The Cannelloni

This weekend I made mushroom and spinach cannelloni. I actually did.

I picked the cannelloni partly because I’m currently a pescetarian (after we visited a farm on Easter and the little piglets looked up at me with their little snouts and little eyes that pleaded “let us live!”… I’m hoping it’s just a phase though.) but mostly because I kept seeing cannelloni tubes at the supermarket and, never having known such things existed before, was intrigued. The recipe was from the Mary Berry and Lucy Young book Cook Up A Feast.

This weekend I made mushroom and spinach cannelloni. I actually did.

I picked the cannelloni partly because I’m currently a pescetarian (after we visited a farm on Easter and the little piglets looked up at me with their little snouts and little eyes that pleaded “let us live!”… I’m hoping it’s just a phase though.) but mostly because I kept seeing cannelloni tubes at the supermarket and, never having known such things existed before, was intrigued. The recipe was from the Mary Berry and Lucy Young book Cook up a Feast.

My fist hurdle came when preparing the ingredients. I innocently went to get the called for can of tomatoes but when I opened the cupboard door something threw itself off the shelf at high speed only to break it’s fall in the casserole dish, which naturally shattered. Great. What on earth am I supposed to cook the cannelloni in now? And if that weren’t enough, at that moment, as if inspired, an opened bag of spaghetti followed suit and emptied its contents everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. I’ll be honest, I didn’t take it well, I may have even in the heat of the moment used an expletive. Internally I rounded on my boyfriend, Conor. It never would have happened, I raged to myself, if someone hadn’t overstuffed the cupboard, if someone knew how to organize things, if someone hadn’t just shoved everything up there when they unpacked the shopping last time… And then it hit me. That someone was me. I overstuffed the cupboard, I don’t know how to organize things, and I had unpacked the shopping last time. Sorry Conor.

My next hurdle: mushrooms. The recipe calls for 500g of mixed mushrooms roughly chopped. 500g is a lot of mushrooms. More than a lot. It’s loads. Conor and I have an ongoing debate on how to clean mushrooms (we also talk about interesting things). I was taught, although admittedly I can’t remember by whom, that you should dab mushrooms with a wet paper towel, or cloth or whatever, so that the mushroom doesn’t absorb too much water. Conor insists this is rubbish and that you can just rinse them. So here it was, Sunday afternoon, and I was righteously giving each mushroom a tender loving sponge bath. I had got through perhaps ten when I thought to myself “I’m doing pretty well here!” and checked the pile of mushrooms to admire the hefty dent I felt sure I was making in it. My pile was still 500g of mushroom strong… minus ten. This was going to take ages. So very calmly I made sure that Conor was not only out of the room, but in a far away enough room that I’d have time to hide the evidence should he start heading towards the kitchen, and I started grabbing mushrooms by the handful – chestnut, shiitake, button alike – and shoving them under the tap. Water absorption… really? They were fine.

So. 500g of mushrooms now washed. 500g of mushrooms now to chop. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say it took half an hour.

Now to actually make the cannelloni. The first step is to fry the mushrooms with the spinach in a frying pan. It crossed my mind, while trying to fit the mushrooms and spinach into a British size frying pan, that either Mary Berry and Lucy Young have never actually seen 500g of roughly chopped mushrooms and 225g of roughly chopped spinach, or they have access king sized frying pans. Whichever it was, 725g of food does not fit into my frying pans. I somewhat lost my cool as my carefully washed and roughy chopped to perfection mushrooms cascaded to the floor and periodically flew across the room. Enter my boyfriend. Calm in the face of crisis (and always confused by my freak outs in the kitchen) suggested I cook them in batches. It took some serious explanations, and eventually a physical demonstration for me to understand how he intended me to do this, but admittedly it was a good idea.

The rest was pretty easy. For those with patience, dedication to mushrooms, and giant frying pans, this recipe isn’t too complicated. I found a smaller casserole dish to cook it in and was relieved to see the cannelloni tubes were actually much smaller than I had imagined and would fit into it- although that did make spooning in the eventually fried mushroom and spinach mix a bit fiddly.

It came out of the oven looking amazing, and, to my delight, potentially edible. Admittedly the presentation went to pot as I spooned it out onto the plates, but I am very proud to say that it was not only edible, but was actually quite tasty.

In the future, if I make it again I will: buy pre chopped mushrooms, rinse them from the start (only when Conor isn’t paying attention), get bigger frying pans, and cook the mushrooms for longer (not all of them were fried enough and were a bit tough after being baked in the oven).

Not bad for a first timer, right?

Here’s the recipe:

Cannelloni

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 225g baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 400g can tomatoes, drained and juice disgarded
  • 2tbsp pesto
  • 75g freshly grated parmesan
  • 12 cannelloni tubes
  • For the sauce

  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • 900ml hot milk
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 heaped tbsp pesto

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms, and fry over a high heat for 2 mins, or until just cooked. Add the garlic and spinach and toss together until the spinach is just wilted. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside to cool.
  2. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Whisking all the time, gradually blend in the hot milk and the cream and bring to the boil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, remove from the heat, and stir in the pesto.
  3. Put the tomatoes into a mixing bowl, add the cooled mushroom mixture, the pesto, and one – third of the Parmesan. Stir to combine.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius (180 fan / 400F / Gas 6). Meanwhile, fill the cannelloni tubes with the mushroom and spinach filling, diving it equally among them.
  5. Spoon one – third of the sauce into the base of the ovenproof dish and arrange the filled cannelloni on top in neat rows. Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan.
  6. Bake for 30 – 35 mins.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30-35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Shortbread

Having always been a fan of shortbread, it’s surprising I’ve not made any before last week. I was inspired by our friend Sara Macdonald who gave some of her home baked shortbread to Darina for her birthday.

Turns out, shortbread is very easy to make. Just look at the main ingredients; flour, butter and sugar. Very simple, even regular bread has more ingredients.

Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 125 g butter
  • 60 g sugar and extra for topping
  • 180 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 190C.
  2. Start by mixing sugar, soft butter, salt and vanilla using an electric whisk
  3. Add flour and mix until just properly mixed. You should now have a bowl of crumbs
  4. Press into brick using your hand and place on the work surface
  5. Roll into a 1 cm thick rectangular and cut into fingers
  6. Place the shortbread fingers on a baking tray and freeze for 5-10 minutes
  7. Once they’ve gone a little hard, roll them in sugar and place back on the baking tray
  8. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they start looking golden brown around the edges

Quick notes

Be careful not to over bake or make them too thin, this will make them too cruncy. Unless of course, you want them too cruncy.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 12-20

Introducing Kate Robinson

I have a confession: I am 22 years old and I cannot cook.
Or bake. Or fry, or grill, or sauté, or flambé… I am, to put it bluntly, a complete disaster in the kitchen. To be honest, I’ve never really minded that much. There are lots of good restaurants, and ready meals, and I can make a salad, which requires little to no skill. But let’s be honest, when all else fails and I’m broke from the aforementioned reliance on restaurants, cereal for dinner never fails. Continue»

Note from the editor: Crofton Kitchen is now just under a year old. I started it simply as a place for me to share recipes I love but of course I’ve want to see it grow from that. I personally don’t have enough time to dedicate to writing new posts all the time as this still remains a hobby to me.

That’s why, I’m very happy to announce that Kate Robinson is starting her own column on the site. She’ll be here every couple weeks writing about her travels around the world and her journey of learning to cook. (She’s actually already a very decent cook but that’s besides the point.)

You should definitely follow her on Twitter: @littlest_robo and from the menu bar above under Kate’s Column. Big cheer everybody and over to you, Kate.


I have a confession: I am 22 years old and I cannot cook.
Or bake. Or fry, or grill, or sauté, or flambé… I am, to put it bluntly, a complete disaster in the kitchen. To be honest, I’ve never really minded that much. There are lots of good restaurants, and ready meals, and I can make a salad, which requires little to no skill. But let’s be honest, when all else fails and I’m broke from the aforementioned reliance on restaurants, cereal for dinner never fails.

So no, for the vast majority of my life it hadn’t even occurred to me to learn how to cook. Until I moved to London. (This requires a little back story, so bare with me, I’ll make it quick. I am originally from Stratford Upon Avon but moved with my family to Los Angeles when I was twelve. I have just moved to back to the UK, but to London via a 9 month stint in New York.)
Each place I have lived in has been an entirely unique experience, with each town / city being completely different from the last. There are all sorts of contrasts between them, which I will get onto another time, but the biggest one for me has been food. Not just what you eat, although that is relevant too, but the whole culture surrounding food. The mindset of eating.

You’d have thought, at least in the western world that eating is eating no matter where you are, but it’s not.

To be honest, my head is a cultural dumping ground when it comes to food. It’s a mess of contradictions and extremes. But I love food. Not just food, I love eating. And a long the way I seem to have surrounded myself with good cooks. It seems everyone here knows at the very least the basics. So, I have decided that now, inspired by those around me, and trying to sort through the cultural clutter going on in my head, is as good a time as any to learn how to cook. I’m excited to start!

I plan on sharing all of my successes–and the inevitable failures–along the long road to culinary competency… if not excellence.