Thursday, January 3, 2013

Three Cheese Butternut Squash Cannelloni

Cannelloni....It's a great word, isn't it? Cannelloni, cannelloni, cannelloni.  I think I could go around saying it all day and would never get tired of it.  And then I might switch to cannolli.  One fewer syllables, but just as tasty.  Gotta love Italian, it's a language that just rolls off the tongue and the words are always just so much fun.

The family members that I served this to on Christmas Eve had just as much fun with the word cannelloni that I did.  The word was bouncing around my Mother in Law's table amid snippets of laughter, conversation, and several mismatched courses of dinner which were only tied together by the people sitting around the table.  Everyone brought something to the party- old favorites shrimp creole and potato pierogies, newcomers like spinach salad and chocolate babka and the newest comer to the party, butternut squash cannelloni.  By the end of the meal, we were all in agreement about three things.  First, it had been an unexpectedly mellow and enjoyable evening.  Second, the craziness of the preparation for dinner had been worth it as we shared one very delicious meal.  And last, but not least, I needed to share the cannelloni recipe on my little blog.  Mostly just because we wanted my niece Jeannette to stop saying "I love these cannelloni"!

I'm happy to oblige.  So this is for my Mom, Helen, Jeannette and Mary Ann.  I hope you enjoy making the cannelloni for yourselves as much as I did creating it for you.

Three Cheese Butternut Squash Canneloni
Serves 6-8 people. 
For the printable recipe, click here.

I made these cannelloni in the heavily Italian-influenced South Jersey.  Because of that, I had access to fresh lasagna noodles on Christmas Eve morning.  If you aren't lucky enough to live near a market where you can get fresh pasta, you can certainly make your own.  May I also suggest that using store bough dried pasta would be perfectly acceptable.  You can use lasagna noodles or even shells.  You would simply need to cook the dry pasta for about half the suggested cooking time to soften them up enough to work with.

1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup parmesean or pecorino cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1-2 tbs fresh sage (to taste)
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (not quite coarsely chopped, but not fine either- somewhere in between)

1 lb fresh lasagna noodles

2 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
2 1/4 cup milk
2 cups grated gruyere cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Drizzle the cut sides of the squash with a bit of olive oil and place them face down on a baking sheet.  Roast for 40-45 minutes or until a knife easily passes through the flesh.  Let cool completely.

Scoop the cooled squash from the skin and place in a food processor.  Puree the squash.  Add the ricotta, parmesean, nutmeg and sage to the food processor and process just until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the hazelnuts.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  The filling can be used right away or made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Start the bechamel sauce by melting the butter in a large saucepan.  Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and stir for 1 minute.  Do not let the flour brown.  Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Over medium heat, cook the sauce until it becomes thick and bubbly, stirring frequently.  Remove from the heat and add the nutmeg and gruyere cheese.  Stir until the cheese is melted.  Let the sauce cool while you prepare the cannelloni.

Bring the oven to 375 degrees.  Soak the fresh lasagna noodles for 1 minute in warm water.  Remove them and gently dry on a tea towel.  Cut them in half crosswise so that you have 4 inch lengths of pasta.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling across the short side of the pasta about 1/2 inch from the edge.  Starting from that edge, roll the pasta to encase the filling and place seam side down on a rimmed baking sheet that has been spread with a layer of the bechamel sauce.  Continue filling and rolling the pasta.  You should be able to fit two rows of cannelloni on your baking sheet.  If you need to pack them tightly, that is just fine.  Spoon the remaining bechamel along the center of each row of cannelloni, gently spreading it a bit toward the edges.

Bake covered with foil for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes until the sauce is lightly golden and bubbly and the pasta is cooked through.  Let the cannelloni stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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