When the nights draw in, we need comfort food. This butternut squash and chicken filled cannelloni tubes is a very warming dish on a cold winter’s evening.
The Instant Pot is probably one of the most versatile investments I have ever made! Never in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined that I will be telling people that I have made a pasta bake in a pressure cooker – it just doesn’t sound right… But it works!
I am a great fan of pasta – I will eat it morning, noon and night if I could – and with the added butternut squash, this is a winning dish for me.
The spinach adds an earthiness whilst the sage just lifts the dish to a whole new level. The feta is subtle enough, but provides a certain type of luxury that just sends the whole pasta bake from ‘Friday night’ to a ‘cosy dinner party-worthy’ dish that provides style yet brings comfort.
Here’s what I have learnt making this dish several times:
I’ve made this dish by both roasting the butternut or by putting it in the pressure cooker for 12 minutes until tender. Roasting in the oven gave a much sweeter depth of flavour to the entire dish – something I really liked. Since the sugars in the squash doesn’t caramelise in the pressure cooker, it was still tasty, but it lacked a little for me.
Use frozen spinach! Frozen spinach is already chopped. I simply add it to the hot butternut and this causes the spinach to defrost and the mixture to cool enough for me to add the feta, chicken and sage.
I’ve only once before have been crazy enough to try and SPOON the mixture into those tubes. Never again! It was fiddly, messy and took a very long time. Since I’ve switched to piping the mixture into the tubes it has both saved time and ensured a mess-free surface. Just ensure that your chicken is very finely shredded and chopped and that the hole you cut at the bottom will allow all ingredients to pass with ease without being too big for the cannelloni tube.
There will definitely be leftover filling. I use it to plug the gaps in the tin between the tubes.
Chop the ingredients for the red sauce very finely. You also want to cook it for as long as possible on a very low heat to allow the flavours to develop. I find that it just burns if I try to make the sauce in the pressure cooker itself so I will let it blip away on the stove instead.
I sometimes use my pressure cooker’s sauté function as a double-boiler by putting a pyrex mixing bowl over the top of boiling water. Bechamél made this way takes a bit more time, but it is quite gentle in flavour and doesn’t burn!
Mozzarella cheese (fresh!) is very subtle in flavour and therefore doesn’t overpower the strong flavours of the feta or the sage, but does provide the all-important cheese-pull.
I’ve tried cooking this pasta bake at various times. The best results have been to put it in the pressure cooker for 40 minutes and leave it to naturally depressurise. If you are lucky enough to own a Duo Crisp you can just swap your pressure cooker lid out for your air fryer lid and broil the top of the bake until it is golden.
Alternatively you can simply pop it under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown.
Of course you don’t have to put this in a pressure cooker at all! You can cook the entire dish in the oven (I find 180-200℃ best) for around 50 minutes to an hour. Since the pasta is raw when it is put into the oven, it needs time to cook. Especially if you have more than one layer.
Although in the recipe I’ve stated that leaving the cooked dish for 20 minutes before serving is optional, I never forego this step. This is the time when the dish comes together. It has time to adjust from unbelievably hot to just-nice-to-eat warm and the starch in the pasta has time to set the sauce so it isn’t a runny mess on your plate.
As I make it in a springform tin, I like to put the dish on a plate and showcase it on the table. The layers just display so beautifully!
Although this is a fiddly dish to make with lots of elements, it is worth it. You can make several smaller dishes and place (uncooked!) in the freezer for a fuss-free weeknight dinner. Or you can make this as large as your pressure cooker can handle and make a show stopping dish for your closest friends.
Serve this butternut squash and chicken cannelloni with a crisp green salad, some garlic bread and a good red wine.
Place butternut squash in an oven proof dish and roast for 30 minutes at 180℃ until tender. You can also put the two halves in the instant pot for 12 minutes until tender.
In the meanwhile, finely chop the spinach, sage, and chicken breast and crumble the feta.
Once the butternut is tender, take out of the oven/Instant pot. Discard the seeds and peel off the skin. Mash. Combine with the chicken mixture.
Fry the onion and mushrooms.
Add the fresh herbs, tomatoes and season. Cook until thick. Cool to room temperature.
Melt the butter over a low heat.
Beat in the flour until a thick paste has formed.
Slowly whisk in the milk and add the seasonings. Keep whisking over a low heat until thickened.
Spoon the butternut and chicken mixture into a piping bag. Pipe into dry cannelloni tubes until they are completely stuffed.
Place foil tightly around the outside base of a 7-inch spring form tin.
Scoop a third of the red sauce into the base and arrange the cannelloni tubes in a single layer over the sauce. If any filling is left over, spread this over the top of the tubes along with another third of the red sauce and arrange another layer of filled tubes over the top of those. Layer with the last third of the red sauce and then the Bechamél sauce.
Place in a pressure cooker for 40 minutes. Once cooked, let the pot depressurise naturally for 15 minutes before releasing the valve.
Scatter over the cheese and place under the grill to melt.
OPTIONAL: Let the pasta dish stand for 20 minutes to allow the sauce and pasta to set before eating.
I absolutely love serving salads as part of our dinner in the evening, however, I do like to keep things interesting as I would hate for it to become just another side-dish that have to be consumed just because it is healthy.
There is just something about the saltiness of bacon and the creaminess of avocado that is just meant to be. Throw in some chicken, blue cheese and an Instant Pot and this will quickly become a staple dish in your household.