging about my own godparents and how important and influential they have been in my life. I owe more to my godparents than I can ever express and I often think of how little I have done to show my gratitude. The only gift I’ve ever been able to give my godfather was to cook him his favorite dish. He’s quite verbal about his obsession with Cannelloni.
He and his granddaughter were visiting New York and I had long promised to make it for him. I had never made Cannelloni – it seemed like one of those dishes that was never quite worth the effort. One best ordered at a restaurant as it involved too many pots, pans and bowls let alone trying to use a piping bag or for that matter owning a piping bag! Surely there must be an easier way. And of course there was. What I thought would take hours to cook and clean up, can now be done in under half an hour in part thanks to the discovery of Jar Goods and their Classic Red Tomato Sauce which I unashamedly pour straight from the jar. This is the recipe I made for my godfather which, judging by his empty plate, seemed to satisfy his high standards.
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 anchovy fillets rinsed and chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
700g (about 3 cups) of fresh spinach leaves, thoroughly washed and still wet
1 pack of fresh lasagna sheets
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup of grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper
1 jar of Classic Red Tomato Sauce
Fresh basil leaves
2 cups of whole milk
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of flour
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a large frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon until they become a paste. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or two until it begins to change color.
3. Begin adding the spinach and turning over using tongs. As the bottom layers begin to wilt, you will be able to keep adding until all the spinach fits.
4. When all the spinach has wilted (about 5 minutes), grate over some nutmeg, stir and transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool.
5. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and cook the lasagna sheets for 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Then, lay the sheets flat on tea towels to dry.
6. Now that the spinach has cooled, squeeze out any excess liquid and chop finely on a board.
7. Return spinach to the bowl and mix in the ricotta and Parmesan. Then season well with salt and pepper.
8. Make the béchamel (see below)
9. In an ovenproof dish large enough to fit the cannelloni, spread a layer of tomato sauce.
10. Cut the lasagna sheets so that they are approximately 4” x 8.” Add 2 heaped tablespoons of the spinach mixture along the length of each lasagna piece and roll into a tube. Lay each piece (seam down) on top of the tomato sauce and continue until the dish is full.
11. Spread over another layer of tomato sauce, followed by a layer of béchamel. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and beginning to brown.
12. Garnish with chopped basil and serve with extra Parmesan at the table.
1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk with a bay leaf to just below a simmer.
2. In another saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat.
3. When butter begins to bubble, add the flour and cook together for a few minutes, stirring continuously, without allowing the mixture to color.
4. Remove butter mixture from heat and whisk in the milk gradually.
5. Return the mixture to the stovetop and stir over low heat until thickened and smooth – about 15 minutes. The consistency is right when it coats the back of a spoon when tested.