Yayy! It is a New Year which means a new beginning! So, why don’t we take a trip to Italy and back?! Yep people, it is our ever favorite Italian dish, a pasta recipe – spinach ricotta cannelloni. This is an amazing dish to celebrate this new beginning and also for a romantic date night.
We all love most of the Italian dishes – especially pizzas and pastas. Spinach ricotta cannelloni is also a variety of pasta which when paired with any Italian bread or even garlic bread and a glass of wine makes a great meal on any special night.
So, what is this cannelloni variety of pasta? Here, in south India, the most common varieties of pasta that we get in every supermarket or anywhere for that matter is penne, macaroni, spaghetti, fusilli, farfalle, etc. This cannelloni variety is uncommon here.
Cannelloni is actually a type of cylindrical pasta. It is actually prepared by stuffing the pasta with any prepared filling and then baking it along with sauce and cheese. Cannelloni is different from manicotti in its appearance. Manicotti pasta is comparatively larger and has ridges whereas cannelloni is smooth.
Originally, the filling is spooned in homemade sheets of pasta. Then, we roll these pasta sheets into cylindrical shapes to resemble cannelloni pasta. Then the rest is the same -top with sauce and cheese and bake. Nowadays, dry form of cannelloni is easily available and is a better alternative to rolled pasta sheets.
If you do not find cannelloni pasta near your place, then you can even pre-cook some lasagna sheets and use it too! First, fill with any stuffing (the most popular being spinach and ricotta or beef too). Then roll into cylinder shape and then bake them topped with some tomato sauce and cheese. You can even make lasagna sheets from scratch at home.
But, I prefer buying the dry pasta over using lasagna sheets mainly because I feel there is bit too much pasta while using them. I mean, while rolling it there is a bit of overlap in the sheets. I personally do not prefer that. While making this spinach ricotta cannelloni, there is no need to pre-cook the pasta shells.
To make the filling for this spinach ricotta cannelloni, I have used fresh spinach which I had blanched and then chopped after draining the water completely. To bind the filling even better, an egg can be used. It is optional and you can avoid it to make it a fully vegetarian dish. The ricotta cheese that you use should have some moisture in it to bind the mixture. If it is very dry then the filling will not hold very well together.
As I had mentioned earlier, spinach ricotta cannelloni is the most popular version. Beef stuffed cannelloni is also most liked by a lot. This spinach ricotta cannelloni is the perfect dinner for every night. You can bake them and toss it in the refrigerator and just re-heat it before your meal time. It is so simple and also can be prepared well ahead of time. This is an easy recipe if you want to follow these meal prep options.
Spinach ricotta cannelloni makes an awesome meal for a date-night and also when paired with any Italian breads, it takes your meal up a notch. So, enjoy this delicious spinach ricotta cannelloni with your loved ones. Stay safe; stay healthy! Happy cooking and eating!
Has meal planning been a little bit difficult during this lockdown? Look through my No Veggies, 21-Day Lockdown Series for ideas on what to cook during this lockdown.
Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni
For the filling
- 250 grams frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
- 2 cups ricotta
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg powder
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 egg, optional
- ½ tsp black pepper powder
- ½ tsp salt, or as needed
For the sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups tomato pureed
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp dried basil leaves
- ½ tsp black pepper powder, or as required
- salt, as required
For the cannelloni pasta
- 250 grams dried cannelloni pasta
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- basil leaves (dried or fresh), for garnish
To prepare the filling
- Drain the excess water from the spinach and in a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients mentioned under 'For the filling' and mix well. Keep it aside until further use.
To prepare the sauce
- In a pan on medium heat, add olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and cook until translucent.
- Add the tomato paste nd mix with the cooked onions and garlic.
- Add the tomato puree and stir it so that there are no lumps.
- The puree need not be cooked. Add water, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes.
- The sauce would have thickened by now. Add fresh or dried basil leaves and take it off the heat. Set aside to cool down.
To prepare the cannelloni pasta
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a baking pan, spread some sauce as the base.
- Transfer the prepared filling into a piping bag or a ziplock bag and pipe the cannelloni tubes with the filling. Place the filled tubes in the baking dish.
- Pour sauce over the pasta and make sure all the tubes are covered with sauce. Cover the baking pan with a foil and bake for 25 minutes.
- Remove the foil and top the pasta with some shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden brown spots appear.
- Garnish with basil leaves and serve hot.
- If you do not find frozen spinach, then use 500 grams fresh spinach. Cut it and wilt it with some oil o remove excess water.
- I did not use frozen spinach and also i did not wilt them in oil. I blanched the spinach, cut them and removed all excess moisture and then added it to the other ingredients. I did this because I like my spinach to be bright green in color.
- As far as the spinach goes, you can use any of the above mentioned method for your recipe.
- For the filling, add salt as required. Keep in mind that the cheese will have some salt content too.
- Using egg is optional and can be avoided if not needed. It is just used to bind the filling.
- Do not use ricotta cheese that is very dry. Let it have some moisture too. If you feel that the filling is very dry, then add an egg.
- For the sauce, you can even add crushed tomatoes that you get in tins. I added store bought tomato puree which would be the preferred choice because it will give the right consistency required for the sauce.
- If you are using freshly prepared tomato puree, then I would suggest you to cook it and reduce it before adding it in the sauce.
- Since we are using store bought tomato puree, the sauce need not cook for a very long time. It just need to thicken a bit before using.
- According to the availability, you can add fresh or dry basil leaves.
- For filling the pasta tubes, use a bigger nozzle for the piping bags.
- Fill the pasta tubes halfway through on one side and repeat on the other side.
- If you do not have a piping bag or a ziplock bag, then use a knife to fill the pasta tubes. This is time consuming though.
- If you have a larger baking dish to accommodate all the pasta tubes then use that. I baked the pasta in batches.
- Pour enough sauce over the pasta to bake it. Do not let the pasta dry out.
- You can top the pasta with how much ever cheese you want to and then bake it.