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Vegan Cannelloni With Spinach and Mushrooms

Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.

Vegan canneloni with potato wedges and salad

Vegan canneloni with potato wedges and salad

Vegan Cannelloni With Spinach and Mushrooms

The cannelloni they served at the restaurant I worked at many years ago was as far removed from a vegan dish as was possible. There was milk and eggs in the pancakes, and minced beef in the filling. Still, while I was there, I garnered enough knowledge on its preparation to be able to make a very tasty vegetarian version at home, using spinach and cream cheese.

In all my time as a vegan, I'd never ventured into the realm of cannelloni, but a rather tasty cream cheese I bought inspired me to give it a go. Here's how it went.

What Is Cannelloni?

Cannelloni is a type of pasta in the shape of large tubes that are filled with meat or vegetables and then cooked in a sauce. The version of cannelloni below uses thin pancakes instead of pasta, a technique that is actually as customary to South America as it is to Italy.

Many cannelloni recipes suggest laying the tubes in a tomato sauce base, and topping with béchamel or cheese sauce like a lasagne. In this version, which replicates that from the aforementioned restaurant, I top the cannelloni with tomato sauce and vegan cheese, I do intend making cannelloni in that style for a future article.

Cannelloni pancake

Cannelloni pancake

Step 1: Make the Pancakes

First of all you need to make your pancakes. For the best results, I find that a thinner crepe batter produces a more flexible pancake for rolling up. This ensures more filling and less stodge. I got six pancakes from approximately 400 ml of batter.

Ingredients

  • 130 grams (1 cup) plain or all-purpose flour
  • 240 millilitres (1 cup) unsweetened soya milk or any type of vegan milk
  • 1 tablespoon milled flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of hot water and set aside
  • Oil for frying

Method

  1. Mix the pancake batter in advance, and let it rest for a while.
  2. In a cast-iron skillet (mine is 7 inches across), cook the pancakes. When making pancakes, my golden rule is not to use too much oil. I use a paper kitchen towel to spread a thin layer of oil on the base of the pan. This works well, but I do have to be careful when re-oiling after several pancakes, as the pan becomes extremely hot. In these instances, I use a wooden spoon to wipe the oil on the pan. If you use this method, do be careful.
  3. With your pancakes neatly stacked on a board, trim the sides to make them a better fit in your baking dish, as in the photo below.

Tip: Don't discard the pancake trimmings. Drizzle on some syrup for a sweet treat!

Trimmed pancakes for cannelloni

Trimmed pancakes for cannelloni

Cannelloni filling with vegan cream cheese

Cannelloni filling with vegan cream cheese

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Step 2: Prepare the Cannelloni Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 5 or 6 regular mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 cup chopped spinach (canned, fresh or frozen)
  • 150 grams vegan cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sieved tomatoes (passata)
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Gently saute the onion in the oil until it has softened.
  2. Add the carrot and mushrooms and stir until all the oil has been absorbed.
  3. Add the spinach and passata, and stir, adding salt and a good grinding of black pepper.
  4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the ingredients are well mixed.
  5. Stir in the cream cheese (I prefer to 'marble' it in rather than mixing to a uniform colour).
  6. Put this to one side to cool a little while you make the tomato sauce.
Cannelloni filling 2

Cannelloni filling 2

Step 3: Prepare the Tomato Sauce

This is a basic but rich tomato sauce, made from everyday pantry staples.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup passata/sieved tomatoes

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and the oregano, and the chilli flakes if you are using them, and saute 30 seconds more.
  3. Pour in the passata and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and set aside.

This should yield enough sauce to cover your cannelloni rolls.

Cannelloni roll up

Cannelloni roll up

Step 4: Put It All Together

Cannelloni construction is a lot easier when a production line has been established. I have the spinach mix on my left, a clean work surface in front of me, and the baking dish to my right.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.
  2. Place the first trimmed pancake in front of you, portrait orientation, and add a spoonful of the filling to the end nearest you, leaving about half an inch of bare pancake.
  3. Using fingers and thumbs of both hands, pinch the nearest edge of the pancake, and gently draw it away from you, over the filling.
  4. Press the edge down, and roll up the pancake. This is quite an intricate operation, but one that is easy to master, and in no time at all you'll be rolling those pancakes like a cowboy rolling cigarettes.
  5. Carefully lift the pancake roll and place it in the baking dish.
  6. Repeat until the stuffed rolls fill the baking dish.
  7. If there is any spinach mixture left, spread it on top of the rolls to use it up.
  8. Spoon the tomato sauce over the pancakes, spreading it out evenly into all the nooks and crannies.
  9. Top with your favourite vegan cheese, grated.
  10. Place in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Vegan canelloni preparation

Vegan canelloni preparation

So What's the Verdict

I really liked this dish. The pancakes were suitably thin, and their contents agreeably savoury. Pockets of cream cheese were a tasty surprise, and the whole dish was flavoursome and filling. In fact, I have now made vegan cannelloni twice, as I wasn't happy with some of the photos of my first attempt, so I made it again the following day. Such dedication to the cause.

Stored in the will make again drawer.

Vegan canneloni - my second attempt

Vegan canneloni - my second attempt

Cannelloni Prep Playlist

Many moons ago, I borrowed a copy of a Chiswick Records compilation that featured this track. I have a vivid memory of playing this lively song repeatedly with a friend one Saturday morning, as we prepared to visit a funfair—me in a homemade Radiators From Space T-shirt. We spent way too much money on an old ride called the spinning eggs, which was like a big wheel but with capsules that revolved. As riders were in the upside-down position, coins fell freely from their pockets, never to be seen again. Such happy and carefree days are as distant as Jupiter today.

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