Friday, February 15, 2013

Cannelloni can be imperfect

Tonight I created a recipe with mixed reviews.  Beforehand, I went to a shoot for a Health Magazine/Dancing with the Stars campaign.  We've been working with Cheryl Burke on a fitness routine for Health readers, and today Cheryl taught the routine to Ali Vincent for Ali's Live Well Network show. Ali was the first woman to win The Biggest Loser, and she's such a joy to work with. Love it when my job involves health!
Now back to this evening's eats.. After the shoot, I tried my hand at cannelloni-baking.  I'd never made these stuffed shells before, but I figured today was a good time to try because we had leftover spinach burgers that we could eat in case the trial went awry (but the experiment worked well enough that we didn't need the back-up option). 

Before I get into ingredients, note that there's one thing Justin would change about the recipe: don't include turkey bacon with the ground turkey filling.  And there are two things Justin and I would both change: boil the cannelloni shells (I'll call them c-shells) for a bit before stuffing them, and cover the top with more marinara to avoid any crunchy pasta corners.

-10 cannelloni shells (give or take a shell depending on how tight you pack them... I ultimately used 11 today)
-3/4 jar marinara sauce (If I did this again, I'd use a full jar)
-1/2 pound ground turkey meat (I used extra lean- 98% fat free- Jennie O.. The "extra lean" has far less fat and calories than even the "lean" kind)
-1/2 cup lowfat ricotta (this added just enough texture to the c-shell filling without making them too cheesy for my taste or my waist)
-1/4 cup chopped basil
-6 asparagus spears, chopped 
-1/2 onion, diced
-2 small strips of turkey bacon *omit if you have Justin's tastebuds*
-Salt, pepper & oregano (sprinkles of each to season the ground turkey while cooking)
- tbsp lemon juice

To start, sautee onion and asparagus pieces with cooking spray on medium-high heat for 5 minutes or so, until onions are slightly translucent.
Brown the turkey with salt/pepper/oregano and cooking spray, then add the sauteed asparagus and onions to the browned turkey.
**If you want, griddle turkey bacon until crispy. I thought the turkey bacon added some extra good flavor to the mix; Justin wasn't a fan (but he still ate his cannelloni)** Transfer the meat/veggies to a mixing bowl and add ricotta, lemon, basil, (and turkey bacon if you please) shredded into small pieces. 
Next, I went ahead and stuffed the c-shells without cooking them.  I thought that baking them for a long time with water at the bottom of the pan and marinara on top would bring enough moisture to cook them all the way through in the oven. I should have taken the extra step of boiling them for a few minutes to get them tender before stuffing. That said, mine were still cooked almost all the way through; there were just a few crunchy edges.  Maybe if you add more marinara, you could still avoid the boiling step. I feel like the c-shells would be more difficult to stuff after being boiled/tenderized.  They were very easy to stuff straight out of the box.

Here's my dish with water at the bottom (about 1 centimeter high) and stuffed c-shells.
With marinara on top (I should have added even more marinara to cover the shell edges and negate all edge-crunchiness post-baking).
I put the dish in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Here it is post-baking (you can see some marinara mixed with the water at the bottom).
I really enjoyed this meal and would definitely eat it again (even as is), but I do want to make some tweaks next time to make it even better (attempting the c-shell boiling pre-stuffing, adding more marinara on top, omitting the bacon for Justin).
I ate four delicious shells that were cooked to al dente perfection in all areas except for a couple small edges,  and I look forward to eating the few that were leftover for lunch :)

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