One of the coolest things about preschool was making pasta necklaces. You remember it, don't you? You'd come into the classroom and there would be seemingly millions of bowls of brightly colored pasta all in different shapes and sizes. I was the type of kid, whose hands twitched (literally) with excitement when I was near something I was thrilled about.
Without fail, my enthusiasm would get the better of me and I would immediately lurch for the bowls of pasta, grabbing at the shapes as if they were treasures and not cleverly disguised food. Of course, my zealousness always sent me to the corner (this was before naughty steps and before ridiculous research suggested that banishing kids to corners of rooms caused low self esteem) and I had to wait a whole two minutes before being allowed to join the group!
The maverick that I was at three, felt like this was an unjust punishment, for my only transgression had been to be excited about learning! (They were using those brightly colored pasta pieces to help us develop our motor skills and our dexterity, weren't they?) Why I should be made to stand with my nose against a wall while my classmates plucked up the good pasta always confused me. Alas, some 20-odd years later, while standing in my kitchen, stuffing a concoction of meat and vegetables into cannelloni pasta, I was reminded of my edible jewelry making days.
Three meat cannelloni casserole is what I'm calling it. The original recipe, swiped from a comfort foods cookbook, called it something else, but, like always, I have adapted this recipe.
What you'll need:
- Three types of ground (minced) meat--I used pork, beef and turkey.
- A carrot
- An onion
- Oil of your choice
- A can of peeled plum tomatoes. You'll need to chop these.
- A box of cannelloni pasta
- Salt and pepper
- A packet of cheese ( I used cheddar because it's what I had on hand. But I'd suggest Dutch Edam, because it gives you those long, melty cheese strings that Italian food is known for.)
- You'll also need to make a bechamel. None of that going out and buying pre-made white sauce; bechamel's easy to make and if you learn how to make a good one, you'll use it over and over again
For your bechamel (measurements are important):
- 500 ml milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3 tablespoons butter
- Fry the diced onion and carrots in oil until soft. I left the carrots kind of big because I like the texture they bring to the dish, but you can make both as fine as you'd like.
- Add the tomatoes and generous helpings of salt, black pepper, oregano and basil.
- Add all of the mince, being sure to break up any large pieces. Stir occasionally and let cook for about 20 minutes until cooked through. Once cooked, set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180 C/350 F.
- Prepare your bechamel by melting the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add in the flour and stir until a roux is formed. Then gradually, whisk in the milk. After all the milk is whisked in, stir the sauce until it thickens.
- Pour a bit of the bechamel into the bottom of a casserole dish/roasting tray.
- Stuff each cannelloni needed until you have one layer in your dish. Spread any leftover stuffing mix over the top of the cannelloni, cover with the remaining sauce, a bit of oregano and basil, handfuls of cheese and then bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.
- I serve it with garlic flatbread.