Squash and Sage Honeycomb Cannelloni

There is a reason that Italian families like to get together and feast: they get to eat food like this. It takes a little time and effort to make (though not too much) but it will comfortably serve six people until they burst, with a little left over as well!

It’s a similar idea to a lasagne, though with a very different – and impressive – look, and like lasagne it is deeply comforting. Be careful though, this isn’t diet food so you shouldn’t make it every day, or even every week, but as an occasional celebration meal this ticks every box.

To cut through the richness of all the cheese, the perfect accompaniment is a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

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RECIPE serves 6

1kg of butternut squash – 400g diced into 1cm chunks, 600g cut into bigger chunks

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large onions, finely chopped

15 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra (roughly shredded) for sprinkling

4 garlic cloves, crushed

500g ricotta

a pinch of sugar

a small handful of walnuts, chopped, plus a few halves for sprinkling

500g mascarpone

300ml full-fat milk

1/2 tsp of grated fresh nutmeg

100g grated parmesan, plus a little extra for sprinkling

500g dried cannelloni tubes

100g Gorgonzola, diced


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6. Toss the 1cm diced squash on a baking tray with 2 tbsp of the oil and a little seasoning. Roast in the oven for 20-25 mins until the squash is tender and browning.

Meanwhile, put the bigger chunks in a microwave-proof bowl with about 200ml water. Cover with cling film, pierce a couple of times, and microwave on high, in several 4 minute bursts (with a few minutes rest between each burst) until really soft. Drain off the water and leave to cool for a little while.

While you’re doing this, put the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat with the onions, sage and garlic and cook gently until softened. Set aside to cool.

Now prepare the pasta: bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add six or seven cannelloni tubes at a time and boil for 2 mins, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick together. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drop into a basin of cold water so you can handle them. Use scissors to snip each tube in half, but don’t worry if the results are jagged because uneven bits that stick up out of the sauce add visual interest as well as charring and browning to add variety of texture and taste.

Mash the microwaved squash, or blitz in a blender, then mix with the ricotta until smooth. Season well and taste – it may need a little sugar to bring out the sweetness of the squash. Stir in the onion mixture and the walnuts, then gently stir in the roasted squash, being careful not to break it up.

Whisk the mascarpone with the milk, nutmeg, Parmesan and generous seasoning until smooth. Spread just over half the sauce into a big ovenproof dish.

Stand the halved cannelloni tubes upright on their smooth ends, snuggled together as tightly as possible, in the sauce in the dish. You can try piping the squash and ricotta mixture into the tubes, but really, life is too short. It is much easier just to take a teaspoon and roughly spread the mixture over the top of a few tubes at a time, pushing the mixture down into the tubes, and the gaps between them.

When all the filling is used up, dot the top of the cannelloni with diced gorgonzola, a few walnut halves and some shredded sage leaves, and drizzle the remainder of the mascarpone sauce over everything. Finish with a generous grating of Parmesan over the top, then bake, uncovered, in a 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6 oven for around 30 mins until the top is crisp, the sauce is bubbling and the pasta is softened.

Leave to rest for ten minutes and serve alongside a simple salad of segmented oranges tossed through a big bowl of rocket leaves.

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