Let me set the scene. The day: A chilly-post Bell’s Eccentric Day after an early 2 hour car ride back to Ann Arbor. The mood: hungry and a little groggy (and always sleepy).
I have had this recipe bookmarked for a little over a week, and knew today…today was the day. What’s better for post-indulging nights than a hearty pasta dish? (and just to be clear, I was not hungover, simply drained)
Christmas Honeycomb Cannelloni – Cook Republic
Do you see this? The pasta doesn’t simply roll over and take that sauce, it STANDS UP as though possessed by the great culinary spirits from days of yore (breaking’ it down, the “NEW frontier” in the title of this post is the vertical frontier. Clever.). How could this NOT be good? It’s almost as fun to eat as the ingredients tell me it will be flavor-wise, according to the picture. And wouldn’t you know, it needs STICKS OF CINNAMON THAT I HAPPEN TO HAVE JUST PURCHASED! Victory all around.
The first thing I did was spend a ridiculously long time figuring out what type of baking apparatus I would use for this dish. I started standing up each noodle in the pans to see which would fit the best, and quickly abandoned that practice as it was TAKING FOREVER. I settled on my small red Dutch Oven, leaning down and whispering sweet nothings “today, today is the day we explore new territory, VERTICAL NOODLES, and we’ll take this chance….together. As equals.” But then after some quick complex-calculations, I realized it would be too small, and un-ceremoniously tossed it aside (not really, as that thing is heavy and capable of lots of damage). I settled on a spring form pan I usually reserve for cakes and the like.
Besides the pasta, there are 2 main sauces to tackle: red veggie mania, and cool and creamy spinach (I improvised the names a bit). The white sauce is really easy, and straightforward: sauté spinach, add sour cream, cream (or in my case, milk), and parmesan. Mix. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice. Boom. White sauced.
Now the red veggie mania has a little more prep involved, and that fancy ingredient: cinnamon stickz!
We start by sautéing some of the aromatics: cinnamon stick, bay leaf, dried chili pepper, and once fragrant, add LOTS OF ONIONS.
Once soft, add everything you have in your kitchen that you think would be good in a sauce: chick peas, red wine, chopped tomatoes, rosemary, black olives, garlic, mushrooms, carrots…hell, lets add some prepared tomato sauce too. And now we simmer.
It was at this point my previously selected understudy of the spring-form pan was starting to look too small. It wouldn’t have been able to fit just the monstrosity that was the amount of red sauce created. So I, again, started to weigh my options. I threw caution to the wind, and picked my BIG roasting pan, normally reserved for casseroles and big meats. For the record, that’s the 3rd baking dish I settled on (don’t worry, this time it was the right decision).
I poured about half of the red sauce on the bottom, and began the awesome task of standing up the noodles. At first I crammed them all together while I was placing them, afraid I’d run out of room. I filled 1/4 of the pan with about 45% of the pasta, and began to re-evaluate my plan of attack. It was spread-out-noodles time. After what seemed like full calendar days, I had them all standing up, and (somewhat) evenly spaced. While I would normally be upset at this point that my dish isn’t going to turn out like the prototype (THE PROTOTYPE!), I had long abandoned that notion around the second baking dish selection. I didn’t have time for frivolous thoughts: I was hungry, and it was sauce time.
Once the noodles are pointing high toward the sky, pour half the white sauce over the noodles (trying to get into each crevasse), and then do the same with the rest of the red sauce…and then the rest of the white sauce. The single coolest part of this was after pouring the sauce over the noodles, bending down and listening to the sauce break air bubbles in the noodles and sink in. *pop*pop*pop* It was like a strange pasta-equivilant of Rice Crispies.
And then we bake. We bake for 30 minutes. The longest 30 minutes of my life because at this point I’m STARVING, so much so that when there is 0:03 seconds left, I take it out of the oven, test a noodle, and my general reasoning and cognitive skills have left me as I think “this scalding hot and chewy….REALLY chewy pasta is PERFECT, just perfect!” and make 2 big bowls (one for me, one for John). After we finish it up, my senses start to come back to me, and I realize: ok, it needs to go back in the oven so the noodles can finish cooking. 15 minute later: perfection.
While mine didn’t turn out quite as pretty, it was damn DAMN tasty. The cinnamon notes are very pronounced, making it not-your-average-vertical-baked-pasta-dish. It lasted for roughly 8 meals (between John and I), which was just dynamite in my book.