There’s nothing better than bringing to the table a piping hot dish of freshly made Cannelloni. Making them at home is not difficult and it’s so satisfying. It’s the perfect dish for a Sunday family meal or for the Holiday table and I’m sure that everyone will love them.
I love to experiment and try new food and flavor combinations, but to me there’s nothing more comforting than cooking something I know how to do with my eyes closed. The fact that I don’t have to read the recipe 10 times to make sure I’m doing everything right, makes the cooking more relaxing and enjoyable for me.
This category of comfort cooking (it’s a thing, right?) for me includes most of the Italian classic dishes like Carbonara, Aglio Olio e Peperoncino, Gnocchi, 4 Cheese Pasta or Ragù. I never read a recipe when making these because I made them so many times that I know them by heart.
Another staple dish that I can easily do without a recipe is Cannelloni. It’s a classic of Italian cooking and it’s really not that difficult to do. I’ll show you.
The filling for Cannelloni is the same as for classic Ravioli: Spinach and Ricotta. But as for Ravioli, you can also stuff the Cannelloni with whichever filling you’d like. But as mentioned before, the classic is the easiest and favorite choice for me. You cannot go wrong.
Fresh or Dried Pasta?
If you follow this blog you know that I LOVE fresh pasta and I’d choose fresh pasta over storebought any time. But in this case I have to be honest. Using fresh pasta for Cannelloni or Lasagne is messy and complicated.
Once you rolled the pasta into rectangular sheets, you have to spread them into a clean towel to rest (which takes a lot of space), then you have to quickly boil the pasta sheets for 30 seconds before you can use them. So imagine tossing and then fishing out of boiling water large slippery sheets of pasta (trust me, it’s not easy), and then laying them down on another clean towel so they don’t stick. It takes a lot more space than I have, and a lot of time. The end result is not that much better than using store bought, especially because you cannot make perfect tubes by hand so you’ll end up with wonky Cannelloni with a double layer of thick pasta which unbalances the whole ratio.
So, I suggest you to buy a good quality brand of dried Cannelloni tubes. It’ll make the whole cooking much easier and enjoable.
Plus, the dried Cannelloni don’t need to be pre-cooked so it’s much easier to stuff them.
Making Béchamel or White Sauce from scratch
Béchamel (or more commonly known as White Sauce) is one of the 5 Mother sauces of classical cooking and is considered essential for the creation of many traditional dishes of French and Italian cooking.
You can find it in classic Italian recipes like Cannelloni, Lasagne, Pasta al Forno, and so on. It’s the perfect sauce to use in gratins, especially when there is melted cheese inside, as it acts as a binding element to all the ingredients. Like these Scalloped Potato with Mozzarella, without white sauce it would be only potatoes with chunks of melted Mozzarella here and there.
Would you believe if I told that I never purchased the Béchamel sauce in a supermarket before? Believe it because it’s true. I always made it from scratch. Why? Because it’s 10 times more delicious than storebought and it’s incredibly easy to do.
TIPS for the perfect Béchamel sauce:
- Let the butter melt completely before adding the flour
- The Roux (butter and flour mix) should become a thick paste. Cook it a few seconds before adding the milk
- Warm milk makes it easier to dissolve the roux but it can work also with room temperature milk (it will just take more time)
- Keep the heat to the minimum and keep mixing otherwise it will stick and burn to the bottom of the pan.
- Season correctly with the right amount of salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Taste it!
If you want, you can also prepare this white sauce few days in advance and keep it in the fridge in an airtight container (max 2-3 days). If it becomes too dense, you can add a little bit more milk and whisk energically.
Note: I prefer the all-white Cannelloni, but if you prefer, you can add a layer on top of tomato or Ragù sauce.
Classic Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
For the Cannelloni
- 250 g (9 oz) Cannelloni Pasta, (c. 10 pcs)
- 250 g (1 cup) Ricotta
- 300 g (10.5 oz) Frozen Spinach
- 1 Garlic clove
- EVO Oil
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese grated
- 1 Mozzarella
- Black Pepper
For the Béchamel Sauce
- 1 tbsp Butter
- 1 tbsp All Purpose Flour
- 400 ml (1 2/3 cups) Whole Milk, warm
- Black Pepper
Prepare the Béchamel sauce:
- In a large pan melt the butter at medium heat (be careful not to burn it), add the flour and whisk until it becomes a thick paste.
- After a few seconds, add the warm milk and keep whisking until the milk starts to boil. Turn the heat to low and slowly keep whisking until the roux it's completely melted and the sauce starts to thicken.
- When the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
Make the filling:
- Peel and cut in half a garlic clove, then drizzle some olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic for a couple of minutes.
- Add the spinach (either fresh or frozen) and cover the pan with the lid. Mix with a wooden spoon a few times until they start to reduce in size (if necessary, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan).
- When the spinach are fully cooked, season with salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Drain them well and finely chop them. Set aside to cool down.
- Once the spinach are cooled, mix them with the fresh Ricotta. Add 2-3 tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese and season again to taste.
Assemble the Cannelloni:
- Spread 2-3 tablespoons of Béchamel sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the filling in a pastry bag without the tip and fill the Cannelloni pasta from top to bottom.
- Place the stuffed pasta in the baking dish.
- Roughly chop the Mozzarella and scatter all over the top of the pasta.
- Pour the white sauce on top of the Cannelloni, covering completely the pasta also on the sides (otherwise it will not cook).
- Evenly sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese on top to make a nice crust.
- Bake in the pre-heated oven at 200°C (400°F) for about 30 minutes (check also the pasta packaging for precise instructions as each pasta brand is slightly different).
- Serve immediately.