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Manicotti with Béchamel Sauce Recipe - Cannelloni alla Besciamella

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Cannelloni, or manicotti in the English speaking world, must have come into existence in the Teens, because Artusi, who was ever quick to add a recipe to his book, doesn't mention them, whereas Ada Boni, writing in 1929, does. Here's a classic, quite simple manicotti recipe featuring cream sauce and a meat filling. To serve 6-8 you'll need:

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • A pound of cannelloni shells (use 3 1/3 cups flour and 4 eggs if you're making them at home)
  • ** For the Filling **
  • 1 pound chopped beef
  • 1/2 a small onion, minced
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 a bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3/4 pound plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup day old bread, stripped of crust and crumbled
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano
  • Milk
  • A pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • ** For the Béchamel Sauce **
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Salt & Pepper
  • More grated cheese and butter for browning

Preparation:

Begin by making the pasta dough, if you're starting from scratch.

While it's resting, prepare the filling:

Sauté the onion and the prosciutto in the butter, and when the onion has lightly browned add the bay leaf and the meat. Cook, stirring, until the meat has browned, then stir in the flour and the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/4 teaspoon), reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering roll out the dough if you're starting from scratch, and cut it into 3 by 4-inch rectangles. Once the pasta is cut cook it a few pieces at a time in abundant lightly salted water (if you're using commercially prepared shells follow the directions on the package). Remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon while it's still rather al dente, and lay the pieces on a damp cloth taking care lest they be touching and stick.

When the sauce has finished simmering remove it from the fire, discard the bay leaf, and put it thought a meat grinder or blender. Soak the bread in milk, drain off the excess liquid (the crumbs should be wet but not dripping). Combine the bread, egg, and cheese, and work the mixture into the meat mixture, stirring until everything is uniform. You are now ready to fill your cannelloni: lay some of the filling along the long edge of the first sheet, roll it up to make the cannelone, and place it in a well buttered, elegant baking dish. Repeat the procedure until pasta and filling are all used up.

Prepare the béchamel sauce, pour it over the cannelloni, dust everything with a little more grated Parmigiano and dot it with a little more butter, and run it under the broiler until it is lightly browned. Serve at once.

The wine? I'd go with a zesty red, for example a Chianti d'annata or a lively Dolcetto

Yield: 6-8 servings manicotti with cream sauce.

Note: The prosciutto should be thinly sliced raw prosciutto if you have it. If you do not, cooked ham (fat trimmed away) will also work well.
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