On my way back from a quick trip to Vichy a few weeks ago, I picked up a magazine to amuse myself on the train. I have been trying to sample some of the lesser known (to me anyway) food magazines and this time opted for Cuisine et Vins de France. I have to say it was a mine of interesting recipes and a few tempting deals for wine. Luckily for me, it included this recipe for a vegetarian main dish which came to mind when I invited a vegetarian to Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, I should point out (this being France) that it didn't include a "vegetarian dish", so much as "a dish which didn't happen to include meat"! It was in the section devoted to the lowly champignon de Paris, the standard white mushroom which, in this country of exotic fungi, is often snubbed or left on the shelf. Ironically, I nearly substituted more interesting mushrooms in the recipe but didn't find any that looked good at the store on the day I was shopping!
The photo of Cannellonis aux Champignons in the magazine is a lovely minimalist stack of three rolls on a white plate on a white background. I'm not sure how they managed to cook the cannelloni in a gratin dish with cream sauce and cheese and yet remove each perfect roll afterwards. Never mind. Mine looked good too (though not the same) but I forgot to take a photo. So this is one where you'll have to use your imagination!
I made very few departures from the original recipe here. I reread the section on cannelloni in my Italian cookbook and used Marcella Hazan's advice to dip the pasta in cream sauce before filling them. I also added nutmeg to the cream sauce as it seemed like too good an idea to ignore. (I love nutmeg!)
Below is the modified recipe. I sampled it only in the leftovers form, as on the big Thanksgiving day there was no room in my belly for non-traditional dishes! That said, about half of the dish (serves 6) was gone by the end of the meal and it got good reviews all around.
Cannellonnis aux Champignons
12-15 cooked pieces of cannelloni
350 grams of white mushrooms
200 grams of fresh spinach shoots (this is actually two fairly large packages!)
250 grams of fresh ricotta (a standard pot)
100 grams of Parmesan (I guessed on this one)
80 grams/two small handfuls of pine nuts
40 grams butter
20 cl (or more) of cream
a few leaves of basil
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
Preheat the oven to 375F/180C and butter a gratin dish. Trim and wash the mushrooms and cut in cubes. Saute them in a large nonstick pan with half the butter. Wash and spin the spinach and add them to the mushroom/butter mixture. Add the rest of the butter and cover to steam the spinach. Add half the pine nuts, all the ricotta and half the Parmesan. Salt, pepper and reduce this sauce slightly on a low heat.
Dip the outside of the cooked cannelloni sheets in a saucer in which you have dribbled a little cream and grated some nutmeg. Spread the filling over the square and roll it up. Place it in the gratin dish with the end of the roll facing down. Repeat until all the filling and cannelloni have been used. Dribble cream over the top of the cannelloni and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, a little more grated nutmeg and remaining pine nuts. Bake for half an hour in the oven; the top should be a little crusty and brown and the cream should be bubbling. Decorate with basil leaves before serving.
According to the magazine, this would best be served with a white Anjou wine!
A note on the ingredients: I made the pasta with three eggs and about three cups of flour. Next time around I will make more of an effort to put the pasta in the machine lengthwise so that the strips will actually be wide enough to make cannelloni. In this case (my first attempt!) I was forced to double the strips to make a wide enough cannelloni square, which was fiddley and made for a somewhat pasta-heavy middle of each cannelloni, where the two strips overlapped. Mabye this is obvious to the rest of you out there, but I foolishly assumed the pasta strips would somehow magically get wider instead of longer as I put them through the smaller settings of the machine. Oops!
The recipe also called for toasting the pine nuts in a pan and adding them to the dish after baking instead of before. This seemed silly to me and indeed the nuts roasted very nicely in the oven on top of the Parmesan. I also skipped the basil. Next time I'll try putting some in the filling (and then feel more honest about using it as a garnish!).
This made a delicious, creamy satisfying main dish. I like vegetarian dishes that don't scream "VEGETARIAN!!!" at you as they don't tend to leave you feeling half-fed at the end of a meal. It's hard to get rid of those inbred notions like "it's not a meal if it doesn't include meat" and this one is so good you won't even notice the meat is missing. If you are already a vegetarian, this of course isn't an issue any more! (I hope!)