Spinach Cannelloni

When one thinks of cannelloni the first image that comes to mind is a line of little pasta tubes covered in generous amounts of béchamel sauce. However, when I think of cannelloni, I have images of our annual Christmas lunch at my father’s family house. The crackling fireplace on, two big tables, one for grown-ups and one for the youngsters, set up with the best china, the voices of my aunts in the kitchen and the delicious smell of coming from the oven. The image is vivid in my eyes, hears and, mostly, my nostrils!

Cannelloni is an Italian classic dish and many families’ Sunday lunch favourite. Like my aunts, many fill them with a delicious beef bolognese sauce, while others make them vegetarian. Both versions are delicious, although I prefer the vegetarian one as it’s easier to make. My favourites are spinach and (goat) ricotta cheese cannelloni with no béchamel sauce!

My cannelloni have 4 main ingredients, pasta shells, goat cheese, spinach and generous amounts of tomato sauce and are ready to eat in just over one hour. Simple and easy!

Ingredients

Prep time for this recipe is about 30 minutes and cooking time is 25-30 minutes, depending on the brand you use and how crispy you like them. This recipe usually makes 12 cannelloni, although I managed to stretch it to 13!

For the tomato sauce

  • 400g tomato passata
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 clove of garlic (peeled)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the filling

  • 300g spinach
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 clove of garlic (peeled)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg ( or more to your taste)
  • 200g mild soft goat cheese ( I used Chavroux)
  • 1 medium egg
  • 30g grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the cannelloni

  • 1 box of ready to bake cannelloni shells (I used 13 cannelloni and stored any leftover)
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste ( I used 10g)

Method

1. First make the tomato sauce. Put the garlic and EVOO in a medium pot, cook until the garlic is nicely gold. Remove and discard the garlic. Take the pot off the heat, let the EVOO cool down a little and then add the tomato passata. Fill the empty passata bottle with water, about 3 fingers high, shake well and pour the tomato water in the pot. Season with salt and put it back on the heat. Bring it to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer until it is cooked, this should take about 15/20 minutes.

I always follow my mum trick not to burn the garlic: I tilt the pot slightly so that the garlic is submerged with the oil and cooks on all sides equally.

I would recommend not cooking the tomato sauce too long and leave it is somewhat liquid; the extra liquid will help the cannelloni shells to cook.

2. While the tomato sauce cooks, start making the filling.

Wash and drain the spinach. Add the two tablespoons of EVOO and garlic to a saucepan and cook until the garlic is nicely gold. Remove and discard the garlic. Take the pot off the heat, let the EVOO cool down a little, then add the spinach and cover with a lid.

Cook for few minutes before seasoning it with the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Let the spinach cook covered until soft, then take them off the heat and let them cool down for few minutes.

Cut the spinach roughly and put them in a bowl. Add the mild soft goat cheese and mix well with a fork. Incorporate the egg and the Parmigiano Reggiano, one at the time, taste and adjust seasoning if required.

Don’t worry if the filling is runny, any extra liquid will be used up by the cannelloni shells while they cook.

3. Once the tomato sauce and the filling are ready, you can start assembling the cannelloni.

Cover the bottom of the baking dish with tomato sauce. Fill the cannelloni shells and place them in the dish to form one neat layer. Cover with tomato sauce and dust with the Parmigiano Reggiano.

I use a piping bag to fill the cannelloni, it makes it easy to fill the shells and it is less messy!

4. Cover the baking sheet with foil, place it in a pre-heated oven at 180C Fan and cook it for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and let them cook for other 5-10 minutes.

Let them cool a couple of minutes before serving them.

Notes

I didn’t use any béchamel sauce in this recipe, but you can use some if you like it. You could also omit the tomato sauce and replace it completely with béchamel, this will make the recipe slightly heavier but still pretty delicious.

I like cooking the tomato sauce using a clove of garlic, but if you would like a slightly sweeter taste then you can replace it with a shallot or a small brown onion. As with the garlic, remove it from the pot once nice and gold.

You can increase the amount of spinach to your taste, just ensure that the filling is runny as the cannelloni shells need the excess liquid to cook

Possible substitutions can be:

  • Mild soft cheese with ricotta cheese
  • Spinach with mushrooms, cavolo nero, broccoli rabe or peppers, aubergines and courgettes mix
  • Make it non-vegetarian by filling them with a bolognese sauce

You can freeze any leftover cannelloni up to 6 months. Defrost completely before warming and serving them.

Enjoy making these cannelloni and let me know if you have any comments or questions!

If you want to make this recipe and share it on your social media please tag me using @prepandproperrecipes and the tag #prepandproperrecipes and #easyfunyummy

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