Cannelloni Ripieni di Coste di Biete

Cannelloni with Swiss Chard Stalks

Among leaf vegetables, Swiss chard is my favorite. The leaves, sweeter and more delicate than spinach, can be boiled and served as salad, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; parboiled, then sautéed with butter and Parmesan or with olive oil and garlic; used in stuffing tortelloni; substituted for spinach to make green pasta. The stalks of mature chard are as meaty as celery without the strings, and considerably finer in texture. They can be braised, gratinéed, fried, stuffed, or made into filling for cannelloni.

Although this chard stuffing is derived from the preceding one with asparagus, its flavor has more force: One reason is that here I have used prosciutto instead of boiled ham; another is that the prosciutto, unlike the ham in the asparagus stuffing, is made even more savory by sautéing it with butter and shallots before combining it with the chard stalks. There is, moreover, a substantial difference in texture because, where the asparagus was chopped, the chard stalks are cut into long julienne strips.

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Ingredients

  • Enough Swiss chard to yield pounds of stalks (the total amount depends on the size of the stalks)
  • 5 tablespoons butter, plus additional butter for smearing the baking pan
  • 6 ounces Italian prosciutto, cut into ¼-inch-wide strips (if prosciutto is absolutely unavailable, substitute 8 ounces cooked, unsmoked ham)
  • ½ cup chopped shallots or onions
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • Homemade pasta dough made with 2 large eggs and 1 to 1¼ cups unbleached flour, as described

For the béchamel

  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • tablespoons flour
  • Pinch salt
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Method

  1. Detach the Swiss chard stalks from the leaves. (The leaves should be set aside for other preparations; see introductory note.) Wash the stalks well and cut them into sticks about 3 inches long and ¼ inch wide.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in the stalks and cook no more than a minute or two. Drain when still a little crunchy and set aside.
  3. Choose a skillet that can subsequently accommodate all the stalks with hardly any overlapping. Put in 2 tablespoons of the butter, the prosciutto strips, and the chopped shallots and turn on the heat to medium. When the shallots become colored a pale gold, add the chard stalks, salt, and a grinding or two of pepper and cook, turning the stalks frequently, for about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Prepare the pasta dough as directed, cut it into cannelloni strips, parboiling them, rinsing them, and laying them on a towel as described.
  5. Make the béchamel as directed. When done, put aside ½ cup of it. Transfer the rest of the béchamel to a mixing bowl, adding to it the chard stalks, the grated nutmeg, and cup of the grated cheese. Mix well.
  6. Cover each of the pasta rectangles with the béchamel and chard mixture, arranging the stalks so that they are parallel to the longer side of the rectangle. Roll up each strip of pasta loosely, jelly-roll fashion.
  7. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  8. Choose an oven-to-table baking pan that can accommodate all the cannelloni in a single, snugly fitting layer. Smear the bottom of the pan with butter, then spread 1 tablespoon of béchamel over the butter.
  9. Lay the cannelloni in the pan with the overlapping edge facing the bottom. They should overlap slightly. Squeeze a little béchamel between one cannellone and another, forcing them slightly apart.
  10. Sprinkle the remaining cup of grated cheese evenly over the cannelloni and dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter.
  11. Place the pan in the uppermost level of the preheated oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until a light golden crust forms on top. Allow to settle for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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