serves: 18 cannelloni (6 generous servings)
I always roast meats by adding some liquid to the roasting pan first, then allowing it cook away and the meat to brown. The aromatic steam penetrates the meat before the surface of the meat is seared by the heat. Then I add more liquid as the meat cooks, to make a delicious pan sauce.
Mortadella is one of those ingredients that give a tremendous amount of flavor to meat-based ravioli or cannelloni fillings. Think of mortadella as the Italian version of bologna, seasoned with Italian spices and studded, mosaic like, with pistachios and cubes of seasoned pork fat. Thinly sliced mortadella is delicious as part of an antipasto assortment or in a sandwich. Add the mortadella to the meat and vegetables when they're fresh out of the oven: The steam coaxes the flavor out of the mortadella. To grind the meat and vegetable mixture, you can use a hand-cranked meat grinder or a grinder attachment for an electric mixer. In either case, choose a disc that is fine, but not too fine. Although it isn't absolutely necessary, when I have basciamella handy, I like to stir a little into the meat filling. It helps to bind it and adds a smooth texture.
You can prepare this filling with a combination of beef, veal and pork, or with leftover roasts, like turkey, pork or beef. If you're making this filling with leftover meat, reheat it by simmering it with its own gravy and the porcini soaking liquid, the soaked porcini and some vegetables, like diced onions and celery and shredded carrots. When the meat is warmed through and moist and the vegetables are tender, season them, add the remaining ingredients and grind as above.
3 cups chicken stock, hot
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, (about 1 cup)
2 pounds fresh (not smoked) boneless pork butt or shoulder
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 stalks celery , trimmed and cut into thick slices
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed from the branches
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
4 ounces mortadella, in one piece
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 pounds bunch spinach or two 10-ounce packages spinach, stems removed, leaves washed and spun dry
freshly ground pepper
1¼ cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus more for serving, if you like
ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 large eggs, beaten
cooked pasta squares
Pour the hot stock over the porcini in a small heatproof bowl. Let stand until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain the porcini, reserving the liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove sand and grit and strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter or a double thickness of cheesecloth. Reserve the mushrooms and liquid separately.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the pork into 2-inch pieces and place them in a roasting pan large enough to hold them comfortably. Add the carrots, celery, onion, rosemary leaves and the reserved porcini. Season lightly with salt, drizzle 3 tablespoons the olive oil over all and toss well. Pour in the wine. Roast until the wine has evaporated and the meat begins to brown, about 25 minutes. Continue roasting, adding 1/2 cup of the reserved mushroom soaking liquid every15 minutes or so, until the meat and vegetables are well browned and the meat is tender, about 2 hours. At the end of the roasting there should be about 1 1/2 cups of liquid in the roasting pan. Drain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid. Toss the mortadella in with the meats and vegetables and cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Whack the garlic with the flat side of a knife, add it to the oil and until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add as much spinach as will fit comfortably into the pan. Continue cooking, stirring and adding the remaining spinach, a large handful at a time when the spinach in the pan wilts enough to make room, until all the spinach is added. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until all the spinach is wilted and tender. Remove from the heat.
Make the béchamel sauce.
Pass the meat and vegetable mixture through a meat grinder fitted with a disk with holes about 1/4 inch in diameter. Stir in the grated cheese and 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce, blending the filling well as you do. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Beat the eggs until foamy, then stir them into the ground meat mixture.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Ladle about 3/4 cup of the béchamel sauce in an even layer over the bottom of each of two 13x9-inch baking dishes. Spoon 1/3 cup of the filling in a more or less even mound along one edge of one of the pasta squares. Roll up into a tube, pressing and evening out the tube as you roll. Arrange the cannelloni into the prepared baking dish side by side and seam side down. Divide the remaining béchamel evenly between the two baking dishes, smoothing it into an even layer over the cannelloni. Drizzle about 3/4 of the reserved meat cooking liquid over the cannelloni, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle the tops with 1 cup of the grated cheese. Cover the dishes with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Uncover the baking dishes and bake until the tops are golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes. If the tops are browning unevenly, rotate the baking dishes from side to side and shelf to shelf then continue baking. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Lift the cannellini to warm plates with a spatula and spoon some of the sauce over each serving. Pass additional grated cheese if you like.