Think you can’t pull together a successful stuffed pasta dinner without hours in the kitchen? You can Cannelloni! One simple shortcut makes this is an attainable, impressive Italian feast that will have your guests toasting the chef!
They say gratitude is one of the best ways to keep the blues at bay.
Taking some time to think about all the things you’re thankful for shifts perspectives in a really positive way and helps with that whole “glass half full” thing. Maybe you’re thankful for friends or family.
Maybe you’re grateful for your health or a much-needed day off, or maybe just a glass of wine with your name on it.
Me, I’m thankful for the brilliant chef, cooking in some makeshift kitchen back in the Middle Ages, who decided stuffing pasta was a great idea.
Yes, it was actually that long ago when people first started stuffing their faces with little pasta pies, or torte, which typically had meat or cheese fillings, fragrant spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and sweet condiments like marmalade or dried fruit. Essentially large raviolis, these were hand-held, inexpensive snacks and meals designed to be hearty and portable.
Cannelloni pasta, the large stuffing shells traditionally used in this dish, became popular in the late 19th century.
My Cannelloni isn’t exactly portable, unless you consider the casserole dish, but the ingredients definitely pay homage to the original stuffed pasta recipes. This stuffed Cannelloni, which means “big pipe,” in Italian, has a rich, colorful filling of spinach and three types of cheeses, seasoned with Italian herbs and a pinch of nutmeg, all tucked into delicate sheets of pasta and baked with a homemade (but quick!) marinara sauce.
It’s everything you want in a classic Italian meal, the kind that’s cooked with love and shared with your closest friends and family.
By the way, the difference between cannelloni vs manicotti? There isn’t one! Manicotti (which means “big sleeve”) is just the term we use for the same tubular shaped pasta in the U.S. The word “cannelloni” sounds just like it’s spelled, but if you want an authentic sound to cannelloni pronounce it with an Italian accent!
We’ll start with the marinara, which is a flavorful but simple sauce to put together (sometimes I even double this part of the recipe just to freeze some for last-minute pasta cravings).
I do recommend using a high quality, extra virgin olive oil since it’s the hallmark of a great Italian sauce and you’ll definitely be able to taste it. The carrot’s a little bit of a surprise ingredient here, but it adds a subtle sweetness that tames the acidity of the canned tomatoes.
The sauce needs to simmer for a little while so the flavors can fully develop, but you can work on putting together your filling while it’s doing its thing. There are two basic options when it comes to stuffing this or any other pasta: meat cannelloni fillings (either beef or chicken cannelloni) or cheese like the one I’m sharing today. (If you think you’ve heard about a cannelloni dessert, you’re probably thinking about cannoli which has a similar shape but is fried and stuffed with a sweet ricotta filling.)
The pasta on these is so delicate, and I think the texture gets lost a bit if you make a meaty filling, so for my cannelloni spinach and ricotta are the main ingredients.
Ricotta, with its unique soft, slightly granular consistency, is not your typical cheese. Most firm cheeses, including the mozzarella that has a pretty important seat at the table in this recipe, is made from the solids leftover after straining the liquid (whey) from milk that’s been heated and often “acidified” with some bacteria.
Ricotta, on the other hand, is actually made from the whey. This makes the tiny curds light and airy and creates a creamy cheese with a wonderful texture that contrasts perfectly with the soft pasta. It comes in skim or whole milk varieties, and I like to use the whole milk here.
We’ll use some Parmesan for its lovely nutty flavor and some mozzarella to add a lovely melting quality.
To preserve this thick, rich concoction, you’ll want to make sure the spinach is really dry. I like to put the thawed spinach into a tea towel and wrap it up to help wring out all the extra moisture. I find this works more effectively than my hands, plus I don’t have all the little bits of spinach clinging to my fingers.
You’ll also notice a pinch of nutmeg in the filling. Although we love to add this sweet spice to sugary desserts in the U.S., the Italians often pair it with savory dishes, especially ones with spinach.
There’s some magic that happens when you combine the two, and it even helps bring out some of the subtle flavors in the cheeses.
Now here’s the trick that transforms the stuffing process from a time-consuming and tedious task into an easy cannelloni recipe.
Since stuffing traditional cannelloni shells can be a bit of a bear and hard to fill without tearing, I like to use Barilla’s no boil lasagna noodles instead.
I just LOVE this idea, and they even make a gluten-free version if needed. The lasagna noodles are so much easier to handle, even though they do still require a little time to parboil (just to make them pliable). Basically if you can handle a rolling pin, you’ll find these are a piece of cake to put together and much less trouble that managing a piping bag and pasta tubes.
Everything gets layered and baked (with more cheese!) in the oven and served to wow-ed guests.
This is a great dish to freeze, either before or after it’s baked. You’ll just need to thaw it in the fridge overnight and either cook it according to the directions below or warm it through if it’s already been cooked.
This is also one of those recipes I like to make and take to new parents or other families I might want to deliver a ready-to-eat meal to. It feeds a crowd, and, like lasagna, I think it’s even better the next day!
Say “yes” to hosting dinner at your place soon! All you need is a nice salad and plenty of fresh bread to capture the dribbles of tomato sauce on your plate. Oh, and wine – plenty of red to make this a real Italian night to remember!
Jar sauce: I know some of you may balk at the idea of making a tomato sauce from scratch. I promise this one really IS simple to put together, though it takes a little time for the flavors to mingle, but you can substitute a good quality jarred marinara sauce from the supermarket if you want. You’ll need about 2 ½ (24-oz) jars for this recipe.
More Recipes like This!
Impossible Cheeseburger Pie Recipe with Bisquick– A beautiful, beefy pie nestled on a perfect pie crust!
Million Dollar Spaghetti ~ This Spaghetti Casserole is super easy to put together and has a center layer of creamy, gooey cheese. This is one of my favorite ways to serve spaghetti and people just can’t get enough of it!
Beefaroni ~ Easy Homemade Beefaroni is perfect for the simplified flavor palates of kids. So much better than anything from a can! Quick and Easy–Ready in less than 30 minutes!
- Yield: Serves 6-8
- Prep Time: 60 minutes
- Cook Time: 60 minutes
- Olive Oil - 1/4 Cup
- Onion, Chopped - 1 Large
- Garlic, minced - 1 Tablespoon
- Carrot, Finely Grated - 1/4 Cup
- Crushed Tomatoes, Including All Liquid - 2 (28 Ounce) Can
- Dried Italian Seasoning - 1 Tablespoon
- Salt - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Black Pepper - 1/4 Teaspoon
- Ricotta Cheese - 1 Pound
- Grated Parmesan Cheese - 1 Cup
- Mozzarella, Shredded - 2 Cups
- Eggs, Lightly Beaten - 2 Large
- Frozen Chopped Spinach, Thawed and Squeezed Dry - 1-10 Ounce Package
- Dried Italian Seasoning - 1 Tablespoon
- Nutmeg - Pinch
- Salt - 1 Teaspoon
- Black Pepper - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Barilla No Boil Lasagna Noodles - 16 Ounce
- Mozzarella, Shredded - 2 Cups
Make the Sauce:
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occassionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the carrot and continue to cook, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Using a stick blender, smooth out the sauce.
Make the Filling:
- Combine all filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl; set aside
For the Pasta:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Lay out 2 clean kitchen towels on counter.
- Drop pasta sheets into boiling water and move them around with tongs, so the don't stick together. Remove as soon as they just become pliable and lay in a single layer onto towels.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Spread about 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 X13 inch baking dish.
- With the short side of the pasta sheet facing you, spread a heaping 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture onto the bottom three quarters of each pasta sheet. (leave the top quarter with no filling). Roll up and place seem side down in baking pan.
- Top with remaining sauce. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until heated through and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle top with reamining 2 cups mozzarella. Broil intil cheese is melted and golden brown. Cool 15 minutes before serving.