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Pasta recipes: shells stuffed and baked, and beef cannelloni

Fodder for those lazy nights in, baked pasta dishes can be prepared in advance and savoured at leisure

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

Many pasta dishes require precise timing: you need to serve the food as soon as it's ready. With baked pasta dishes, though, there's a lot more leeway: you can cook and assemble the ingredients in advance, which makes for a more relaxed evening, then slide the food into the oven to reheat it just before you're ready to eat.

Pasta shells stuffed with broccoli and pancetta (pictured)
250 grams large pasta shells (conchiglioni)
1 head of broccoli (about 200 grams)
10ml cooking oil
200 grams unsmoked pancetta, cut into 5mm cubes
2-3 shallots, minced
400 grams ricotta1 large egg, whisked
25 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
The finely grated zest of two lemons
Fine sea salt and freshly grated black pepper

For the bechamel:
20 grams unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the gratin dish
20 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
300ml whole milk
A tiny pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Make the filling first. Chop the broccoli into small, even pieces, then blanch them for 30 seconds (or until barely tender) in a pot of salted boiling water. Drain thoroughly, then place on a clean dish towel, roll it up and squeeze out the excess water. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the shallot and pancetta and cook until lightly browned. Put the pancetta, shallot and broccoli in a mixing bowl and stir in the ricotta, egg, parmesan and lemon zest, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the conchiglioni and cook until slightly firmer than al dente. Drain thoroughly, making sure there's no water inside the shells. Stuff the shells with the ricotta mixture and place them, open-side up, in a lightly buttered baking dish.

Make the bechamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir constantly for several minutes over a low flame. Heat the milk in another pan (or in the microwave) and when it simmers, start adding it to the flour/butter mixture a little at a time. Whisk constantly as you add the milk, to make a smooth mixture. When all the milk has been added, season the bechamel with salt and a little nutmeg, then let it cook over a very low flame until it thickens enough to lightly coat a wooden spoon. Ladle the bechamel over the pasta shells to lightly coat each one (you might not need all of it; it can be refrigerated for about a week). Sprinkle parmesan over the ingredients in the dish. (The dish can be made in advance up to this point. If you refrigerate it, let it come to room temperature before baking it.)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cover the dish with aluminium foil and bake at 200 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until hot, then remove the foil. Heat the grill element of the oven then place the dish under the grill until lightly browned and bubbling (or use a propane/butane torch to brown the surface). Serve immediately.

Cannelloni
It's worth making your own pasta for this dish, which is based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan. Commercial cannelloni shells are larger and require more filling.

For the pasta:
200 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the sauce:
30ml olive oil
20 grams onion, finely chopped
170 grams minced beef
400 grams canned Italian tomatoes, chopped

For the filling:
30ml olive oil
20 grams onion, chopped
170 grams minced beef
60 grams mortadella, finely chopped
100 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
250 grams ricotta
1 large egg yolk
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the bechamel:
30 grams unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
30 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
500ml whole milk
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook over a medium flame until soft. Add the beef and cook it until it loses its pink colour, then stir in the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and simmer over a low flame for about 45 minutes, or until thick.

Make the pasta dough by throughly combining the flour and eggs. If the dough is dry, add a little warm water; if it's too wet, add a little more flour. Knead it briefly then divide into two pieces and wrap tightly with cling-film. Leave to rest while preparing the other components.

Make the filling. Heat the oil in a skillet then add the onion and cook over a medium flame until soft. Add the beef and cook until it loses its pink colour. Cool to room temperature then mix in the mortadella, parmesan, ricotta, egg yolk, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Make the bechamel as in the first recipe.

Roll out the pasta dough by kneading it in the machine: roll it through the widest setting, fold it over and roll it again. When it's smooth, roll the dough as thinly as possible through the machine into a sheet that's at least 7.5cm wide. On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into rectangles that are 7.5cm by 10cm. Make 16 to 20 rectangles (the remaining dough can be made into noodles). Boil the rectangles in salted water for 20 seconds. Drain them then blot with a clean dish towel.

Spread a thin layer of filling over each rectangle, leaving a 5mm border around the edge. Roll it into a tight spiral starting from a narrow side, then place them in a buttered baking dish. Spoon the meat sauce over the cannelloni, then spread the bechamel on top before sprinkling with parmesan cheese. (The dish can be made in advance up to this point. If you refrigerate it, let it come to room temperature before baking it.) Preheat the oven to 200 degrees then bake for 15 to 20 min-utes, or until the cannelloni are hot and lightly browned.

 

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