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Nick and I are trying to cut down on our meat consumption and have introduced meat-free Mondays into our weekly routine (except that he keeps forgetting and eating burgers at lunch – but I’m sure he’ll start remembering soon). It’s hard to know where your meat comes from these days and the meat industry in it’s current state leaves a lot to be desired. The dairy industry isn’t too great either, but baby steps…

It is hypocritical of me to not be proud of where meat comes from but eat it anyway. The SBS documentary ‘Kill It, Cook It, Eat It’ made an important distinction between the meat and the animal that it comes from, but it can be a difficult line to see when beef comes in clean convenient packages in supermarkets, completely detached from the messy slaughter of the cow that preceded it being there.

I’m not usually one to preach my beliefs to others but you can now buy chickens for $4 a kilo – most vegetables cost more – which should really make you think about where about where that chicken comes from, what it was fed and how it was raised to be sold to you at that price.

I don’t know if I can give up meat. I don’t know if I should have to where the animal was raised ethically and slaughtered humanely. Where possible, I always opt for the free-range, ethical option – eggs, chicken, bacon. I hope my little spiel has encouraged you to think about where your meat is coming from.

So, without further ado here’s my recipe for roast vegetable cannelloni that can be made in just over an hour (lots of that is just waiting for stuff to cook in the oven though). Many people don’t use white sauce but it only takes an extra ten minutes to make and it adds a richness while cutting down the acidity of the tomatoes.

Roast Vegetable Cannelloni
serves 4-6

1 x 200g pack instant cannelloni tubes

for the filling
200g butternut squash, cut into large dice
200g portobello or other large mushrooms, thickly sliced
200g red capsicum, cut into thick slices
100g frozen chopped spinach, thawed
200g ricotta
30g grated parmesan
salt and pepper to season

for the red sauce
1 large white onion, finely diced
2 small cloves garlic, finely diced
700g tomato passata (one bottle)

for the white sauce
2 tbsp (approx 25g) butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1½ cups milk

grated cheddar to top, approx 150g
rocket, to serve (with extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar)

  1. Place cut butternut squash, capsicum and mushroom on a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200C for about 25 minutes. While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauces.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a saucepan, then add onion and garlic and fry over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add passata all at once and stir. Reduce heat to low and leave to simmer for another 10 minutes.
  3. Make the white sauce by melting the butter and adding the flour to make a paste. Add the milk and stir over medium heat until the sauce has thickened – about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove vegetables from the oven – you will know they are done when a knife pieces the butternut squash easily. Remove and allow to cool, then peel the capsicums, discarding the skin.
  5. Place roasted butternut squash, capsicums, mushrooms, thawed spinach, ricotta and grated parmesan into a food processor and pulse until the mixture has formed small sized chunks. Do not blend it into a mushy paste or you’ll be eating the equivalent of baby food. If you don’t have a food processor, just dice the veggies up into small chunks and mix in the spinach, ricotta and parmesan. Season the roast vegetable mixture to taste.
  6. Using a pastry bag, fill each cannelloni tube with the roast vegetable mixture. I got enough for exactly one 200g pack of tubes. Don’t have a pastry bag – don’t worry, just snip the corner out of a plastic ziploc bag and use that instead.
  7. Line a ceramic baking dish with a thin layer of red sauce, then arrange filled cannelloni tubes on the sauce. You don’t have to leave room to expand as they will expand into each other. Make sure you only do full layers though or the top layer won’t have enough sauce and will not cook properly.
  8. Top with all the white sauce, then cover the pasta generously with the red sauce. Be sure to cover the cannelloni tubes completely with red sauce. If you don’t have enough, top with plain passata from a jar.
  9. Cover with cheese and bake at 180C until cheese is golden, about 30 minutes. Leave to set for ten minutes before servings – use this time to quickly dress some rocket with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil.
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