Squash, Red Onion and Ricotta Cannelloni. Pasta tubes, stuffed with a mixture of roasted squash, slow cooked red onion and a pile of ricotta cheese… all covered with a garlic infused white sauce and finished with a handful of sharp and salty cheddar. Now how good does that sound?
You might have noticed I’m on a bit of an ‘everything squash’ kick at the moment. It’s not entirely intentional – but I hate food waste, and I’m not sure you’ve noticed but squash tend to be pretty massive! At least they are when you’re feeding two people. And you’re shopping in Germany. Small just doesn’t really exist here.
I’d been wanting to make a squash and ricotta cannelloni for ages. Years, actually – but I’d never gotten around to it! I’m so glad I finally did as this dinner put a massive smile on both our faces. The other half actually turned around and pointed out it was another veggie meal to add to the foodie roster!
Admittedly this does require a few different stages, but that also means this can be prepared in advance.
Part One: The Filling
Roast the squash and slow cook the red onions. The squash part is easy – cut it into wedges, remove the skin, slap in the oven for 25 minutes. You want to cook it until it’s fork-mashable. But is it worth bothering with the red onions? Absolutely.
I’ve tried this filling combination using red onions that have been roasted with the squash and it’s just not the same. Slow cooking the onions in a large knob of butter on the hob gives a sweet, caramelised flavour that you just don’t get by roasting. So unusually for me I’m saying this step is essential and please don’t skip it. Butter cooked red onions are amazing. Promise.
Part Two: The Stuffing
Stuff your squash, onion and cheese mixture into some cannelloni tubes. That’s easier said than done, but I actually find it rather relaxing. If you like things tidy, consider plonking your mixture into a piping bag and filling the pasta tubes that way. If you don’t have such a thing and don’t want to waste a fraction of your filling on the inside of a piping bag… well you’ll be taking about ten minutes to teaspoon and press this filling into the cannelloni. It’s not actually difficult, though it can be a bit messy.
Just stand a tube up and teaspoon a little of the filling in at a time, pressing down gently with the back of the spoon to force it through. You’ll be able to see when the pasta is full – but if you’re having problems getting the filling all the way down without breaking it, just flip the tube over half way through and fill from the other end as well. And if you break a tube it’s not the end of the world – it’ll still taste the same and you’re going to cover it with sauce anyway.
Part Three: The Saucing
Sauce! This white sauce is sooooooo simple. I promise you, it really is. AND! Bonus! This is how you’d make a cheese sauce too. The base ingredients are all the same, but at the end you’d add a massive handful of cheese and a scant teaspoon of yellow mustard. Ooof, so good.
It’s known as a béchamel or white sauce and is what you’d usually use to layer up with meat lasagne dishes in the UK. It’s often gently infused with things like bay leaves and onions, but in this case I’m not. I add garlic (because I love the stuff) and not much else.
There’s two ways to make the sauce, one is called a roux. In that instance, you melt the butter in a pan and add the flour, then add the liquid bit by bit. In this case I’m using an ‘all in one’ method. It’s easy but there’s one thing to watch out for – the flour. It’s a pesky bugger and wants to stick in the edges or the base of your saucepan. This is bad and will either create a lumpy sauce, or (worse) will burn. How to avoid this? Three things: A wooden spoon, a whisk and a low heat.
Put the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan on a low heat. As the milk heats, the butter will start to melt. Whisk it constantly until all the butter has melted and no pockets of flour lumps remain – it shouldn’t take long. Then swap your whisk for a wooden spoon and drag it all around the base of the pan. You’ll notice straight away if flour is trying to collect along the edges. Stir it this way constantly until the sauce starts to thicken. It’s a gentle, smooth action so it not actually as exhausting as it sounds.
Just look at the ingredients list for the Dolmio Creamy White Lasagne Sauce here at Tesco. Look at all the stuff that’s in it! When really all you need is milk, butter and flour plus whatever flavours you happen to want. Dried rosemary, black pepper, garlic… No contest.
Part Four: The Baking
Up to this point you can make the filling and leave it in the fridge. You can stuff the pasta… and leave it in the fridge. You can make the filling, stuff the pasta and cover it in white sauce… and leave it in the fridge. (Though you need to let the sauce cool for a while first before that stage of assembly if you’re choosing to leave it.)
Baking is simple. Tinfoil your cannelloni, stick it in the oven and leave it alone. Ten minutes before it’s ready, pop the tinfoil off and add a handful of strong, grated cheese. I used cheddar, because it’s always in the fridge. Parmesan, Grana Padano… basically anything strong and a little salty is going to do the trick.
This Squash, Red Onion and Ricotta Cannelloni is a delicious vegetarian dish that's perfect for cosy evenings in and utterly gorgeous when served with hot and crusty garlic bread.
- 1 tsp Sunflower Oil
- 300 g Hokkaido, Butternut Squash or Pumpkin, skin removed
- 1 knob Butter
- 100 g Red Onion, skin removed, thinly sliced
- 125 g Ricotta
- 1/4 tsp Dried Sage
- Salt (to taste)
- Pepper (to taste)
- 30 g Butter
- 30 g Plain Flour
- 300 ml Milk
- 1 Garlic Clove, skin removed, finely minced (optional)
- 8 Dried Cannelloni Tubes
- 50 g Strong Cheddar, Parmesan or Similar
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil.
Slice the squash into evenly sized wedges. Toss with the teaspoon of oil then lay on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes, until soft enough to mash with a fork.
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan on the hob and add the knob of butter. Reduce heat to very low and add the thinly sliced red onion. Cook the onion gently, stirring occasionally for at least 30 minutes. The onions should soften and cook without becoming crispy.
When the squash is cooked, remove from the oven and discard any crisp, black edges. They'll snip away easily with a pair of scissors. Tip the squash into a large bowl and roughly mash with a fork.
Once the onions are cooked, tip them into the bowl along with the squash. Add a quarter teaspoon of dried sage and stir well. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
To the cooled squash and onion mixture, add in the ricotta, salt and pepper. Taste the mixture to check for seasoning - you may need to add a little more salt than you'd expect.
To make the sauce, place the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan on a low heat.
Heat gently, whisking the mixture until the butter has melted and lumps of flour have disappeared. Using a wooden spoon, stir the sauce gently and continuously until it thickens and comes to a simmer. This will take around 10 minutes. Make sure to scrape the spoon across the base of the pan to ensure the flour doesn't stick.
Once the sauce has thickened and easily coats the back of your wooden spoon, remove it from the heat. Add the minced clove of garlic (if desired) and give it a good stir.
Choose a dish suitable for baking where the 8 cannelloni tubes fit snugly - or if serving individual portions, 4 tubes fit.
Turn the pasta tube on its end and gently fill with the ricotta mixture. Press a teaspoons worth of filling into the tube at a time, turning the tube around when half full (if required) to continue filling.
Put a thick layer of white sauce in your chosen baking dish. It's important that the pasta have a good layer of sauce to absorb from - or you'll find the pasta sticks itself to the baking dish.
Place the filled pasta tubes on top of the sauce, then cover completely with more white sauce.
Cover the top of the dish with tinfoil, ensuring it doesn't touch the sauce.
Preheat the oven to 180 C (fan assisted) or 200 C (standard).
Place the tinfoil covered cannelloni into the oven and bake for 30 minutes (or according to packet instructions).
Remove the tinfoil cover, add a good handful of grated cheese to the cannelloni top and return to the oven for 10 more minutes.
Serve with a tomato laden green salad, hot garlic bread or simply as is!