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Growing up in northern Jersey when my Mom took out her small black cast iron pan Sunday morning we knew we were in for a treat.
She was getting ready to make crespelle (crepes) for her fantastic spinach and ricotta stuffed cannelloni (big pipes).
The crispy and creamy cannelloni hot from the oven would be the pasta course for our Sunday dinner.
Don’t give me a hard time with the cannelloni versus manicotti thing. In Italian-American restaurants these are called manicotti but in Italy especially around Naples this dish is cannelloni.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s get back to the recipe.
With a hot well-oiled small saute pan, a flat griddle pan or a non-stick crepe pan you’ll find that the crespelle are easy and quick to make. You can even make the crespelle the day before and keep them in the fridge to quickly fill and bake the next day.
Make a simple San Marzano-basil tomato sauce so that the cannelloni aren’t overwhelmed. The tasty crespelle are the perfect tender wrapper for the creamy spinach-ricotta filling with melted mozzarella on top.
I usually serve two cannelloni topped with a little extra sauce to each guest. If any cannelloni are left over I have been known to eat one or two more. They are absolutely delicious.
Watch me make a fresh San Marzano tomato sauce during the late summer harvest. You can substitute canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy for fresh so you can make the marinara sauce all year long.
And if you want to make fresh pasta instead of crespelle for the cannelloni watch me make fresh pasta ravioli for inspiration.
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1¼ cups (or more) whole milk
- Extra virgin olive oil for brushing the crepe pan
- 2 pounds fresh spinach or 2 10 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
- 1 pound ricotta, well drained
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
- ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 8-ounces mozzarella, grated
- ¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, stems and skin removed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 sprigs fresh basil
- sea salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Put a pot over medium-high heat.
- Add the olive oil and garlic.
- Saute the garlic for a minute or so. You don’t want it to pick up any color, just infuse the oil with its flavor.
- Add the tomatoes and stir well.
- Add sea salt to taste and the basil.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat if needed.
- Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the volume is reduced by 25%.
- Keep the sauce warm while you make and bake the cannelloni.
- Whisk eggs and salt in large bowl.
- Gradually whisk in flour, then 1¼ cups milk.
- Whisk until the batter is very smooth and has no big clumps of flour.
- If necessary, add more milk by tablespoons to batter to thin to consistency of heavy whipping cream.
- Heat 8-inch diameter nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with extra virgin olive oil.
- Pour 3 tablespoons batter into skillet and swirl to coat bottom evenly.
- Cook until top appears dry, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds.
- Turn and cook until brown spots appear on second side, about 30 seconds.
- Turn crepe out onto plate.
- Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with EVOO and stacking crepes on plate.
- Put the spinach in a pot over medium-high heat and add ½ cup water
- Cook until the spinach is wilted.
- Drain the spinach.
- When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can.
- Roughly chop the spinach.
- Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
- In a large baking dish put ¼ cup of the sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish.
- Lay the crespelle on a flat work surface.
- Put about 3-4 tablespoons at one end of each crespelle and roll it up.
- Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
- Repeat until all the crespelle are filled.
- Top the cannelloni with a light layer of sauce.
- Top the sauce evenly with the mozzarella and then the parmigiano.
- Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
- Uncover and bake until the mozzarella on top of the cannelloni is melted and slightly browned, about 10 minutes more.
- Let the cannelloni cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
Gianni’s Tip: I made crespelle (crepes) for this stuffed pasta dish but fresh pasta sheets, no-cook lasagna sheets or dried manicotti (big sleeves) or large shells work just as well with this filling.
Cook the dried pasta in boiling water until al dente before filling.
The no-cook lasagna sheets should be soaked in hot water until they are pliable and the fresh lasagna sheets need to be cooked in boiling water. Either way put in the sheets in a single layer on kitchen towels until they are cut into 6 to 8-inch squares and filled.
If you have any cannelloni left over they are even better heated in the oven the next day. You can freeze them too.