Cannelloni with Spinach and Ricotta

Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors

Introduction

This recipe is a traditional Italian dish that combines ricotta and spinach with cannelloni pasta to make a delicious meal. Cannelloni can be served as an appetizer or entrée, but both ways are equally tasty! The best part is that this recipe is easy to make, so you don't have to spend time cooking for hours in the kitchen. To enjoy this dish, just follow these simple steps!

Watch this video on how to make cannelloni with spinach and ricotta

What is cannelloni?

Cannelloni is believed to have originated in the Tuscany region of Italy.

The baking dish consists of large tubes of cooked lasagna sheets (or pasta sheets), stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach or other fillings such as sausage meat and Parmesan cheese.

It was likely created by nuns who wanted a way for their vegetarian residents to enjoy a hearty meal similar to traditional Italian dishes like lasagne without using any type of meat product. It became popular amongst people outside convents when it spread throughout Europe after World War II because canned pasta had just been introduced - making the dish quick and easy to prepare on weekday evenings. Cannelloni are now eaten all over the world but remain most popular in North America where they're often served at weddings and other formal occasions.

The dish is usually served with marinara sauce or bolognese sauce or bechamel as a pasta course, but it can also be used in casseroles and curries such as lasagne soup. There are also many variants like vegan cannelloni (with vegan cheese) and chicken cannelloni.

Ingredients for cannelloni with spinach and ricotta

16 cannelloni tubes

½ cup of ricotta cheese

¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled

Salt and black pepper to taste (about a quarter or half tsp)

Optional: lemon zest.

One 14oz package of frozen spinach (or fresh pasta for homemade cannelloni; we list directions for that below), thawed and squeezed dry with hands.

Note: Separate into two piles for freezing - need about equal amounts when you combine them back together. Please note that this is the amount I use but it may be different depending on your recipe size. You just want enough spinach so that there's always some left over after adding these ingredients in later steps. If you see a lot of liquid coming out then put more than what I recommend here - maybe up to double if you’d like more sauce.

How to make cannelloni

To make the traditional style cannelloni:

  1. Make your own fresh pasta dough from scratch by mixing two cups flour (plus extra for dusting), two eggs, one teaspoon salt, half tablespoon olive oil plus warm water to form a pliable dough that can be kneaded on a flat surface until smooth.
  2. Allow mix to rest for at least 20 minutes before rolling it out into thin rounds or cutting strips using the width specified in recipe. (*Note*: thicker noodles will take longer time to cook)
  3. Boil pasta for up to two minutes or until it is cooked al dente.

For the stuffing:

  1. Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to boil. Add salt, cook spinach in boiling water for one minute before draining well, then place into a large bowl with ricotta cheese and garlic. Mix thoroughly (this should be done by hand).
  2. Fill half of each cannelloni tube with some spinach/ricotta mixture; top this off with sauce if desired (*Note*: you may need more than one jar depending on how many tubes are prepared), then cover these stuffed noodles together forming an "S" shape that will allow them to nestle tightly next to their partner when cooked.
  3. Cook pasta tubes in boiling water for five minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon, then place into ovenproof dish (could even be a large skillet) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges of pasta start turning brown. Can melt butter on top if you want.
  4. Remove from the oven; allow cannelloni shells to cool slightly at room temperature before serving on individual plates topped with extra sauce if desired and lemon zest.

Cooking tips for cannelloni with spinach and ricotta

If using frozen spinach, thaw and squeeze out excess liquid before adding to the ricotta mixture. This will help prevent it from getting too watery during cooking time.

You can also use a store bought pasta sauce instead of making your own. However, if you're not using the double layer technique for this recipe and want to make one from scratch - just add about two cups water or stock to a pot with some minced garlic cloves and chopped red onion over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, add in tomato puree (about half a cup) or tomato paste, salt & pepper before simmering on low until thickened into desired consistency which is usually around 30 minutes but can vary depending on how much liquid you added at first. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.

While it's cooking: mix together egg yolks and parmesan cheese along with the spinach mixture mentioned earlier in order to construct the filling inside cannelloni pasta tubes. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry dough into thin sheets and brush with a beaten egg before sprinkling on some parmesan cheese as well. Cut each sheet in half lengthwise and fill both halves with an even amount of filling (about two tablespoons). Close them up by pressing together the edges to seal it shut and lay one layer over top of another on your working surface. Next fold in opposite sides so they overlap then use a knife or pizza cutter to cut rounds that are about three inches wide, which will give you 12 equal pieces per cannelloni tube once cooked.

Serving suggestions for cannelloni with spinach and ricotta

Cannelloni with Spinach and Ricotta is great served as a meal or appetizer. Serve it topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese for an extra flavor boost!

FAQs

What is the difference between manicotti and cannelloni?

Manicotti shells and cannelloni are both filled pasta tubes that can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. The two pastas differ in size, shape, and how they are served. Manicotti tubes are the larger version of the dish while cannelloni is smaller in diameter. Cannelloni traditionally come three to an order while manicotti usually comes six to an order because it's a bigger pasta tube. Stuffed versions have more meat or cheese inside but you may find them with spinach or just ricotta as well.

How do you fill a cannelloni tube?

The answer to this question is a bit more complicated than you might think. The filling has three different components: the ricotta cheese, fresh spinach and heavy cream sauce. A good rule of thumb for cannelloni tubes is that four ounces (or about one cup) will fill each tube with it standing upright on its end. When I spread out my mixture in an even layer, I have found that six ounces fills up a tube beautifully when it lays flat on its side which makes sense since there are two layers of pasta instead of just one in-between the layers of filling! This way allows me to use less butter as well - bonus!

Do you cook cannelloni before stuffing?

No, you cook the cannelloni after stuffing (unless you're using homemade pasta, then different story; see directions above).

What is a spinach and cheese cannelloni?

A spinach and cheese cannelloni is a cylindrical pasta, typically filled with ricotta mixed with some kind of green vegetable. Spinach or chard are most common in the United States; Swiss chard is more popular in Italy. The dish can be found as an appetizer course, side dish, or main course (usually served with tomato sauce).

What do you eat with cannelloni?

The dish is usually served with marinara sauce or bolognese sauce or bechamel as a pasta course, but it can also be used in casseroles and curries such as lasagne soup. Meatballs are also often added to the dish. You could use any type of cheese you want in your cannelloni filling – ricotta, mozzarella cheese, provolone – whichever one sounds good!

How long can you keep cannelloni?

Cannelloni can be kept in the fridge for up to three days. If you want to keep it for longer than that, then freeze it. Leave any pasta dishes uncooked and frozen on a tray lined with greaseproof paper or cling film wrap until they are solid so that when you take them out of the freezer again later, they will defrost evenly without cooking themselves - this is known as 'flash freezing'. This also works well if you don't have time to cook but know you'll need something tasty at short notice!

Final thoughts on cannelloni

Hope you enjoyed this article about cannelloni!

Looking for more on Cannelloni and other similar content? Try these:

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Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors