Mmm cannelloni – winter comfort food at it’s best: pasta stuffed with ricotta and greens, smothered in home made passata and cheesy goodness.
But first, one must forage one’s weeds. So off we went.
Can I just do a shout-out here for foraging as an excellent way to easily create kid-in-nature time, with bonus dinner.
It’s a bit like an easter egg hunt, only with weeds.
Even when he’s tired from a big day at preschool and starts off our mission by loudly reminding me that i promised we could read that new book as soon as we got home and why are we going down to the beach reserve when it’s cold AGAIN and that he’s hungry…. that doesn’t last long.
I think this is because the mission has a succinct purpose: gather a bag of weeds, so we can go home and cook dinner.
Within two minutes of being under the Melalucas with the sea in one ear and the windy treetops in the other, he’s happily poking around, looking for the right kinds of leaves to fill our basket.
This time, we gathered the young leaves of cobblers pegs, wild sorrel, dandelions, chickweed and warrigal greens.
One of the reasons I deeply love foraging with kids is because of the pattern recognition development. I LOVE this bit.
Little people’s brains are designed to gather patterns, and learn to recognise them.
Originally this skill has evolved partly to enable just what we’re doing: recognising which plant leaf shapes are good to touch and gather, and which are not.
I feel that often this capacity in our little ones now accidentally focusses on other patterns – how to recognise dora the explorer at 50 paces, or the golden arches of Macdonalds in the distance.
All these little brains with so much capacity to understand complex natural systems, and yet we plunk them down in front of a screen, again, and they fill up on patterns and systems there instead.
Anyway. I can’t really change all that.
What I can do is take my kid foraging for dinner, and show him the difference between dock and dandelion leaves.
And I can do this again and again, until it becomes part of his childhood, and his imagination, and his world.
But back to the cannelloni.
Soon, we had our basket full. A bit from here and a bit from there, not too much taken from any one patch.
We’re lucky to know of a patch of nature reserve that is not sprayed by council nor a former industrial site. So we’re confident that these weeds don’t contain anything they shouldn’t.
Home again, home again, jiggedy jig.
Gather a big basket of weeds. See here for references on how to identify what to gather.
Wash the weeds, take off any woody bits, blanch in salted water and squeeze out moisture.
Meanwhile, reduce a few big jars of tomato passata down to a medium thick sauce on the stove, seasoned with salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic as you like.
To make the ricotta
Take 4 litres of milk and heat to just below boiling – till the milk is foaming and steaming. Leave on the heat and add 4 tablespoons white vinegar + 4 tablespoons lemon juice.
Stir once or twice then immediately take off heat and let stand of 10 mins. The milk will curdle. Then drain through a colander lined with muslin (or a clean tea towel) and lo, the ricotta is done.
Chop up all the weeds finely and add to ricotta in a big bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and crushed garlic – maybe a sprinkle of nutmeg too. Mix it all up.
Then grab some cannelloni tubes and stuff the mixture in. (I have never been organised enough to make the cannelloni tubes from scratch myself, but if you want to, you could start here)
Lay the cannelloni tubes side by side in a big oven tray (or oven dish with a lid) and once you’ve used up all your ricotta/weed mix, you’re there.
Smother the cannelloni tubes in the hot reduced passata and then cover the lot, either with a lid or foil. Stick in the oven for about one hour at 180 degrees celsius
After an hour, pull your dish out of the oven, sprinkle good parmesan cheese on top, and put it back in, uncovered, for another 10 mins or so.
100% winter comfort yum.
With bonus natural pattern recognition.
What’s your favourite thing to do with weeds?