Imagine coming home to this Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni…… a juicy spinach and ricotta filling inside cannelloni pasta tubes, topped with a homemade tomato basil sauce and melted cheese. After you’ve made this, try Beef and Spinach Cannelloni. It’s so good!
This is a reader-favourite recipe included by popular demand in my debut cookbook “Dinner”!
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
This is one of my go-to freezer meals I make to give to friends, and a great one to make for dinners to cater for both carnivores and vegetarians.
I make it often throughout most of the year, except perhaps at the very height of summer. Yes, I love cannelloni that much!
What is cannelloni??
Cannelloni is a tube shaped dry pasta about 7 cm / 3″ long and 2cm / 2/3″ wide. 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.
The most common variety is a spinach and ricotta filling topped with a tomato sauce which is the version I am sharing today.
What’s the difference between cannelloni and manicotti?
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.
The spinach and ricotta filling in this recipe fills 18 – 22 cannelloni tubes, or 10 – 12 manicotti tubes.
There are two ways to make cannelloni:
stuffing dry pasta tubes
rolling the filling up in fresh lasagna sheets
I like using the tubes – partly because they are more cost effective. And also because I like the size – a better filling to pasta/sauce/cheese ratio. Lasagna sheets are thicker and you need a double layer where the sheets overlap to seal in the filling and inevitably, the cannellonis end up bigger.
Easiest way to fill cannelloni tubes
And I know what many of you are thinking – 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.
7 seconds per tube x 20 tubes = 2.3 minutes. (Watch the video!)
The Spinach and Ricotta Filling
The Spinach and Ricotta Filling is creamy, has the perfect spinach to ricotta ratio, and made extra tasty with the addition of parmesan and cheese. It’s so good, I can eat spoonfuls of it straight out of the bowl!
Here’s what’s in it:
Spinach – use frozen for convenience (thaw, remove excess water before using), or fresh if you’ve got an abundance of it;
Ricotta – be sure to use a food quality full fat, creamy one. (Tip: avoid Perfect Italiano tub, it’s quite powdery and unpleasant)
Shredded cheese – a flavoured one is best, like cheddar, tasty. Save the mozzarella for the topping.
Parmesan – don’t skip this! It adds extra savouriness and seasoning to the filling. Just store bought finely shredded or grated is fine, or grate your own.
Garlic – because it makes everything better
Egg – for binding (can be skipped)
Nutmeg – optional, but it’s a lovely touch. I use it in almost all my spinach ricotta fillings.
Salt and pepper
This is my standard recipe that is virtually identical (if not identical) to what I use for all things spinach and ricotta, from this Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake, to Puff Pasty Puffs, Rotolo (it’s like upright cannelloni – and it’s amazing!), to Spinach Ricotta Rolls.
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, it can even be cooked from frozen.
I freeze cannelloni more often than cooking it fresh!
Sauce for Cannelloni
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, and there is still sauce when serving it up. The most common sauce is a tomato pasta sauce which is what I use.
There are recipes “out there” that say to just use plain canned tomatoes or tomato passata for the topping (or bottled pasta sauce).
I really, REALLY think that if you’re making the effort to making cannelloni, it is a no brainer to make a tiny extra effort to make a simple pasta sauce. It is honestly so much better than using plain canned tomato or a store bought pasta sauce!
Option: Load up on extra spinach
You can double the spinach in this, if you want. It can take it, plus you will use up an entire box of cannelloni tubes. They come in boxes of 30 here in Australia, and it is kind of annoying to end up with 10 or so floating around in the pantry, which then motivates me to make another batch just to use them up, then I end up with more tubes leftover so I have to make another batch.
Watch how to make it
This recipe features in my debut cookbook Dinner. The book is mostly new recipes, but this is a reader favourite included by popular demand!
Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni
Sauce (you need LOTS!):
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 4 garlic clove , minced
- 1 bay leaf , fresh (sub dried)
- 1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 800 g / 28 oz canned crushed tomato
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock/broth , low sodium
- 1/3 cup Chardonnay or other dry white wine (sub more stock)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/3 tsp black pepper
- 2/3 cup basil leaves , roughly torn (recommended but not critical)
- 250 g / 8 oz frozen chopped spinach , thawed (Note 1)
- 500 g / 1 lb ricotta , full fat please (Note 2)
- 1/3 cup parmesan , finely shredded
- 1 cup shredded cheese (Mozzarella, Colby, Cheddar, Tasty, Gruyere, Swiss)
- 1 egg
- 1 large garlic clove , minced
- Grated fresh nutmeg (just a sprinkling) or 1/8 tsp nutmeg powder (optional)
- 3/4 tsp cooking / kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 18 – 22 dried cannelloni tubes (250g pack) or 14 manicotti tubes (8.8 oz) (Note 3)
- 1/3 cup parmesan , finely shredded
- 1 1/4 cups shredded Mozzarella
- More basil and parmesan , for garnish (optional)
- Sauté – Heat oil in a small pot over medium high heat. Add garlic, onion, bay leaf, thyme and oregano. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
- Reduce wine – Add wine, increase heat to high and let it simmer rapidly until mostly evaporated (about 2 minutes).
- Simmer – Add tomatoes, stock, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir then simmer on medium low for 20 minutes.
- Blitz – Remove bay leaf then blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Simmer for 1 more minute then remove from the stove
- Basil – Stir in basil then cover to keep warm until required.
- Squeeze spinach – Place spinach in a colander and press out most of the liquid (don't need to thoroughly squeeze dry).
- Mix filling – Place Spinach in bowl with remaining Filling ingredients. Mix, taste, adjust salt and pepper to taste (different cheeses have different saltiness).
Assemble & Bake:
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (160°C fan).
- Pan – Choose a baking pan which will comfortably fit about 20 cannelloni – mine is 21 x 26 cm / 8.5 x 10.5".
- Smear – Spread 1 cup of Sauce on the base (stops cannelloni from sliding around).
- Fill tubes – Transfer Filling to a piping bag with a large nozzle (that fits in the tubes), or use a strong ziplock bag. Or do this step using a knife (it's a bit tedious though!). Pipe the filling into the tubes.
- Assemble – Place cannelloni in baking dish. Pour over remaining Sauce, covering all the tubes.
- Bake covered (but naked) – Cover with foil, then bake for 30 minutes.
- Cheese it! Remove foil, scatter over parmesan then mozzarella. Return to oven for 15 minutes until cheese is melted.
- Serve, garnished with extra parmesan and basil if desired.
Life of Dozer
Remember how I shared his current favourite toy – this squeaking emoji? Did I mention his favourite place to gnaw away at it? Smack bang in the middle of the new day bed. He literally plonks himself in the middle.
And please… someone remind me why I got a DARK GREY one??? 🙄