Cannelloni are a favorite stuffed pasta that are frequently (and incorrectly) called manicotti (manicotti, also known as Piedmont cannelloni, are actually savory filled crepes). In the spirit of this blog, this dish is something that hardly anyone tries from scratch – go on the internet and the best you’ll do is come up with a bunch of recipes that call for boxed pasta tubes and all manner of canned ingredients for filling. Yet they are very easy to make from scratch, albeit a little time consuming. Here’s how.
Start with a pumpkin. Pretty much any pumpkin will do. This one was about the size of a soccer ball and yielded seven servings.
Cut the pumpkin in half, remove seeds.
Lay flat on a baking sheet, bake at 350F for about an hour, until the flesh comes out easily with a spoon. Spoon out all the flesh and put in a colander to drain for an hour.
Make some semolina pasta. Use 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup all purpose flour, 3 eggs and about 1/3 cup olive oil. Knead ingredients by hand or in a machine for about 5-7 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap for an hour. After dough rests, cut ball in 8 pieces, and work each piece with a pasta machine or rolling pin, make it as thin as possible. Each piece will yield two 4×6 inch rectangles.
Caramelize an onion.
Add the pumpkin and about a tablespoon of fresh chopped sage. Salt to taste.
Place a mound of pumpkin filling about the size of a roll of quarters on each rectangle. Roll the dough around the filling, overlapping the ends.
Place each roll in a greased baking dish. You should place a small layer of bechamel in the pan first. Make a bechamel by melting a couple tablespoons of butter in a skillet. Whisk in a heaping tabelspoon of flour (now it’s a roux). Add about 1.5 cups milk, a dash of ground nutmeg, and raise heat to high until sauce thickens.
Finish adding filled pasta rolls, cover with bechamel, then with grated cheese and a little ground pepper. Bake at 350F until sauce is bubbling and cheese browns, about 40 minutes.
This dish used a $2 pumpkin, about $1.50 worth of ingredients to make the pasta, another $1 for the bechamel, and let’s say $1 for grated cheese. Total, $5.50. It yielded 7 servings, for a total of 79 cents per serving. Another great meal for less than a buck.
One of my aims with this blog is to lower the fear factor surrounding “difficult” ingredients. Big, gnarly, hard-to-handle ingredients. This time of year is perfect for that kind of challenge. Because this is pumpkin season. One of my favorite foods. And one that people don’t usually think of eating because the thought of converting it from decoration to food strikes fear in their heart.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, my family and I headed to our favorite pumpkin seller. He’s our favorite because in addition to the usual assortment of jack-o-lantern pumpkins, he always has a few skids of unusual pumpkins. My kinda cucurbitas.
For some reason I’ll never understand, many people believe the only pumpkin worth eating is a “sugar” or “pie” pumpkin. And that the only way to eat it is in a pie. My experience has been that while some squash are certainly better than others, they’re all good eatin’ and in huge variety of preparations. So I decided to select a few particularly gnarly and difficult looking specimens to prove my point. One especially warted and misshapen specimen jumped out and said, “Pick me! Pick me!”. In addition to being ugly, I could tell from the rind that he was a little long in the tooth, too, which promised to make dismembering him a little more challenging.
I’m no pumpkin expert, so I don’t always know which varieties I’m buying, but this one I think is related to a Brode Galeux d’Eysines, which means “embroidered with warts from Eysines”, Eysines being a small town in southern France. See, all that time I spend in France is paying off! This pumpkin isn’t necessarily prized for its edibility, but it’ll do.
So what to do with our ‘kin? The fam is hungry.
Before we left for the patch, I started some Jasmine rice in the rice cooker, knowing that no matter what I decided to make out of a pumpkin, it would go well with rice. Squash and rice is just one of those classic combinations one encounters all around the world. Because we didn’t leave till 5:45, and got back around 6:45, I decided to make something that would be done by 7:30. Rice and squash bake it was, then. Also known as rice and squash pie, or rice bake, or any one of a half dozen monikers applied to this dish around the world.
I started in on the thing first by splitting it – my biggest chef knife was embedded into it and a few strikes on the counter had it in two pieces. Then remove seeds; years of trial-and-error have taught me that an ice cream scoop is the best tool for that job. Slice it into sections like an orange melon, then trim the rinds off the sections. Cut up the sections into cookable chunks and you are off to the races!
Once you have the squash prepped, it’s all downhill. Saute a chopped onion in some olive oil. Add the squash. Cook until just toothy (“al dente”), about 5-10 minutes.
Now mix the pumpkin with 5 or 6 cups of cooked rice. Add whatever herbs you like to taste (I used sage and parsley because it’s what I had fresh from the farmer’s market), then salt and pepper to taste. Then beat two eggs and stir them into the mix. The result is the picture below.
Now take that squash rice mix and spoon it into a couple buttered casseroles. That’s right, we’re making one for tonight and one for Wednesday night. Same amount of work, two nights of eating. Now raid the fridge for whatever hard cheese you have around. Grate about two cups and sprinkle a cup over each dish.
Bake at about 375 for maybe 20 minutes or until cheese starts to brown. If you get impatient, remember that everything was warm going into the oven, so you really don’t need too much baking time, then cheat by putting the dishes under the broiler to slightly brown the cheese.
Now just plate and serve.
Now for the stats:
I started the rice in the rice cooker before we left for the patch, so I would say 5 minutes prep, then one-hour unattended cook.
Ten minutes to dismember the pumpkin and butternut and reduce to saute size.
Ten minutes to saute.
Five minutes to toss together into casseroles.
20 minutes bake, unattended.
So about 30 minutes active prep/cooking time, about 1 hour 20 minutes start-to-finish before you can eat.
How about cost?
The pumpkin was $2. The little butternut was free from our garden, but if you had to buy it at a farmer’s market it would be $1. So $3 for squash.
About $0.50 for rice. That’s on the high side.
Add $0.50 for an onion, $0.25 for herbs, and $0.25 for Marco Polo (EVOO, etc).
The cheese was probably about $3 worth.
There was about $2 worth of rocket used in the salads, along with some Marco Polo already accounted above.
So total ingredient investment, $9.50.
These bakes fed our family of four twice, plus two lunches. That’s 10 meals. So 95 cents per meal. And it tasted great, and makes you feel great.
Can you eat well for less than a buck a meal on processed food??
Try the best coffee money can buy
One thing I’ve never understood is pancake mix.
Even if you’re not a creative cook, even if you’re a lazy cook, I’ve never understood the value proposition of pancake mix. It’s not any easier than making pancakes from scratch. Pancakes are one of the simplest foods you can make, and all a mix does for you is pre-blend a handful of dry ingredients. You still have to add the messy, and relatively more expensive ingredients to the mix: eggs, fats, etc.
I love pancakes. They’re easy, inexpensive, and most people like them. They are also really forgiving, so once you have the basics locked into your memory, you can make them without any recipes, and modify them on the fly to suit ingredients on hand.
So on this beautiful fall morning, I figured I’d make a post on pancakes. And since my favorite veggie is pumpkin, and we have pumpkins in abundance right now, I figured I’d make pumpkin pancakes. Even if you have no pumpkin, or prefer not to use pumpkin, the basic procedure works for plain pancakes.
Let’s break the task into two parts: dry ingredients, and wet ingredients. The core dry ingredients are flour (about 1.5 cups), sugar (optional, I use 1/4 cup), sea or kosher salt (generous pinch) and baking powder (couple teaspoons). Mix well.
Basic wet ingredients are eggs (two), oil (1/4 to 1/2 cup, more oil = softer crumb), milk (start with 1/2 cup and add more if resulting batter is too thick). Mix well.
For basic, plain pancakes, that’s it. Let’s talk about how to make pumpkin pancakes.
Some people use pumpkin from a can. While there’s no shame in that, this time of year it’s so easy to just go from scratch. When it comes to cooking pumpkins, there is so much noise out there about which kind of pumpkin is best. About the only consistency in all that noise is the notion that somehow the garden variety jack-o-lantern pumpkin is no good for eating.
Phooey on that.
My considerable experience is that ALL pumpkins are good for eating. Some are better than others, it’s true. But I say that the best pumpkin for eating is the one that you have on your counter.
With that in mind, go ahead and hack up some member of the Cucurbitaceae family. Remove the seeds, and whack it down into pieces that will fit into your steaming vessel. (What’s that, you say you have no steaming vessel? Do you have a pot? Than you have a steaming vessel. Just add a little water and put the gourd in skin side down, then close it tightly with a lid.) Steam enough pumpkin to yield about 2 cups of flesh. When in doubt, just steam extra, it’s great mixed into mashed potatoes, or eaten straight. Steam till flesh is soft and can be spooned from the skin easily, maybe 20-30 minutes. Let it cool, or run under cold water so as not to burn yourself while processing.
I put the pumpkin flesh into a food processor, but a hand masher, immersion blender, or blender works fine, too. A big fork will do the job, as well. No excuses, just mash it as best you can. Chunky texture is just as nice in some ways as smooth.
Add the mashed pumpkin to your pancake batter. I like to add a little pumpkin spice seasoning, too (maybe a couple teaspoons).
Then cook your pancakes.
That’s all there is to it!
I had a Muddy Dog customer stun me recently by saying “I can’t afford to eat like you” (meaning whole, fresh seasonal, local foods). Another reader of this blog suggested that I provide some costing estimates for the meals I propose. To dispel the myth that eating well is expensive, I’ll start giving estimating a try here:
dry ingredients (guesstimate) $1
eggs (@$4 per dozen) $0.67
cannola oil (guesstimate) $0.25
milk (guesstimate) $0.40
pumpkin – mine was free from our garden, but figure $1 worth of a farmer’s market gourd
Marco Polo ingredients, e.g., spices (guesstimate) $0.25
Grand total $3.57. The batch I made this morning served eight. That’s about $0.45 per serving. Add a couple more 33-cent eggs, some butter and syrup, and suddenly you’re at about a whopping $1.40 per serving. Add a cup of Muddy Dog Roasting Company Pumpkin Spice coffee, and that adds $0.45, so you eat a great breakfast for under $2. Is that too expensive?
Want to try some great coffee?