When my youngest daughter recently asked me to make my smoked duck cannelloni for her 12th birthday dinner I knew I was on a winner! Cannelloni had been, alongside gnocchi, my favorite food as a young buck (with interplanetary ambitions, no less) and still is in my top five of all time great dishes in my private Pantheon. In my heady days as a Sydney chef I had made a slew of cannelloni concoctions for the daily menu, with various meat and game fillings, and even one with a mixture of lobster and perch, which somewhat failed to appear a second time as I then discovered that seafood mixtures were best encased in choux pastry for optimum taste and presentation (the pasta made it look kind of messy.)
First of all, the pasta. Unless you want to make it yourself (I used to own an Imperia pasta machine, from Italy, a nifty contraption which could turn out pasta in any shape within minutes) you can purchase a very good brand, made with eggs, as in the pic above. The reason I don’t bother making my own cannelloni is because it is going to end up covered in sauce & cheese, baked till golden, and it would take some kind of extraterrestrial palate to differentiate between freshly made and bought, as long as I said before, make sure you buy a top brand. Besides, it is easier to fill and saves time. And the filling is the very thing to concentrate on.
The pic above is a mixture of minced lean beef, a little smoked duck, basil & coriander (cilantro) and couscous. Plus two free range eggs. I rarely measure my ingredients except for pastries & cakes so let’s say that for a packet of cannelloni (roughly 26 tubes) you would need the following:
200 grams of lean beef, 50 grams of smoked duck, 50 grams of couscous which is “swollen” with a little olive oil and boiled water – it takes, virtually, a minute to swell to size – a handful of sun-dried tomatoes (I prefer to use them instead of salt, half a pint of cream, half a pint of passata (tomato puree) 2 free range eggs to bind the stuffing, and pepper. I use a couple of handful of grated mozzarella for the topping.
Mix the minced beef, diced smoked duck (which is available in most delis or supermarkets), couscous, herbs: cilantro & basil, pepper and the two eggs. That’s all there is to it! I don’t use a forcing bag, I use my hands. Yes, I know it’s a slow process but I kind of like dwelling on my food, it passes the time. Fill all the tubes and lay them in a large baking dish.
Pre-set your oven to 240 Celsius (460 Fahrenheit). Sprinkle the tubes with a generous amount of grated mozzarella, like the pic below!
That’s all, folks! You can, if you wish, substitute the smoked duck and the beef for a vegetarian course, with chopped spinach, and just about any vegetable you like, as long as it is minced finely, and added to the couscous. There are no rules, just use your imagination. In a few days I’ll write about making a Beef Provençale stew, a traditional fare in my neck of the woods!