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spinach-mushroom-chicken cannelloni

April 14, 2011

So remember when I said I’d used six bags of spinach in one night? Yeah, I lied. It was actually more like eight, because I needed two more bags for these puppies. I refused to peel the stems off these ones, though. And yes, we beasted our way through eight bags of spinach in one night. I thought it was a touch abnormal, but Chris barely shrugged. Anyway, my concern didn’t last too long, because these cannelloni have everything good in them, and together they couldn’t possibly be any less than magic.

I was a bit worried that they would be tricky to put together, since stuffed shells have a tendency to squirt right out of my hand when I’m in the process of stuffing them. But actually, these were a bit stabler—some filling escaped through the cracks, but that’s pretty inevitable and/or unnoticeable once they’ve been smothered in tomato sauce, I think.

Also, I, um, conveniently forgot to actually measure out the spinach and basically just dumped a bag or two in, but it still wasn’t too overpowering. We did end up with quite a bit of extra filling, but we just scattered it over the assembled cannelloni before pouring on the sauce and no one was the wiser. Sauce-and-cheese-smothering is a beautiful thing, I tell you.

Spinach-Mushroom-Chicken Cannelloni
1 chicken breast, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups fresh spinach [or…more]
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
dash crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel flakes [I left these out because fennel isn’t the greatest thing in the world and I’m not sure we had any/I was too lazy to check.]
3 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste [the stuff in a tube is THE BEST because then you don’t have to worry about what on Earth you’re supposed to do with a 90%-full can of tomato paste that you will inevitably forget about if you just stick it in the fridge]
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
2. To make the filling, in a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are soft and spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. In a large bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese. Add egg and mix until well-combined. Stir in spinach-mushroom mixture and seasonings. Set aside while you make the sauce.
4. To make the sauce, in a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, fennel seeds [if using], and diced tomatoes. Stir in tomato paste. Add fresh basil and season with salt and pepper. Simmer on stove for 20 minutes.
5. For the pasta, add lasagna noodles to a large pot of boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are al dente. Do not overcook. Carefully remove noodles from water and lay flat on a [well-oiled] wire cooling rack.
6. To assemble the cannelloni, spread about 1/2 cup of the sauce in the baking dish. Spread about 1/4 cup spinach-ricotta filling in a line along one short side of a lasagna noodle. Put 1 tablespoon of sauce on top, top with a few pieces of chicken, and roll up to enclose filling. Carefully transfer cannelloni to pan and place seam-side down. Continue stuffing and rolling remaining cannelloni. Top cannelloni with remaining sauce and 1 1/2 cups mozzarella. Cover pan with foil and bake until sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 additional minutes, until cheese is melted.
Makes 12-14 cannelloni. Cannelloni can be assembled (but not baked) 1 day ahead. Chill and keep in refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before baking.

Source: adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

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