I would have to say that spinach and ricotta stuffed cannelloni is amongst my all-time favourite pasta dishes but I have never made it myself. I mean how even? It’s so straightforward and easy to do and once in the oven, it bakes into utter deliciousness on its own. It is so comforting, its like giving your inside the biggest hug.
I had two bags of spinach left over from a shoot and I really had wanted to make something super healthy with it. I did major online research to find something that didn’t involve cream and cheese, but nothing appealed. I few friends suggested a couple of basic recipe ideas. Simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil and another Mediterranean style, but they all seemed a little fundamental to blog about. Also not visually appealing at all.
I visited Rialto last week which if you live in Cape Town, and don’t know about; is a fantastic Italian food shop. Rialto are importers of Italian foods and they supply Woolies, deli’s and Italian restaurants. The prices are great but sadly their shop is based at their HQ Montague Gardens (my worst) so whenever I go I stockpile. I buy more tins of tomatoes and Passata than I can carry plus loads of dry pasta, cheese, anchovies and any other delicious thing that catches my attention. They also stock a limited range of Asian ingredients. I had bought cannelloni last week, so it seemed like it was meant to be.
I’m now obsessed with Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce since making it for my chicken meatball dish. It’s now my go-to easy supper when I cant think of anything else to make. I usually use a little less than the 70gm of butter she adds to her recipe purely out of guilt, but the more buttery the better. I made it for the sauce component for this spinach and ricotta cannelloni and it was delicious. It also couldn’t be easier and I actually put it on before heading out to the shops.
So you make the sauce, make the filling, stuff the pasta tubes and then assemble this dish. Bake for an hour before you want to serve.
I forgot to cover my dish for part of the time while baking, so the top over cooked resulting in most of the mozzarella being too hard. I really like my mozz to be oozy and melty. Anyway, it was still delicious.
I used Woolworths spinach that cooks in the bag in the microwave. It’s so much easier. If you are using it any other way, simply wilt it and cook for a few minutes, drain and chop.
Most recipes add the basil, garlic and onion to the tomato sauce mix, but I added it all to the spinach component. It doesn’t really matter as ultimately the ingredients get into the dish, but I like the flavour to be with the spinach.
*tip – if you are unsure what size baking dish to use, take the dried cannelloni tubes and arrange in the dish to see if they fit. They should be fairly snug in the dish
Recipe – feeds 4
- 2 tins of Italian whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 large white onion, halved
- 40 – 60gms butter – depending on how many calories you are willing to sacrifice
- a good few pinches of good quality sea salt flakes such as Maldon
- Black pepper
- 2 x 250gms of spinach, deveined and de stalked
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 small red onions or one large red I onion finely chopped
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tbs butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- ½ cup milk (plus a little more if needed)
- 250gms / 1 cup ricotta
- 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan
- ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- small handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 x 125gm balls of mozzarella or fior di latte
- drizzle of olive oil
14 – 16 cannelloni tubes
To make the sauce add the tomatoes to a small heavy based pot and squash them with a potato masher (or cut them up). Add the halved onion, butter, salt and pepper and cook over a low simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the onion.
Cook the spinach until wilted, drain, cool and then roughly chop.
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick pan and fry the onions over a gentle heat until softened. About 5 minutes. Be careful not to get any colour on them here. You just wanted then soft not brown. Add the butter and garlic and continue to cook for about a minute until further softened and smelling amazing. Add the flour to make a roux, and cook this for a little until thickened. Add the milk slowly while continue to stir. Add a little extra if it is still too thick. Cook this until the flour has cooked out.
Add the chopped spinach, salt pepper and nutmeg. You should have a fairly thick spinach paste like texture.
Remove from the heat and add the Parmesan and ricotta, mixing to combine very well.
Line the base of your dish with a thin layer of the tomato sauce and scatter the shredded basil leaves over the top.
Once the spinach and ricotta mix has cooled sufficiently to handle, fill a piping bag and snip a hole in the end that is smaller than the diameter of the cannelloni tube. You need to be able to easily fit the bag into the cannelloni. Pipe the filling into the tube, blocking one end with your hand so the filling doesn’t ooze out. Place the filled cannelloni snugly in your baking dish.
Once they have all been filled and placed, top the tubes with the sauce. Slice or tear up the mozzarella and arrange across the surface. Drizzle a little olive oil over the cheese and bake in an oven that has been pre heated to 180C / 350F and bake for 1 hour until golden and cooked through.
Loosely cover the dish about 20 minutes through the cooking time to prevent over browning. Serve with some fresh basil scattered over the top.
A few of my other favourite pasta dishes:
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