Elk & Spinach Cannelloni
Courtesy of Chef John McGannon, wildeats.com
Yields about 30 5-inch cannelloni
Having grown up in East Coast Italian neighborhoods, I cherish the memories of preparing large amounts of labor-intensive dishes like lasagna, using homemade whitetail sausage and tomato sauce from our gardens. The gatherings were a celebration of life and often involved many contributors. I miss those days. You, too, can bring your family together and use your elk to make large quantities of cannelloni, which is a little labor intensive but a great culinary community builder. Once assembled, cannelloni are perfect for freezing.
4 lbs ground elk or other wild game (once defrosted, place in a colander overnight to drain the excess blood)
1 med yellow onion, diced small
4 celery stalks, diced small
1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste
To cook: Heat a large sauté pan with some olive oil. Season the ground meat with salt and pepper, and place a thin layer of the meat in the pan and brown. Add garlic, celery and onions and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the pan to cool, and repeat until the meat is finished. Cool as quickly as possible after cooking.
1 3-lb bag fresh spinach, drained and coarsely chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
Sauté the spinach in the olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Cool immediately after cooking.
4 lbs ricotta cheese
2 cups dried breadcrumbs
1 cup Regianno or Grana Padano Parmesan
½ cup heavy cream
1 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
10x8-inch fresh or frozen uncooked lasagna pasta sheets
Marinara Sauce, homemade or store‑bought
Once the meat and spinach are cooled, place them into a large mixing bowl. To that, add all the ingredients in the binding component. Mix well, adjust the seasoning.
Lay out the pasta dough sheets on a clean table with the long edge going left to right. Cut the dough sheet in the middle (see chart).
Take a 1-gallon ziplock bag and fill it halfway with the meat mixture. Close the bag and cut a 1-inch diagonal in one of the corners. Pipe the mixture along the bottom of the dough sheet about 1-inch thick along the shaded line (see illustration). Roll the mixture in the pasta dough to form a cylinder. Then cut the cylinders into 5-inch lengths. Continue until the entire filling is finished. Lay the uncooked cannelloni on sheet pans and place in the freezer, or place a thick layer of marinara on the bottom of a roasting pan. Arrange the cannelloni on top, leaving a little room in between each piece. Cover each cannelloni with a little more tomato sauce. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place into a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for five minutes. You can garnish this dish with béchamel sauce, pesto, grated cheese, fresh herbs, toasted pine nuts or whatever your favorite addition might be.
Bring a little East Coast neighborhood to your little corner of the world, wherever that may be!
John McGannon is a RMEF life member, host of wild game cooking seminars at Elk Camp and owner of WildEats Enterprises.