Cannelloni with Salt Cod and Fresh Tomato Sauce

I don’t know why one never sees cannelloni anymore. Probably they are considered too old-fashioned, and in the past always received a thick béchamel or white sauce, plus a little mediocre cheese and tomato paste. But when cannelloni are cooked properly, they can be one of the finest, subtlest, and most ethereal of all pastas.

This recipe can be made a few hours in advance of the final cooking and generates at least two cannelloni per person.

Ingredients

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the rolled-out pasta into 4-inch by 3-inch rectangles. Cook in batches of 6 in 8 quarts of gently simmering salted water until almost tender. Remove with a skimmer, dip the pieces of cooked pasta into iced water for a minute, and then drain them on both sides on dishtowels.

Lightly butter an ovenproof 2-inch-deep gratin dish just big enough to hold the rolled-up stuffed pieces of pasta with ½-inch space between them.

Lay the shapes out on a flat surface, and put 2 tablespoons of cold creamed cod ½ inch off one of the long edges, and ½ inch away from each end, and roll up. Place seam side down in the dish. Up to this point the cannelloni can be made 2 hours in advance, if they are tightly covered and refrigerated.

Warm the tomato sauce. Add the lemon and basil to the salted cream and whip it until it just holds its shape on the end of the whisk. Then fold the cream into the tomato sauce. Salt and pepper the sauce lightly if it needs it, then pour the sauce over the cannelloni. Put the dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until heated through.

Variations

For other sauces, think about a puree of fresh wild mushrooms, or an artichoke puree with some dried wild mushroom puree mixed in, or any kind of leftover meats chopped up and mixed with herb-flavored sour cream. For other stuffings, think squash blossoms filled with blue cheese stuffed inside the cannelloni (or use just the blue cheese). And don’t forget a stuffing made from half pureed and half chopped braised sweetbreads mixed with tongue and black truffles, with a creamed puree of Jerusalem artichoke sauce on top and more black truffles on top of that—a dish that is perfect for Christmas Eve, since when you’re on your second bottle of champagne, all you have to do is put the dish in the oven and listen for the timer.

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