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Canelones de Espinaca y Ricota (Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni)

“An Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish, thinks he’s French, and would secretly like to be British.”– Author unknown

It’s impossible to deny the influence that Italian immigrants have had on Argentine culture. Arriving by the millions at the end of the 19th century and well into the beginning of the 20th century, Italians left their homeland in droves with the hopes of finding greater economic prosperity in Argentina. According to figures from the organization FEDITALIA [1], it’s estimated that some 20 million Argentines, a little over 50% of Argentina’s entire population, are either full or partial descendants of Italians.

Argentine cuisine includes dishes imported directly from Italy, as well as others that originated in Argentina, albeit with a strong Italian influence. The dish I’m featuring in this post, canelones (or cannelloni in Italian), consists of a tender crepe stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese and finished off with both a tomato sauce and a white sauce. In contrast to Italian-American cuisine, cannelloni in Argentina are normally made with panqueques (crepes) rather than tubes of pasta.

I’m willing to admit that this dish won’t be your first choice for a quick weeknight supper. Preparing canelones qualifies as rather labor intensive, so don’t expect to throw this meal together in 30 minutes after a long day at work. With that said, many of the steps can be done in advance, and this recipe is worth the effort for a Sunday meal with the family or a special gathering.

Canelones de Espinaca y Ricota (Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni)


Yields 8 canelones 

 

Ingredients 

Panqueques

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup cold whole milk

2/3 cup cold water

3 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. butter, melted [plus 1 Tbsp. to grease the pan]

 

Filling

1 lb. fresh spinach [yields 1 cup cooked spinach]

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 lb. ricotta cheese

3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper, to taste

 

Tomato Sauce [substitute jarred tomato sauce or your own recipe if desired]

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

16 oz. can crushed tomatoes

½ cup water

salt and pepper, to taste

bouquet garni (bundle of fresh herbs): thyme, basil, parsley, bay leaf

pinch of sugar, if necessary

 

White Sauce

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup milk

white pepper, to taste

freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

 

Directions

Preparing the panqueques

Combine the first five ingredients and beat the mixture until smooth using a blender or whisk. Add the melted butter and blend just until smooth. Don’t overbeat the batter, as the panqueques will turn out rubbery. Strain the batter if it looks lumpy. Refrigerate the batter, covered, for a minimum of 1 hour.

Heat an 8-inch non-stick frying pan [or crepe pan, if you happen to have one] over medium heat. Lightly brush the pan with melted butter.

Pour ¼ cup of batter into the center of the pan, and then tilt the pan to evenly cover the bottom. Cook about 1 minute, or until lightly browned and lacy on the bottom. Flip the panqueque with a spatula, and cook briefly on the other side [it will look speckled]. Remove the panqueque to a wire rack or plate to cool as you continue making the rest, stacking successive panqueques one on top of the other. Don’t get discouraged if the first panqueque turns out badly—this is common.

This recipe yields 10 panqueques. Once cooled, the panqueques can be stored in the refrigerator in a ziptop plastic storage bag for several days if you’re not ready to assemble the canelones.

 

Filling

Place the spinach in a large pot over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes or until wilted. Drain well. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool. Use your hands to squeeze any excess moisture from the spinach. Chop the spinach and place in a large bowl.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens. Transfer to the bowl with the spinach. Add the walnuts, ricotta and parmesan cheeses to the bowl and stir until well combined. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

 

Tomato Sauce

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onion turns soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, water and bundle of herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Adjust seasoning, adding a pinch of sugar if the sauce is too acidic. Remove the herbs.

 

White Sauce

In a small, heavy-bottom saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir the flour into the melted butter. Add the salt. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until you achieve a smooth, thick sauce. Strain the sauce to eliminate any lumps. Season with white pepper and nutmeg to taste.

 

Assemble the canelones

Place a panqueque on a clean work surface. Put a couple of large tablespoons of the spinach filling about a quarter of the way in on one side of the panqueque. Roll up firmly to enclose the filling, and place the panqueque seam-side down in a large ovenproof baking dish, coated with a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. Repeat with the remaining panqueques and spinach filling, placing the crepes side by side in the baking dish. Spread tomato sauce all over the panqueques and then lightly pour some of the white sauce over them.

Bake in a preheated 400ºF oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Allow the canelones to stand for 5 minutes, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese before serving.


 

Other recipes by Katie:

Panqueques de Dulce de Leche (Dulce de Leche Crepes)
Torre de Panqueques
Empanadas Árabes
Tarta de Pollo y Choclo (Chicken and Corn Pie)
Coquitos (Coconut Macaroons)
Tortas Fritas
Fainá (Chickpea Flatbread)
Humita en Olla (Creamy Stewed Corn)
Bifes a la Criolla
Matambre a la Pizza


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Views: 5778

Tags: Argentina, Argentine, Italian, canelones, cannelloni, panqueque, spinach

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Comment by Sonia R. Martinez on June 24, 2012 at 12:19pm

I like Swiss chard but its not something we eat too often.  Thanks for the suggestion.  We grow Malabar spinach in our yard, but don't have a lot of luck with regular spinach so we buy the baby one at the stores...

Comment by Katie Metz de Martínez on June 24, 2012 at 10:19am

It's delicious with spinach, but if you want to try something a little different, you can pick up some swiss chard. Swiss chard is actually more common here in Argentina than spinach, but most people in the U.S. have never even tried it. Just an option if you're feeling adventurous!

Comment by Sonia R. Martinez on June 23, 2012 at 8:57pm

I will definitely be making them...probably next week after I pick up some baby spinach.  We buy a large tub of them every week.

Comment by Katie Metz de Martínez on June 23, 2012 at 7:50pm

Thank you, Sonia...from one Martinez to another! :) Please let me know how they turn out for you if you try them.

Comment by Sonia R. Martinez on June 23, 2012 at 7:27pm

Ohhhh....this sounds wonderful, Katie...I will definitely have to make these!






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