It’s been a very long time since I last talked about my mother’s cooking. A very long time!
Truth be told, I could talk about Mama Cream Puff’s cooking everyday. So today, allow me to tell you about my mother’s cannelloni.
What are cannelloni you ask? In our family, cannelloni are plump bundles of meat and ricotta-stuffed crepes. Traditionally, cannelloni are made by filling a pasta sheet and then rolling it into a tube that’s then baked (usually with sauce). In our family, however, we prefer the lighter crepe version.
As with all treasured family food, the emotions evoked by this dish run deep. In fact, I most closely associate cannelloni with my maternal grandmother whose cannelloni were things of beauty. They were somehow both light and substantial and they were perfect every time. In fact, she knew that her cannelloni were my very favourite dish and would often make them just for me. The joys of being the first grandchild!
In the years since my grandmother’s passing, my mother’s cannelloni have taken on a new significance and are as dear to me as my grandmother’s. I’ve always said that my mother is a crepe master. I don’t know anybody that makes a crepe as perfectly as she does.
Her filling is my very favourite one: veal and ricotta. You can fill cannelloni with a multitude of different fillings but that combination is my favourite. Annointed with beatifully red sauce the cannelloni go into the oven to be baked through and come out perfect every time.
And when I eat them, I have the same reaction every time. There is pure satisfaction over the food. More importantly, there is pure comfort because of the memories.
Note: Once you’re ready to make the filling, it’s good to have a pot of tomato sauce ready to go as you will need it for the filling. You can use your favourite tomato sauce or you can use a family favourite of ours. You can make your cannelloni the day before and refrigerate them or you can make them and freeze them (unbaked) for as long as a month.
For the crepes:
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
Â¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
In a bowl whisk eggs. Add milk and mix. Gradually add flour and blend until the batter is smooth.
Heat a non-stick frying pan (about 6 inches in diameter) on medium heat. Lightly grease the pan with butter and pour in about Â¼ cup batter. Tilt the plan in a circular motion so that batter spreads evenly across the surface of the pan.
Cook for one minute and then flip the crepe over to cook on the other side. Cook for about half a minute longer. Remove the crepe to kitchen towel spread on the counter or a piece of waxed paper spread on the counter.
Once cooled, cooked crepes can be stacked one on top of the other. Crepes can be made the day before and kept well-wrapped.
For the filling:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon minced onion
1 pound ground veal
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 Â½ to 2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup ricotta
Â¾ cup shredded mozzarella
Â¾ cup Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
Â¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese
Â¼ cup bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ground veal and brown for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally.
Add the tomato sauce, black pepper and 1 Â½ teaspoons salt. Cook for another five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Once meat mixture is cool, add ricotta, mozzarella, Parmiggiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and bread crumbs, mixing lightly after each addition. Add egg and mix well.
The filling should have a soft consistency so that it can spread easily. Add more bread crumbs if itâ€™s too soft or a little water if itâ€™s too dry. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Place one heaping tablespoon of filling on a crepe. On half the crepe, spread the filling to within an inch of the border. On the other half of the crepe, spread the filling to the edge. The part of the crepe that has the filling spread to the edge will end up as the centre of your crepe.
In other words, when you roll the crepe, begin by rolling the half of the crepe that has filling spread all the way to the edge. As you roll, that part of the crepe will form the centre.
Once all your cannelloni have been rolled, prepare your pan and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large roasting pan or baking pan (approximately 12 inches x 14 inches), add about 2 cups of tomato sauce. The tomato sauce should not be too thick. Place cannelloni side by side in the pan leaving a tiny space between each cannelloni. Cover with additional tomato sauce (about 1 Â½ cups to 2 cups).
Bake the cannelloni for about 1 Â½ hours.
Let the cannelloni stand for about 10 minutes before serving.