This cannelloni with spinach and ricotta recipe is a traditional Italian baked pasta dish, often served here in Italy as a starter for Sunday lunch and holiday meals. It uses a classic ricotta and spinach filling that is stuffed into cannelloni tubes which are baked in a creamy béchamel sauce topped with savory Parmigiano Reggiano.
The origins of cannelloni and manicotti are debated among Italian pasta makers and food historians. In Italy, this pasta is known only as cannelloni, whereas in the USA, they call it manicotti or maniche, meaning sleeves.
Although Italians used the term ‘cannelloni’ as far back as the 1600s. They were referring to different types of rolled and stuffed foods, some of which were sweet but none were made with egg pasta dough.
Homemade cannelloni pasta acutally only dates back to the 20th century There is a popular belief that in 1924, a chef named Chef Salvatore Coletta invented cannelloni in a hotel in Amalfi.
The story goes that Chef Coletta prepared a dish he called cannelloni, which he presented to Don Alfredo Vozzi, the owner of the Cappuccini Hotel in Amalfi. After tasting it, Don Vozzi sent Coletta to show the dish to Don Andrea Barbaro, owner of the Hotel Luna. Don Andrea Barbaro ended up so impressed that they celebrated by ringing the bells of the convent church.
Fresh cannelloni is traditionally made from filled and rolled-up lasagne sheets. Many Italian homecooks and restaurants still make this pasta that way today. However, there are also dried versions of these pasta tubes available commercially. These are what I used for this recipe.
The spinach and ricotta filling is a classic in Italian cuisine, popular throughout Italy. Italians use it in various pasta dishes such as tortellini and ravioli. This classic combination is loved for its simplicity and its balance of flavor.
- Dried Cannelloni Tubes: The filling is stuffed inside the cannelloni tubes. If unavailable, substitute with dried manicotti or large precooked pasta shells.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Use this for topping and in the filling. This cheese adds a sharp, nutty flavor. To make this dish vegetarian, choose a parmesan alternative made without animal rennet.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Adds flavor to the dish. Use a high-quality oil for the best taste.
- Fresh Spinach: The star of the filling. If not available, other leafy greens like kale can be substituted.
- Cow’s Ricotta: Provides the creamy texture of the filling. Ensure it’s well-drained to avoid a watery filling.
- Eggs: Binds the filling ingredients together.
- Nutmeg: Adds a hint of warm spice to the filling and béchamel sauce.
- Milk: Forms the base of the béchamel sauce.
- ’00’ Flour: A fine Italian flour ideal for making a smooth béchamel sauce.
- Butter: Used in the béchamel sauce and for cooking the spinach. Adds richness and flavor.
Filling Consistency: When preparing the spinach and ricotta filling, ensure the ricotta is well-drained. Excess moisture can make the filling too runny and affect the final texture of the dish.
Béchamel Sauce Thickness: Prepare a béchamel sauce that’s slightly on the thinner side, as the starch from the dry pasta and baking process will thicken it.
Filling the Tubes: A piping bag with a large nozzle is the most efficient way to fill the cannelloni tubes. If you don’t have a piping bag, a teaspoon works well; just be sure to fill from both ends for even distribution.
Layering the Sauce: Start with a thin layer of béchamel on the bottom of your baking dish to prevent sticking. After arranging the filled tubes, cover them completely with the remaining sauce to ensure every bite is moist and flavorful.
Step by Step Instructions
1) Start by preheating your oven to 390°F (200°C).
2) In a pot, add the spinach and 1 tablespoon of water, then cook for about 1 minute until it is just wilted. Drain well, squeezing out as much water as possible. Once cooled, chop the spinach finely.
Tip: You can squeeze out the water from the spinach by wringing it in a clean tea towel or with your hands.
3) Place the chopped spinach in a bowl together with the ricotta, egg, pepper, nutmeg, and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Mix well with a spoon or fork, then season with salt.
4) Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour to form a paste (roux).
5) Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. After incorporating about half the milk, switch to a whisk and continue whisking, gradually adding the remaining milk until the mixture thickens.
6) Season with nutmeg and salt. The béchamel should be slightly thinner than usual for this recipe.
7) Fill the cannelloni tubes with the spinach and ricotta mixture. You can utilize a piping bag fitted with a large, smooth nozzle to fill each tube with the ricotta and spinach mixture. Alternatively, a teaspoon can be effective; fill each cannelloni tube from one end, then turn and fill from the other end to ensure even distribution of the filling.
8) Spread a thin layer of béchamel sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange the filled cannelloni in a single layer. Cover with the remaining béchamel sauce. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano over the top.
9) Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.
10) Allow the cannelloni to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Storage and Leftovers
To store leftover cannelloni with spinach and ricotta, allow the dish to cool to room temperature first. You can either transfer the cannelloni to an airtight container or wrap the baking dish in which they were cooked. This will keep them fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.
When it’s time to reheat, you have a couple of options:
Oven Reheating: Preheat your oven to 390°F (200°C). Place the cannelloni in their original baking dish (if wrapped) or transfer to an oven-safe dish. Cover with foil to retain moisture and reheat until hot through. This method helps preserve the texture and flavor.
Microwave Reheating: For a quicker option, use the microwave. Place the cannelloni in a microwave-safe dish and cover loosely. Heat for about 2 and a half minutes, then continue in 30-second intervals until thoroughly heated. This method is fast and convenient, though it may slightly alter the texture compared to oven reheating.
Absolutely! Prepare the dish up to a day ahead, cover it with clingfilm, and store it in the fridge. Before baking, allow it to return to room temperature to help it cook more evenly.
No worries! You can use dried manicotti or large precooked pasta shells as a substitute. Just ensure the filling is evenly distributed.
Yes, frozen spinach is a suitable alternative to fresh spinach. After cooking, it’s important to thoroughly squeeze out as much liquid as possible to prevent the cannelloni filling from becoming too watery.
More Cannelloni Recipes You May Like:
If you make this cannelloni with spinach and ricotta recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. So, please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
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