Plant-powered cannelloni

“I almost considered marriage for the recipe to one of the best cannellonis I’ve ever eaten”

When I was in the final year of college I had an Italian boyfriend, he was my first love and we were together for almost 3 years. We went through many firsts together, first date, first bout of mumps (yeh, imagine that?!), first home-cooked meal and of course our first break-up.

Want to skip to the recipe?

But no, the first meal we both ever made, was not cannelloni. It was pie, mash, vegetables and gravy. Not quite home-made, but home-cooked for sure. I remember how proud we both felt when it turned out ok and not burnt.

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Truth is, my Mum didn’t actually let me loose in the kitchen on my own properly until I was 17. Partly due to her OCD and mostly due to the bombsite I’d create at everything I touched. Fast forward and I still create a teeny, tiny mess but I’ve learnt the best way to work is to clean it up as you go along – and I often get cocky with how little washing up there is left to do at the end of a finished food project.

Writing up this recipe made me think of that boyfriend. I alluded to his Italian descent because that plays a central role in this recipe.

Meeting the extended family

My first ever contact with cannelloni actually happened to me when it came to meeting that boyfriend’s extended family. His grandma and great grandma had gone to great lengths to prepare a traditional Italian dinner with plentiful amounts of home-made pasta,  rich tomato-based dishes and aromas I hadn’t smelt before – ok, so I’ve never been to Italy!

The first course happened to be two rolls of cannelloni.

Believe it or not that was the first and last time I ate cannelloni, until I decided to make this.

Not because of painful memories, or because it tasted bad, just because that cannelloni was one of the most magnificently tasty pasta dishes I had ever tasted.

I remember telling him and his grandma this, and she did say if him and I got married, she’d pass the recipe down. If only we had…

I fancied Lasagne

The reason I actually decided to try out making my own cannelloni one day was because I was bored, and I fancied lasagne, but at this point I hadn’t found a plant-based lasagne recipe I found tasty enough (a hyperlink will go here when I do) to work at, so as I scrawled through potential pasta dishes I saw the word cannelloni pop up and gasped – when I read a little more I didn’t realise how simple it was to make.

Ok, so I didn’t make my own pasta and while it doesn’t fully adhere to the traditional Italian cannelloni many of you will have experienced I assure you it tastes delicious. And remember that rich tomato base referred to – oh yeah!

I’m going to admit that the tomato base has come to form the basis of many of my Italian-style dishes because it’s just so good, so you may want to bookmark this even for the sauce.

THE RECIPE

PREP TIME: 20 MINS

COOKING TIME: 60 MINS

COST: < £5

INGREDIENTS:

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 396g of firm tofu (drained)
  • 400g of spinach
  • 300g of white mushrooms (optional)
  • 75g of walnuts
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • A bunch of basil leaves
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 300g of fresh lasagne sheets
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • 3 x shallots
  • 1 packet of ready salted crisps or 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes or 8 vine ripened tomatoes roasted and blended
  • 3 garlic cloves (although I use 4)
  • 1 large onion (chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

METHOD:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C and prepare a roasting dish to one side
  • For the filling: Heat the olive oil in a large pan, turn to medium heat, add the shallots and garlic and fry gently until softened.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to moisten then;
  • Add the spinach and allow it to wilt
  • While wilting the spinach, Combine the tofu and walnuts in the food processor and then add to the spinach mixture
  • Stir through salt, pepper and the nutmeg and leave to cool
  • Soak lasagne sheets in water until they soften ready to fill and roll
  • For the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pan once warm add the onion and garlic frying until softened, lower the heat
  • Once softened add the salt, pepper, oregano, cayenne pepper and paprika and stir
  • Once mixed well add the tomatoes (tinned or freshly roasted), stir and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens
  • While the sauce thickens, divide the spinach mixture between the lasagne sheets, roll and put to the side
  • Pour half of the sauce into the bottom of the roasting dish and begin laying the cannelloni rolls onto the bed of sauce
  • Pour over the remaining tomato sauce and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes with a lightly sealed foil lid
  • Once 30 minutes have passed remove the foil lid and sprinkle over the crushed crisps or breadcrumbs for that added crunch
  • Cook until the crust is crispy (Between 5 and 10 minutes) and serve

I found that 2 or 3 rolls was usually enough, and I’d often go back for an additional warmer helping an hour later. Serve with salad or ciabatta if bread is your thing. I prefer it as it’s cooked.

Have any hints, tips or ingredients you think may pair well with this or other recipes? I’m always down for new friends, get in touch.