Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni Made with Fresh Pasta

This boy had a birthday.

His 19th.
I made this for his dinner:

Being pretty amazing,
-the pasta, not the boy
although the boy is a great guy indeedy,
but that's another story for another day -
this pasta is also especially simple.
before this recipe was forgotten forever,
and never properly repeated again,
I put it down,
although not with paper and pen,
for posterity's sake. 

Afraid of fresh pasta making 
I no longer am.
My hope of all hopes
is now to relieve any fears
  had by my dear lovely friends.
I first embarked upon
my adventures in fresh pasta goodness
after watching this by Jamie Oliver:

Doesn't he make it look soooo simple.
Like, why would anyone buy pasta anyways?
He seriously makes a complete pasta dish
from scratchedy scratch
in under 7 minutes.
This good man inspires.
So pull out the dusty pasta roller
if it can be remembered
which nook it was
oh so many years ago
put to rest on.
let's give homemade pasta a whirl.

Along the way,
a few questions will I answer.
Such as,
Which kind of flour is best?
Do the cut noodles need to be boiled first?
Can I make it the night before?
These questions I answer
because these questions I had.
I  hunted and searched,
fiddled and mussed with it all,
so you can avoid such ponderings
and get down to the easy peasy
pasta making and eating!

The putting on of an apron.
This is a must if like me,
you are a messy goodness-maker.

For my marinara sauce:
 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 26 ounce jar marinara
1 28 ounce can tomatoes
pinch red pepper
1/2 cup red wine

To make your own marinara sauce,  saute onion and garlic in olive oil a few minutes, until soft. Add basil, salt, jarred marinara, tomatoes, red pepper, pepper and wine. Turn on low and let simmer for at least 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Or, skip it all. Use a jar. I won't tell.

My cannelloni  filling:
8 ounces frozen chopped spinach
2 12 oz containers ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Thaw spinach and squeeze out excess liquid. In a smallish bowl, combine spinach with ricotta, egg, salt and parmesan. Set aside.

For the fresh pasta dough:
4 eggs
3 cups unbleached flour*
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water
*Some, including Martha Stewart, say to use '00' flour. It's an Italian finely ground flour, mostly found at specialty stores at a higher price. I tried it, too. No big deal. I really couldn't tell the difference. And if one is going to make pasta more often, it's more practical to use what is already in the pantry! Simple is best, I say.

Combine eggs, flour, salt and water in food processor:

Mix the dough. If too wet, add a few tablespoons flour until crumbly. 
It should look something like this:

Shape into a ball, and divide into 4 pieces:

I know. That's only 3. But I didn't think to take a picture till I had already run one through the press.

Some say to let the dough rest 30 minutes under a bowl. Some, including Jamie Oliver, don't bother. I've tried both ways. When in a hurry I don't let it rest. When I get interrupted with mommy stuff, I let it rest and come back to it when I can. The dough really doesn't seem too fussy.

Flatten dough a bit, and run it through the pasta machine on the lowest setting. Fold in half and run it through again:

Now you are ready to begin making it thinner. You will no longer fold it, but will make one long and longer thin sheet. Turn the dial to #2 and run it through.

Now turn the dial to #3. Continue making your pasta very thin until you have run the pasta through on the #6 setting. Your sheet will be very long and translucent.

I found that if my pasta began to get sticky, lightly dusting it with flour inbetween settings was helpful. Keep your work surface dry and sprinkled with flour, too, for moisture is the death of pasta.

Cut the looooong sheet of pasta into squares:

If you lay them in a pile, be sure they are not too moist or they will stick to one another. Dusting liberally with flour eliminates stickiness. It also makes for dusty shoe tops. Make a note to self. Check shoes before going out of the house.

Guess what? You don't need to boil the sheets first. I have watched cooking shows and read blogs and other trusty recipes. They mostly say to boil the sheets first. Being someone who really doesn't like to be bothered with a guzillion  pans to wash in the end, I tried skipping the boiling step. It works!

Place about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mix across each square:

Roll it up:

Coat the bottom of a 9"x13" pan with half of the marinara. Place filled cannelloni on top:

Continue filling the pan, then top with remaining marinara:

At this point, it can be covered with plastic wrap and put in the fridge until the next day. Being one to always make things more practical and simple, I made 2 pans so I could try it. It really works. I love make ahead meals!

When ready to bake, cover with foil, and bake at 350 until bubbly and cooked through, about 30 minutes if room temperature, and about 45 minutes if it has been refrigerated. They will puff slightly. And look oh so yummy.

Remove foil and top with jack or cheddar cheese, returning to the oven for a few minutes until melted.

Let rest a few minutes before digging in. Now pour a nice glass of wine and enjoy sitting around the table with the family!

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