It has been a wet and rather cool summer here in Umbria that is quite different from the usual baking hot summer days that we are used to. Now that fall is right around the corner, the weather has finally become quite lovely with warm daytime temperatures and sunny blue skies. Although we did enjoy a full harvest of summer vegetables from our garden, I am happy that the approach of fall is bringing all the seasonal favorites that come with it, such as winter squash and a large variety of greens.
Although zucca (pumpkin) is available in every grocery store and outdoor market each fall, other winter squash varieties, such as butternut squash, are not so common. I recently discovered both sweet potatoes and butternut squash at a small health food store in Perugia. Since I have not seen either of these vegetables here in Umbria in the past six years we have lived here; I have already made a couple of trips back to this store over the last couple of weeks to stock up on both these vegetables.
We love butternut squash, and I use it in everything from soups to pasta sauces, and even desserts. I recently had a craving for a baked pasta dish and decided on cannelloni rather than lasagna which is my usual go-to baked pasta favorite. I wanted to make a vegetarian dish, so I paired the squash with some sauteed spinach, creamy ricotta, and finely chopped sage for the filling.
As my sauce, I decided on a simple béchamel sauce for this dish, to allow the roasted squash to shine. This dish turned out great, so I will certainly be making it again in the future. Since this baked pasta can be prepared a day or so ahead of time and refrigerated, it is a great dinner option to make when entertaining.
Since there were just two of us at home when I made this cannelloni dish, I divided it into two smaller casserole dishes and froze one. If you choose to do this, just make sure that the cannelloni have completely thawed before you bake them.
I find that if you are freezing a pasta dish such as this one that a little extra sauce is needed as for some reason the sauce seems to get absorbed into the dish during the freezing process. I find that roasting the squash brings out the flavor, and although I used spinach, any green such as Swiss chard or kale would also work well.
Although I always prefer fresh, frozen greens would work here as well. Just thaw the frozen greens completely, and then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. I added some chopped walnuts on top of my cannelloni which added some texture and crunch to this creamy pasta dish, but if you prefer, you can skip the walnuts and instead add a few fresh sage leaves.
- 1 Medium Butternut Squash, About 1 Pound, Peeled & Cut Into 1-inch Dice
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 4 Ounces Cooked Spinach, Drained Well & Chopped
- 1 (8 Ounce) Package Ricotta Cheese, About 1 Cup
- 1 Cup Grated Pecorino Cheese, Divided
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- 2 Teaspoons Finely Chopped Fresh Sage
- 1 Package Fresh Lasagna Noodles, About 8 (Or Make Your Own Homemade)
- 1/3 Cup Chopped Walnuts
- 4 Tablespoons Of Butter
- 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 3 Cups Milk
- White Pepper
- To roast the squash, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Toss the squash with the olive oil, then arrange on a baking sheet.
- Bake until fork tender, about 25 minutes.
- Cool to room temperature.
- To make the béchamel, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, and once it is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Cook for a minute or two until the flour just begins to take on some color.
- Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
- Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often.
- Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
- Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl and covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
- Cook the fresh lasagna sheets in boiling salted water for 1 minute, then place in cold water.
- Cut the sheets into 6 x 4 inch rectangles, and place on clean kitchen towels.
- In a bowl, add the squash, spinach, ricotta, 1/3 cup Pecorino, salt, pepper, and fresh sage.
- Mix gently, keeping the mixture slightly chunky.
- Spread 1 cup of the béchamel sauce in a 13x9 inch baking pan.
- Lay out each cannelloni and fill with about 3 tablespoons of the filling.
- Roll the cannelloni snugly and place seam down in the baking pan.
- Continue to fill the remaining pasta sheets.
- Spoon the remaining sauce over the cannelloni and sprinkle with the walnuts and remaining Pecorino cheese.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake covered with foil for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and bake uncovered until bubbly and lightly browned, about another 20 minutes.
- Serve two cannelloni pre serving.