Monday, January 16, 2017

Cannelloni di Agnello

     Lamb Cannelloni!
     Cannelloni is a favorite of many people, yet in this modern age there are relatively few restaurants that offer this Italian pasta on a menu.  In America, the best place to look for Cannelloni is at old school Italian restaurants in cities along the Northeast Coast.   
     Maybe the reason why Cannelloni is rarely seen on restaurant menus has something to do with modern interpretations of Manicotti.  Manicotti nearly always used to only have a cheese filling, but some modern chefs now use meat fillings to stuff Manicotti.  Meat stuffed Manicotti is usually offered at corporate chain restaurants, but these chain restaurants are not really authentic Italian restaurants anyway, so the classic definition of Manicotti is still valid.        
     Cannelloni is always made with pasta, while Manicotti is usually made with Crespelle (Italian savory crêpes).  Some Italian chefs do make Manicotti with large pre fabricated pasta tubes, but this is an exception to the rule.  By classic definition, Cannelloni is a meat stuffed cylinder shaped pasta, while Manicotti is a cheese stuffed cylinder shaped crêpe!
     Classic Cannelloni is made with a meat filling, but a dense vegetable stuffing is an option.  The meat choice is usually beef, which is flavored with soffritto and herbs.  There is cheese in the meat stuffing, but only enough is added to bind the ingredients together and give the stuffing a creamy texture.      
     The lamb harvest season takes place during late spring and early summer.  During this time of year lamb it is used to make traditional pastas nearly everywhere in Italy.  The cuisine of Rome and Abruzzo are both renowned for great lamb recipes and Cannelloni di Agnello is one of the best.  
     In this modern age, lamb is no longer limited to being a spring and early summer item.  Lamb is now frozen and sold year round.  Importation of lamb from Australia and New Zealand effectively doubles the length of the lamb season in the northern hemisphere.  Prime cuts of lamb are the rib rack and leg, which command a high price.  Shoulder cuts of lamb and ground lamb actually sell for a very modest price.  A good Italian pasta recipe, like Cannelloni di Agnello, can make a cheap package of ground lamb taste like a million bucks!   

     Salsa di Pomodoro:  
     Follow the link to the recipe in this website.
     • Salsa di Pomodoro

     Lamb Stuffing For Pasta:  
     This recipe yields about 2 cups.  (Enough for 2 large cannelloni.)
     This lamb stuffing can be used to make a variety of stuffed pastas, like Cannelloni, Tortellini or Ravioli.    
     Step 1:  Heat a braising pan (or wide sauce pot) over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic.
     Add 2 tablespoons of very finely minced onion.
     Add 2 tablespoons of very finely minced carrot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of very finely minced celery.   
     Stir and sauté till the soffritto vegetables become tender, but not browned at all.
     Step 2:  Add 10 ounces of lean ground lamb.
     Stir the meat with a wire whisk occasionally as it cooks, so any clumps of ground meat are broken up into tiny pieces.   
     Sauté till the ground lamb is fully cooked and lightly browned. 
     Step 3:  Add 1 cup of chicken broth.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and black pepper.  (to taste)  
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of oregano.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of crushed dried red pepper.  (chile caribe)
     Add 1 pinch of ground fennel seed.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced Italian Parsley.  
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of fine grated Parmigiana Cheese.
     Add 3 tablespoons of fine plain bread crumbs.
     Stir as the cheese melts.
     Gently simmer and stir, till the excess liquid evaporates and the mixture becomes thick.  The lamb stuffing should be able to stand tall in a spoon.
     Step 5:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Allow the stuffing to cool to room temperature.
     Place the stuffing in a container.
     Chill the stuffing for about 1 hour, so it becomes dense and firm.

     Pasta Dough Recipe:
     Follow the link to the recipe in this website.

     Pasta Sheets For Cannelloni:
     This recipe yields enough for 2 Cannelloni.  (1 portion)
     • A ruler, yardstick or measuring tape is needed.  A 90º Plastic Carpenter Square is good for making perfectly square cuts.  
     • Most pasta sheet rolling machines produce a pasta sheet that is 6" or 8" wide.  A piece of pasta dough sheet for Cannelloni should be cut 6" x 7".  The 7" side will be the length and the 6" side will be the width.  
     • The reason why the width is 6" is easy to figure out by using a circumference calculation and common sense.  A rolled Cannelloni that has a diameter of 1 1/2" will require a 6" wide pasta sheet, so there is room for a little bit of pasta overlap!     
     • Keep in mind that the ends of each rolled Cannelloni will be trimmed, so the stuffing is flush with the pasta.  About 1/4" is usually trimmed off of each end, so a 7" x 6" pasta sheet rectangle will yield a finished Cannelloni that is about 6 1/2" long and 1 1/2" thick.           
     Step 1:  Place a long sheet of fresh pasta dough on a countertop.
     Cut 2 rectangle shapes that measure 6" x 7".               
     *A pizza cutting wheel is best for cutting pasta.
     Set the 2 pasta sheet rectangles aside.  
     Step 2:  Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil over medium high heat.
     Place the 2 large rectangle shaped pasta sheet pieces in the hot water.
     Boil till the pasta has a firm texture and the pasta starts to float.  (About 1 or 2 minutes.)
     Step 3:  Drain the hot water out of the pot.
     Place the pot under cold running water.
     Cool the pasta sheets in the pot with the cold running water.
     Step 4:  Place the cooked pasta sheet rectangles on a dry lint free pastry towel and pat them dry.
     Set the pasta sheet rectangles aside.  (Keep the cooked pasta rectangles separated, so they do not stick to each other!) 
     Cannelloni di Agnello:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.  (2 Cannelloni)
     Semi dry cooked fresh pasta will stick to itself, so the pasta will not usually unravel after it is rolled into a cylinder shape.  The stuffing is also sticky enough to hold the pasta in place.
     Step 1:  Remove the Lamb Stuffing from the refrigerator and let it warm to room temperature.
     Place the 2 cooked 6" x 7" pasta sheets side by side on a counter top.  (The 7" side will be the length.)    
     Mound about 6 ounces of the lamb stuffing evenly across the length of each pasta sheet rectangle.
     Step 2:  Tightly roll each pasta rectangle, so it is a uniform cylinder shape.  (There should about 3/8" of pasta overlap. 
     Press any loose lamb stuffing into the ends of the pasta tube.
     Step 3:  Set the 2 Cannelloni next to each other on a cutting board.
     Use a sharp thin knife to trim the ends of the Cannelloni, so the lamb stuffing is flush with the end of each pasta tube and so the two Cannelloni are cut to equal lengths.  (The finished length should be about 6 1/2".)
     Step 4:  Select an individual size oval casserole dish that is about 8" in length and wide enough for the 2 Cannelloni.    
     Place about 2/3 cup of the Salsa di Pomodoro in the casserole dish.  
     Place the 2 cannelloni on the sauce, with the seam side facing down.
     Step 5:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.  
     Place the pan in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the Cannelloni start to become hot.  (About 5 minutes)
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole dish pan from the oven.
     Spoon about 1/2 cup of Salsa di Pomodoro over the center of the Cannelloni.
     Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of grated mozzarella cheese over the sauce.
     Step 7:  Return the casserole pan to the 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the cheese melts and the Cannelloni becomes hot.  (About 6 to 8 minutes)  
     *Do not brown the pasta or cheese!  Browning creates undesirable bitter flavors.  It is okay if a few golden highlights appear. 
     Step 8:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Place the Cannelloni di Agnello casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig. 

     The aromatic flavor of a classic Cannelloni di Agnello will certainly please guests! 

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