Many years ago -- like sometime during the Reagan administration -- I had one of those hand-cranked machines for rolling out pasta dough. It was a pain to use and I didn't use it all that frequently before I totally gave up on it, but while I was still using it I made lasagna noodles which created an unbelievably light and delicate vegetable lasagna. A lasagna you might even call ethereal.
After a long period of not making pasta, I bought a Marcella Hazan cookbook last year (and then another and another -- do you know how much I love being able to buy cheap used books from Amazon?) and I again became gung-ho on making my own pasta. Based on a recommendation in one of the Marcella Hazan books, I purchased a pasta roller that attached to a KitchenAid mixer but before I ever got to use the pasta roller it was discovered that mice had nested in our stove which pretty much killed any desire I had to spend long hours in the kitchen making pasta. In fact, it brought almost all kitchen activity to a screeching halt.
Our house was old and needed work when we bought it and the kitchen was pretty hellish even before the mouse nest discovery. The fiberboard cabinets that had been installed in the 1970s were crumbling and the gold laminate counters were peeling up. The refrigerator was about thirty years old and rusted. The tiles on the floor were peeling or had been taken up to reveal the concrete floor underneath depending on what part of the kitchen you were in and there was no ceiling, just joists and electrical wires overhead.
But soon after the mouse incident the kitchen was redone -- not because of the mouse incident, it was already scheduled, although the mouse incident did mean that I started calling the guys who were scheduled to do the work and hounding them about when they could start. All the many holes in the walls that were the mouse equivalents of the Holland Tunnel were closed up. The crumbling and decaying countertops and cabinets were replaced and the ancient, rusted, and mouse-housing appliances were replaced. It became a far more pleasant kitchen to work in.
Despite the new improved kitchen, what with one thing and another, I didn't get around to trying out my new pasta roller until this past week. Sometime in the last year I saw a recipe for Swiss chard and ricotta lasagna and when Swiss chard began appearing at the farmer's market it was the motivation I needed to get with the pasta making.
Except I couldn't find the recipe. I couldn't remember where I'd seen it and although I went through all my cookbooks that seemed likely to have such a recipe, I still couldn't find it. I did find a Lydia Bastianich recipe for cannelloni with ricotta and spinach though, as well as a recipe for ravioli with a ricotta and Swiss chard filling so using these two recipes plus what I had on hand as guidelines, I set about making cannelloni with Swiss chard and ricotta.
Making cannelloni is not a small project. I made a delicious tomato sauce from a Lydia Bastianich recipe one day, the next day I made the filling and pasta, and then baked the cannelloni the following day.
The cannelloni was not perfect; it was a little on the runny side -- I'm guessing I didn't cook down the Swiss chard enough. But the cannelloni was light and delicate, and completely delicious. Swiss chard has a wonderful toothsome texture and the sweetness of the onions played against the Swiss chard and the richness of the ricotta was addictive. I was eating the filling right out of the bowl.
My recipe for the filling was pretty simple:
1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves washed, stripped from the stems and ribs, finely chopped (I had a little less than 5 packed cups)
1 cup chopped scallions, white part only
1 cup red onion in medium dice
2 15-oz containers ricotta cheese
1. Saute the scallions and red onions over medium low heat in olive oil until starting to soften. Add the Swiss chard, add a pinch of salt, turn heat up to medium high and saute until Swiss chard is wilted and any liquid is cooked off.
2. Combine Swiss chard mixture with ricotta cheese, and add salt and pepper to taste. (This was the part where I couldn't stop tasting the filling mixture.)
3. Add egg and stir to thoroughly combine.
I used about 12 pieces of pasta that were approximately 5" by 6". I was a little too heavy handed with the filling and could have made it go farther. Marcella Hazan's advice on making cannelloni is to coat the piece of pasta with a thin layer of filling leaving a border of about 1/4 inch that is not coated. The cannelloni are then rolled up jelly roll fashion and placed, seam side down in a casserole dish (I used a 9" by 13" glass baking dish) that has a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. The cannelloni should be laid in the dish so they are not touching each other, covered with tomato sauce and a layer of parmesan cheese and baked in a 350 degree oven for 35 or 40 minutes.