Mushroom and Pancetta Cannelloni

Martha Sarfaty / March 8, 2012, 11am

I’ve been hearing that it’s unseasonably warm outside, but I honestly wouldn’t know. The Cheese Shop remains a climate-controlled icebox (all for the good of the cheese) year-round, and I’ve been spending most of my days off re-watching Twin Peaks and eating obscene amounts of potato chips. I’m in a winter slump, and it ain’t pretty. On the one day I managed to motivate myself onto a bicycle and off to the farmer’s market, I found it full of a meager selection of cold-storage apples and some not-quite-exciting-anymore braising greens. There were, however, lots and lots of funghi. They called to me, ‘Cover us in butter! Smother us in cheese! We want to be devoured!” And I just couldn’t resist. A pound of mushrooms and a quart of Ronnybrook chocolate milk (don’t judge) later, I pedaled back home and got to chopping.

During these bleak wintry times, there are plenty of foods we can eat to help us stay energized and healthy. Citrus, kale, beets; bright, colorful produce that keeps one’s spirits high. But, there is also a little guy called fat that does just as great of a job at curing winter blues, and there is lots and lots of good fat available at Bedford Cheese Shop. For instance, BACON. Yup, bacon. It’s good for you, right? Ok, so maybe it’s not. Buuuut it is delicious. And delicious things make you feel good. Plus, if you use bacon in moderation, and pair it with a bunch of other healthy stuff, it all evens out.

We have lots of options when it comes sweet, salty cured pork and for this dish, I chose some pancetta from one of my favorite producers, La Quercia. The fine folks at La Quercia have been curing pork in Iowa since 2005. They source heritage breed, vegetarian-fed, antibiotic-free pigs from within 200 miles of the curing facilities, use only organic spices and domestic sea salt, and take the greatest of care to ensure that their products are always in tip-top shape when they arrive at our door. They produce a huge variety of piggy products, and I have yet to try one that isn’t totally, insanely delicious.

Next up in my mission to smother some ‘shrooms, CHEESE. Did you know that we have over 600 cheeses in our master inventory list? Seriously. Six. Hund. Dred. And counting. How are you supposed to wander in on a casual Saturday afternoon and just PICK ONE?! Well, lemme let you in on a little trade secret: if you’re going to be cooking with your queso, let your monger know right off the bat. They’ll be less likely to steer you towards something that costs $72/lb and more likely to find you a cheese that has good melting capabilities, or salad crumbly capabilities, or blue cheese dressing capabilities, or whatever it is you want to whip up. For this dish, I wanted a simple goat cheese that would melt into a bechamel sauce, something with enough bucky bite to stand up against all that butter and milk, but still on the cheap side since I’d need to get a lot of it. Enter Westfield Farm. These folks have been cranking out goaty goodness in Hubbardson, Massachusetts since 1971. Their Capri fresh Chevre is lemony, astringent, creamy, and way cheap. Mmm… goat crumbles, how I love thee.

Finally on shopping list is something to stuff all this junk into. Rusticichella d’Abruzzo makes really tasty pasta, sauces, oils, and other  goodies and is super fun to say in an exaggerated Italian accent. They have a whole section on their website titled ‘secrets’. Very Italian. These guys know what they’re doing. Extra glutinous local wheat, mountain spring water, up to fifty hours of drying time, this stuff is legit. I’ve made a lot of pasta in my day, and Rustichella’s products are without a doubt my favorite. They also have this really nifty process of molding their shapes in bronze that gives each noodle a little extra texture so that it absorbs more sauce. Science, y’all.

With all our ingredients in place, it’s time to get cooking. You can’t go wrong with all these awesome parts, unless you’re as spastic as I am and forget to check the size of your pan before filling it with noodles and then you have this weird little triangular area of noodle-free-ness. Whatever. It was still delicious. And as for those winter blues of mine? Well, as they say in Italy, “Mangia che ti passa.” “Eat and it will be better.”

Mushroom and Pancetta-stuffed Cannelloni with Goat Cheese Bechamel

For bechamel:
¼ cup unsalted butter (plus more for greasing)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, heated
100 g Westfield Bulk Chevre, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon salt

For Cannelloni Filling:
200 g La Quercia Pancetta, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
300 g button mushrooms, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
100 g Westfield Bulk Chevre
Salt

1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

1 box Rustichella d’Abruzzo Cannelloni noodles (you won’t use the whole box)

Pre-heat your oven to 300º. Prepare a shallow, rectangular baking dish by greasing it with butter. To prepare the bechamel, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Add in warm milk and bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat and stir in Chevre, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Set aside. To make cannelloni filling, cook pancetta in a skillet on medium-high heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Add the garlic to the reserved fat and cook until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they have lost, and then regain their moisture. Add thyme to skillet and cook a few minutes more until fragrant. Remove from heat and combine mushrooms with pancetta, Chevre, and salt to taste. Using a teaspoon, fill cannelloni shells with mushroom mixture. Add 1/2 cup of Bechamel to prepared baking dish. Add filled shells to dish in a single layer. Cover shells with remaining bechamel. Sprinkle Parmigiano Reggiano over dish and cover with foil. Bake, covered for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking for an extra 15 minutes, or until top of dish is browned. Let cool slightly before serving.

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