Gourmandistan

Butternut squash, mushroom and country ham cannelloni lighten the load

Amaranth and squash

We’re still working our way through our winter squash collection. After the recent pumpkin lasagne and a batch of Paula Wolfert’s squash soup (always delicious), we were still looking at a lot of squash. Michelle suggested making some squash pasta sauce, but Steve thought that would be too close to pouring soup over spaghetti. Instead (partly because he’s been on quite a pasta roll) he suggested making cannelloni, and Michelle quickly agreed.

Butternut squash cannelloni

In the pantheon of pasta shapes invented by Italians, cannelloni (“little reeds”) fit into the “to be filled” category. According to the Internet, many people confuse cannelloni with manicotti (“sleeves”), as they’re both basically stuffed with something, covered in sauce and shoved into the oven. We had made our first ever batch of cannelloni a while back from this Food & Wine recipe, which turned out OK except for some sub-par ricotta that became unpleasantly grainy after baking.

Butternut squash

The F&W recipe suggests rolling out the pasta sheets at “the thinnest setting,” but Steve has so far been too timid to try it, settling for two settings back (6 instead of 8 on his KitchenAid attachment). We may try the thinner stuff next time, because we’re starting to enjoy the ethereal quality of the pasta sheet compared to its sturdier layered cousin, lasagna. Combining sweet-charred roasted squash cubes with seasoned ricotta and a mixture of mushrooms and country ham proved to be quite delicious, especially when covered with a bit of béchamel sauce. As a plus, it’s also helped us view our pile of squashes with anticipation instead of dread.

Butternut squash cannelloni

BUTTERNUT SQUASH, MUSHROOM AND COUNTRY HAM CANNELLONI

Like our recent lasagne recipe, this one has a lot of component parts. However, all can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready for assembly.

Squash:

  • 1 lb. butternut squash flesh, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 5 or 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400° F. Place squash and thyme sprigs on a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with sides. Pour a little olive oil over. Toss with a spatula to coat the squash pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until squash is done. A little color is good.

Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cooled, divide squash into 16 portions, setting aside some for garnishing.

Mushroom/Ham Mixture:

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB butter
  • 3 leeks, white parts sliced thin
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms (we used a mix of shiitakes and cremini), roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 2 oz. country ham, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add leeks and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add mushrooms. Toss, then cover, cooking over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ham, toss, then cover, and cook for about 5 minutes more. Remove lid and add thyme, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. (Note: Be careful with the salt if using a salty ham.) Cook a bit more, increasing heat if necessary, until mix is fragrant and slightly browned.

Ricotta Cheese Mixture:

  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese
  • 2 TB chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

Mix ingredients together. Refrigerate until needed.

Sauce:

  • 4 TB butter
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 4 c. milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp. sherry
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and blend to make a roux. Cook until raw flour taste is gone. Add milk, stirring the sauce constantly until it is smooth and slightly thickened. This is a relatively thin sauce. The consistency should be about like a cream soup, not a thick sauce. Stir in sherry, then Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Note: If you are using a salty Southern country ham, be careful not to add too much salt.)

Assembly:

Roll the pasta sheets to a very thin level on the pasta roller. Cut the sheets into as close as you can get to 6″ x 5″ rectangles. (They do not have to be perfect.) Repeat until all the pasta is used.

Cook the pasta rectangles in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente, approximately 1 minute. Transfer the pasta to a bowl of cold water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels or a clean dishcloth, one at a time, as you are making the cannelloni.

Smear a bit of sauce into the bottom of the pan or pans you are using. If making the whole batch at once, use a 9 x 13″ baking dish. If making individual servings, use 8 single-serving gratin dishes. Or, divide into two smaller, e.g. 8″ square, pans.

Preheat oven to 350° F.

For each pasta rectangle, smear about 2 TB of mushroom/ham mixture across the narrower side of the rectangle. Then, smear about 1 TB of ricotta mixture on top of mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with a portion of the squash. Loosely roll up lengthwise. Place in pan.

Cover cannelloni with sauce. Grate a bit of Parmesan cheese over.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for a bit more, until bubbling. Run under broiler to brown top.

Garnish with thyme sprigs and extra roasted squash.

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53 comments

  1. Oh wow, this is so homey and decadent at the same time. Ricotta + béchamel, oh dear. I haven’t got squash this year yet, we are still getting eggplant, pepper, and tons of tomatoes, and the temperatures are still in the 20s (celsius), it almost feels like summer, except or chilly evenings, but I bet even Pierre-the-squash-hater would agree to eat squash if it was stuffed inside canneloni with ham, and a rich and creamy sauce. When the weather cools down (the later the better).

      • What about simply slice and oven roast it with lots of garlic, rosemary, salt and olive oil? Just like potatoes….you probably tried that I guess, its so simple. Read a recipe about a gratin with nutmeg and cheese (like Gruyère or Comté), maybe thats something .I´ll think about it again and tell you if I got another idea.
        Until then, Sabine.

  2. This does look gorgeous – I’m not a huge squash fan, but am always trying to make myself like it, especially this time of year…I know this recipe would do it!

    I’ve run into that problem with Ricotta as well, and unless I want to drive to one of our Italian shops in town, I take a hint from my Mom and blend a good cottage cheese in the blender. Sounds strange, but it might be an option for those that can’t get ANY ricotta where they live.

      • Yeah, it’s not a first choice, but there’s a lot of places where Ricotta isn’t available. I was in culture shock when I visited my sister in the smallish Midwestern town she had just moved to!

        I had it in my head several recipes I wanted to make for her and as I tooled around the store it was obvious it wasn’t going to happen – Stir fry, nope. Mexican, nope. and so on…

  3. Never had thought to put squash in a cannelloni but the list of ingredients here sound like everything goes so well! Oh, and with homemade pasta too… hmmm!

    • Thanks, Rosemary. Despite the multiple squashes on my counter, I do still wish for a good potimarron. I can find red kuri squashes here, but they just don’t seem the same as they do in France.

  4. I love this post. And your pasta post. Unfortunately, I don’t live in Gourmandistan so I will have to do it all by hand. I love your generous use of thyme here and the meticulous way in which you cut the butternut squash into cubes. I”ve also been obsessed with mushrooms lately. And the sauce! Every part of this recipe is amazing.

  5. Pingback: pumpkin pizza | mamangerie

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