Serves 8 – 12
I served these luscious cannelloni at many weddings in my years at Material Culture, because the mild spinach and chicken filling is full of flavor and appeals to all ages, including children. If fresh spinach pasta sheets are available, use them for a more colorful dish. While you may substitute dry pre-formed manicotti tubes, fresh egg pasta sheets will yield lighter and more tender cannelloni.
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 (10-ounce) bag washed spinach
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream, scalded
- Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1¼ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 pound fresh sheets (preferably spinach), defrosted overnight in the fridge if frozen
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives, for garnish
- Prepare the Filling: Bring the stock to the boil in a large pot. Add the chicken thighs, bring the liquid back to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook the chicken until tender, about 25 minutes. Cool and drain, reserving both stock and chicken. Pick off any connective tissue and fat pockets from the chicken, then chop the meat. Strain the chicken stock and reserve.
- Fill a medium pot with a lid with about 1 inch of water and bring to the boil. Add the spinach and cook briefly until wilted. Drain the spinach and rinse. Drain again, squeeze the spinach lightly to remove excess liquid, and chop.
- Prepare the Sauce: In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook together over medium heat until light tan in color, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the reserved chicken stock. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly so the sauce is smooth. Season generously to taste and remove from the heat. Cover sauce with a lid or directly with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and reserve.
- Combine the chicken, spinach, and 2 cups of the sauce for the filling. Stir the cream, lemon zest and juice, and half the cheese into the remaining sauce for the topping.
- Cut the pasta into 24 (4-inch) squares, preferably using a ridged cutter. Bring a large wide pot of salted water to the boil. Lay out several clean kitchen towels on a work surface. Add the pasta sheets to the water in 2 to 3 batches.
- Boil until the pasta is half-cooked, 2 to 3 minutes, and scoop from the water using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon. Transfer to a colander and drain, then run cold water over the pasta to rinse off the surface starch and stop the cooking. Drain again.
- Arrange the cooked dough squares in a single layer on the towels. Repeat until all the pasta squares are cooked. (Try to work quickly as the pasta sheets will start to stick to the towels once they drain completely.)
- Assemble and bake the Cannelloni: Preheat the oven to 375º.
- Spread about ¼ cup of filling across the center of each pasta square. Repeat with the remaining squares and the remaining filling. Roll the cannelloni up tightly.
- Spread about half the sauce onto the bottom of a shallow baking dish large enough to contain the cannelloni in a single layer. Arrange the cannelloni parallel to each other in the baking dish with the seam side down, pushing them in gently so they are tightly packed. Drizzle the remaining sauce over top, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese. (If desired, cover and refrigerate up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before baking.)
- Bake 40 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Allow the cannelloni to cool about 10 minutes to set up, then sprinkle with chives and serve.