As I type this I am looking out at someone hanging a picture of a clown’s face on the outside of a restaurant. The plethora of colourful costumes for sale on the streets, and huge plastic cartoon-figure statues means one thing: it’s Carnival time. In fact, various celebrations kick off today. Food wise, this also means that people will begin the annual fasting period before Easter. Today is known as “Tsiknopempti”, the day when everyone traditionally enjoys lots of meat, like Cyprus “loukanika.” Thereafter, if one fasts, one has to avoid meat (but it’s ok to eat dairy during this time) until “Green Monday” (3 March 2014). “Green” Monday always sounds funny to me. But the name makes sense. On “Green Monday”, families traditionally have a picnic outside, eating greens and other fasting foods, such as seafood. People also fly kites. After Monday, fasting continues until Easter. Personally, I do not choose to fast, but I have a lot of friends and family who do. No matter what though, I always find myself eating more greens this time of the year, simply because it is the time of the year that Cyprus greens are in season. So it’s actually the best time to eat greens! I love this recipe below. It is not only a favourite recipe of mine, but is also a “fasting food” that can be enjoyed before Clean Monday. It has no meat, just cheese, tomato, herbs and – my favourite part – pasta.
The recipe was given to my family by our former Sicilian head-waiter. It reminds me of the type of meal that I can see big Italian families sitting down to enjoy at lunch time. If you love Italian cheese, you will love this recipe. It is sure to impress if you have a dinner party. What I love about this cannelloni recipe is that it has a lot of flavour for a fasting food. Particularly the tomato sauce, which you can also use over pasta with some freshly grated parmesan.
And what I love about using ready-made cannelloni (my preference is Mitsides cannelloni) is that I don’t have to make it from scratch. My preference is to pre-cook the cannelloni a bit before I place the tubes in the oven. Because, once in the oven, it then only takes about 15-20 minutes until you are eating cheese-y perfection. I used ricotta as the base cheese, but I have wondered if you could substitute this with fresh anari cheese. Also note that pecorino romano is a strong salty cheese, it reminds me a bit of the Greek cheese “kefalotyri”. I hope you enjoy this recipe. It’s perfect for this time of the year. Happy Cyprus (or Italian!) Cooking. xx
1. Prepare the tomato sauce. (You can do this a day ahead of time, or make it well ahead of time and freeze it). Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a frying pan on medium-high heat. Once hot, add garlic and onion and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes on medium-high heat. Add your freshly chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle about 1 tsp of sugar on top of the tomatoes and leave for about 1 minute. (Sugar brings out the sweet flavours of the tomatoes.) Stir. Then add 1 can of Mitsides chopped tomatoes and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the sauce reduces a bit. Add salt & pepper to taste. Add basil at the very end, so that it doesn’t wilt as much. Let cool in the pan.
2. Make the stuffing mixture. Stir ricotta, parmesan, pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano, mozzarella, mint, nutmeg, hot pepper flakes and beaten egg together. Add salt & pepper to taste.
3. Boil half a package of cannelloni (about 20 tubs) in chicken broth (or salted water) until it is ready to be eaten, but on the al dente side.
4. Gently strain the cannelloni (but keep 1/4 cup of the chicken broth/salted water) and immediately place the cannelloni tubes in cold water to prevent sticking.
5. Fill a piping bag with the cannelloni mixture. (Use a ziploc bag and cut of one of the corners off if you do not have a piping bag.)
6. Take one cannelloni at a time, and with the piping bag fill it with the cheese mixture and place in a baking pan.
7. Pour about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of the chicken broth in the bottom of the pan, (1/4 cup if your pasta is very al dente, 1/8 if your pasta is cooked). Spoon the tomato-basil mixture on top of the cannelloni, ensuring to cover each cannelloni tube with some sauce.
8. Cover the baking pan with tin foil and place in an oven preheated to 175C for 15 to 20 minutes until ready.
9. Remove and let cool for 10 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan and fresh basil to