Italian Pasta Recipe – spinach and ricotta cannelloni

A great dish for dinner parties, this Italian pasta recipe is super easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time.

There are two versions of this ricotta and spinach cannelloni recipe. One version of the pasta dish can be prepared in 20 minutes, whilst the other is a little more time consuming.  You can also mix and match the steps as you prefer.

You will need a light tomato sauce that can be made either with chopped tinned tomatoes or fresh. For tinned tomatoes, simply add to a saucepan with some salt and let simmer on a low heat for around 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Some people like to add a pinch of sugar to remove the more tart flavour. For fresh tomatoes, you will need to put the whole tomatoes into boiling water so that the skins split right off (or you can help them out by piercing with a knife). Chop the skinned tomatoes then add to the pan and cook with a pinch of salt until you have an intense flavour. You can also pass the mixture through a ‘passatutto’ food mill at the end of cooking to get a smoother consistency. You may need to add in some water to ensure it is nice and liquidy.

Next, take 400 grams of cooked spinach. Italians will often go to an ‘alimentari’ (delicatessen) where they can buy fist-sized balls of freshly cooked spinach that just need to be squeezed dry and chopped before using. To cook fresh spinach, take one big bunch, remove the harder parts of the stems then soak in water to remove any grit from the leaves. Rinse really well then add to a pot and steam using just the water on the washed leaves. Once cooked, let cool then squeeze off any excess moisture before chopping finely.

The cooked spinach will need to go into a mixing bowl with an equal quantity of fresh ricotta cheese. To this, add salt and pepper, a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg and a decent amount of quality grated parmesan cheese. Mix well together and set aside.

For the pasta, follow the cooking instructions. If using dried cannelloni tubes that require pre-cooking, you will need to bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add in a big handful of salt (preferably rock salt) and cook 500 grams of dried cannelloni tubes for one minute less than indicated on the cooking instructions. Drain the pasta, then let cool only until you’re not going to scorch your fingers touching them!

You now have your three prime components and are ready for assembly. Fill the cannelloni tubes with the ricotta and spinach mix either using small spoons or a piping bag (or a sandwich bag with a corner cut off). Coat your lasagne dish with a thin layer of the tomato sauce so the tubes don’t stick to the bottom. The tubes can then either be stood on end or laid down side-by-side in a lasagne dish.  Once the tubes have been filled, cover with the tomato sauce. Cook for 20 minutes in a medium oven then remove, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and cook for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Serve hot, preferably paired with a light Chianti wine.


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