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Bring the flavours of Italy into your home with this traditional Italian Cannelloni Alla Fiorentina.
It is comforting and surprisingly simple to make! You cannot go wrong with this recipe.
This juicy creamy spinach and ricotta filling inside cannelloni pasta tubes can be topped with a simple homemade Pinçage (Mirepoix tomato sauce) or with a Bechamel sauce and cheese and then baked au gratin.
The spinach and ricotta filling is creamy, has the perfect spinach to ricotta ratio, and is made extra tasty with the addition of parmesan and cheese. It’s so good; I can eat a spoonful of it straight out of the bowl!
This is a classic filled-and-baked pasta dish that is good at any time of year and makes great leftovers. A recipe that can also be prepared the day before and reheated before serving. You can even freeze any leftovers, which will keep for about three months if packaged well in a freezer-safe bag or container. To reheat frozen leftovers: let defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then heat in an oven. Keep a few portions of this vegetarian classic in the freezer, and you’ll never be stuck for a satisfying supper.
For convenience, ready-made cannelloni has been used, but you can prepare the homemade egg pasta yourself if you wish.
This classic baked pasta is sure to become a new family favourite.
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- 40 Cannelloni - Oven ready
For the Filling
- 500 g Spinach - fresh chopped – or 250g/8oz frozen chopped spinach
- 500 g Ricotta cheese
- 1 Egg - lightly beaten
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese - grated
- ½ cup Mozzarella cheese - grated – or friulano or hard Cheddar or Gruyere or Swiss
- 1 Onion - finely diced
- 1 tbsp Garlic - minced
- Black pepper - Freshly ground - optional to taste
- Salt - optional to taste
- Green onion - chopped or dried chives – optional to taste
- Parsley - chopped or dried – optional to taste
- Basil - chopped or dried – optional to taste
- Oregano - dried – optional to taste
- Nutmeg - Grated – optional to taste
- Paprika - optional to taste
- ½ cup Mozzarella cheese - grated – or more to taste
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese - grated – or more to taste
- Basil - fresh, optional
- Parmesan cheese - or grana Padano cheese
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- Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well washed and drained.
- Spinach should be dry before you begin cooking. If using frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out excess water.
- Chop dried spinach using a food processor.
- Finely chop the onion and, in a pan with olive oil, sauté the onion until soft and translucent but not browned. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add the spinach, cook for a few minutes and season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl.
- Allow the spinach to cool, and then squeeze out as much water as possible.
- Add all filling ingredients. Mix everything together until creamy and thoroughly combined.
- Fill the cannelloni with the spinach filling mixture. Transfer filling to a piping bag or use a strong ziplock bag with the corner cut off and pipe the filling into the cannelloni pasta tubes. Or do this step using a knife or small spoon (it's a bit tedious, though!).
- It’s important that you preheat the sauce to help cook better the uncooked pasta.
- Spread pasta sauce over the bottom of the baking pan.
- Arrange stuffed cannelloni in a single layer and cover with remaining sauce, making sure you cover all the pasta.
- Important: oven-ready pasta should be generously and totally covered in heated sauce to prevent the pasta from drying out as it bakes. During the baking, the pasta will expand and soften.
- Sprinkle with grated Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated oven at 175-190°C/350-375°F for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Aluminum Foil is used to keep food moist and cook it evenly. If you leave it uncovered in the oven, it will become dry.
- Remove the aluminum foil, increase oven temperature to 200-232°C/400-450°F and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- Serve garnished with extra chopped fresh parsley or basil and parmesan or Grana Padano cheese if desired.
It is stuffed with filling, covered in a sauce and cheese then baked. It does not need to be cooked before filling. It softens when baked in the oven. Oven-ready dry pasta tubes or fresh lasagna sheet? A more rustic and traditional way of making them is with fresh lasagna sheets (homemade). The other option is to use pre-made cannelloni pasta tubes. I like using the tubes – partly because they are more cost-effective. And, because I like the size, they are so easy to fill and ensure each tube is evenly filled; that way, everyone gets an even portion – a better filling to pasta/sauce/cheese ratio. They save so much time. The cannelloni tubes I use are the oven-ready dried ones sold in 250g/8oz boxes at supermarkets and delis. They do not need to be boiled before cooking in the oven. Lasagna sheets are thicker, and you need a double layer where the sheets overlap to seal in the filling and inevitably, the cannelloni inevitably ends up bigger. If using it, just roll filling up inside, place in the baking pan seam side down. Manicotti is also a dry paste tube. It’s the Italian American version of cannelloni. The difference is that manicotti is larger with ridges, whereas cannelloni is smooth.
You can also use this recipe for manicotti. The spinach and ricotta filling in this recipe fill 39-40 cannelloni tubes or 20-21 manicotti tubes. The easiest way to fill cannelloni tubes I know that stuffing the tubes is a pain. After many years of using knives/thin spoons/combination of those + the end of wooden spoons and I finally accepted the inevitable fact: The fastest way to fill the tubes is with a piping bag. Spinach – frozen or fresh? I prefer it fresh, but you can use frozen for convenience. If using frozen spinach, thaw completely and squeeze out excess water before using. For 500g/16oz Spinach of fresh chopped, use 250g/8oz of frozen chopped spinach. What type of Ricotta? I use Ricotta di campagna. As with all Italian dishes, it's important to use high-quality ingredients for the best results. Be sure to use a high-quality, creamy one. Parmesan - store-bought or freshly grated? Store-bought finely shredded or grated is fine, or grate your own. But be sure to use it. It adds extra savouriness and seasoning to the filling. Should I add nutmeg? Nutmeg is optional, but it’s a lovely touch. I use it in all my spinach ricotta fillings. What is the best sauce for Cannelloni? Because cannelloni is baked, they need a sauce, rather than just the drizzle of melted butter you can get away with in other kinds of pasta. Cannelloni has to be smothered generously with sauce to ensure there’s enough liquid for the dry pasta tubes to absorb and cook in the oven. Bechamel and tomato sauce are the two most common choices. I would vote for the tomato version on the basis that the milky bechamel is too similar to the ricotta. You could just keep things very simple and puree a tin of plum tomatoes, but we agree that this filling demands a little more in the way of savoury oomph from the supporting sauce: this Pinçage (Mirepoix tomato sauce), is just perfect. However if you want it simpler, use just olive oil + onion +garlic + crushed tomato + water, simmer for a bit, then stir through fresh basil or dried herbs at the end. Can I make 2 layers? I wouldn’t bother with two layers of cannelloni – sheltered from direct heat, the base layer inevitably goes soggy. Arrange stuffed cannelloni in a single layer is the best option. Cooked leftover Refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze for best results. Can you freeze spinach and ricotta filling? Yes, it’s perfectly fine to freeze. If using to stuff something, then thaw, give it a good mix, then use per recipe. If it’s already prepared, like Cannelloni, you can even cook it from frozen. For freezing or refrigerating uncooked When uncooked cannelloni is assembled, the dry pasta will absorb some of the liquid as it freezes. Add extra 3/4 cup water into the sauce, cook sauce per recipe, then blend until smooth. If you don't add extra water, the sauce dries up once baked. Blending also helps here, plus it brings the sauce together better, so it doesn't split when thawed. Cover uncooked cannelloni with lots of sauce, then top with cheese. For freezing cooked Freeze individual cooked portions in ovenproof dishes or foil trays. Simply reduce the cooking time slightly when re-heating. Allow the cannelloni to cool at room temperature before covering well with cling film, then freeze. Always freeze on the day you make it. Thaw before baking Before baking, thaw cannelloni in the fridge overnight, then cook as per recipe (covered then uncovered). To cook from frozen Heat oven to 140-160 °C/285-320 °F and cook, covered with foil, for 1 hr 25 mins. Remove foil, turn oven to 180-200 °C/360-400°F and cook, uncovered, for 20-30 mins. Variation To make it meaty, fill the cannelloni with a meat ragu or try adding some chopped fried bacon to the spinach mix.
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