Beef Cannelloni

As most of you know, I use an iPhone for all my pictures. The pictures aren’t the best, but the iPhone does the job and it usually means I spend less very little time snapping photos and within a minute I can wolf down dinner. The only time I’ve felt the limitations of using an iPhone, was when I tried making this baked cannelloni dish look pretty.

Frankly, there is no way to make a huge pasta bake look delicate and pretty without proper lights, a $5k lens and some serious photography skills (of which, I possess none). You just need to take my word for it, this ugly beast tasted fabulous.
If you’re having a crowd over for dinner, bring out the whole tray straight from the oven, plonk it on your dining table and sit back and watch everyone drool (you might want to serve yourself a portion first, not sure if you’d enjoy spit on your pasta). The instructions below are as detailed as I could get it, so it sounds really long and complicated. But it really isn’t. It took me about 20 minutes to prepare. The baking time was easy; I didn’t have to do much. Just wait for it to get done.
Pasta:
  • 1 packet Cannelloni
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese – grated
For the meat sauce, you’ll need:
  • 1 kg lean beef mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch piece ginger – peeled
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup parsley (cut the stalks finely – separate the leaves for garnishing)
  • 2 pieces roasted capsicum (store bought) – blended into a paste
  • 1 wineglass red wine
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (I use a pizza mix)
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 1 jar pasta sauce of your choice (I just used Coles home brand Arrabiata)
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Cooking oil or olive oil
  • Water
For the topping you’ll need
  • 100 grams butter
  • 3/4 plain flour
  • Milk (as required)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Pinch of smoked paprika
  • Pinch of nutmeg powder
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

Method:

In a blender or food processor, blend onion, garlic, chillies and ginger into a fine paste. In a large pot, heat oil, add bay leaves. When fragrant, add onion paste and stir well. Add a pinch of salt and keep stirring. If the paste looks like it’s sticking to the pot, add a little more oil.

Once the paste starts browning slightly, add about half a cup of water, allow to simmer and thicken. You want to cook the rawness out of the onions, so you might have to keep stirring for about 5 to 7 minutes, every time things look to be a bit too heated, add a tiny bit of water.Once the onion changes colour and has caramelised a little, add a little more oil and the beef mince. Stir well. Increase the heat.

You want the beef to brown slightly.

Add all the other meat sauce ingredients (except parsley leaves), stir well. Cut a piece of baking paper or greaseproof paper into a shape that fits your pot. Put this on top of the sauce (it’s okay if it touches the sauce). Reduce the flame to a simmer and let it boil away. This will help the sauce thicken without creating a mess in the kitchen (which will happen if you leave the lid off). Let it boil away and thicken nicely. Taste for seasoning, add parsley leaves and stir well. Allow to cool slightly.To fill the cannelloni, I find the easiest way is to stick one end into a shot glass.

The glass is small enough to keep the filling compact on the bottom end. It’s up to you how you do it, but just don’t burn yourself as the sauce can be hot!Once all the cannelloni are filled, you can start layering. Spread a thin layer of the sauce in the bottom of a tray. I use disposable aluminium trays.

Try to get the saucy part of the sauce, less meat for this part of the process. Sprinkle a little bit of the cheese over the sauce; lay the cannelloni next to each other. Pack it in tightly. Another thin layer of sauce on top, a sprinkling of mozzarella as well.

Keep going in this manner until all the cannelloni are done.When you’re finished layering, cover the whole tray with a thin layer of sauce and another sprinkling of mozzarella, sprinkle some smoked paprika on top if you wish. Set the tray aside.Pre-heat oven to 180 degree Celsius.

To prepare the topping:

In a small pot, heat the butter until it’s melted and bubbling. Add the flour and whisk quickly. Keep whisking until flour starts to cook out. Add a cup of milk, whisk until the flour has dissolved. Keep adding milk and whisking. The sauce will thicken and you want the consistency of a soft potato mash.Remove from heat; add seasoning, nutmeg, paprika and parmesan.

To finish off, add the olive oil. The oil will give it a nice gloss. Taste to make sure you have enough seasoning. Spread this sauce on top of you cannelloni.At this stage you can set the tray aside until you’re ready to serve it. You need about 45 minutes all up.

To cook:

Bake the pasta for about 25 minutes. Check by inserting a knife, if the pasta tubes are soft, you know it’s done. Remove the tray, top again with lots of mozzarella. Stick the tray under a grill for about 5 minutes, until the cheese melts and turns golden. Rest the pasta for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

This will allow the flavours to come together, and you’ll also prevent anyone from burning their mouths (I write from experience). Enjoy!

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