Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

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Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.

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.

Buon appetito!

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Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
 
Prep time
Cook time
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Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
For the Crespelle (makes about 18)
  • 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
For the Filling
  • 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
Crespelle Topping
  • 8-ounces mozzarella, grated
  • ¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Sauce
  • 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
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For the Sauce
  1. Put a pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the olive oil and garlic.
  3. 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.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir well.
  5. Add sea salt to taste and the basil.
  6. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat if needed.
  7. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the volume is reduced by 25%.
  8. Keep the sauce warm while you make and bake the cannelloni.
For the Crespelle
  1. Whisk eggs and salt in large bowl.
  2. Gradually whisk in flour, then 1¼ cups milk.
  3. Whisk until the batter is very smooth and has no big clumps of flour.
  4. If necessary, add more milk by tablespoons to batter to thin to consistency of heavy whipping cream.
  5. Heat 8-inch diameter nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Pour 3 tablespoons batter into skillet and swirl to coat bottom evenly.
  7. Cook until top appears dry, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds.
  8. Turn and cook until brown spots appear on second side, about 30 seconds.
  9. Turn crepe out onto plate.
  10. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with EVOO and stacking crepes on plate.
For the Filling
  1. Put the spinach in a pot over medium-high heat and add ½ cup water
  2. Cook until the spinach is wilted.
  3. Drain the spinach.
  4. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can.
  5. Roughly chop the spinach.
  6. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Assembly
  1. In a large baking dish put ¼ cup of the sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish.
  2. Lay the crespelle on a flat work surface.
  3. Put about 3-4 tablespoons at one end of each crespelle and roll it up.
  4. Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
  5. Repeat until all the crespelle are filled.
  6. Top the cannelloni with a light layer of sauce.
  7. Top the sauce evenly with the mozzarella and then the parmigiano.
  8. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
  9. Uncover and bake until the mozzarella on top of the cannelloni is melted and slightly browned, about 10 minutes more.
  10. 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.

North Beach Shopping Spree Ends with Shadow Ravioli

Homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli in a San Marzano basil sauce
David Fagan’s shadow pic of homemade ricotta & mozzarella ravioli

“Make homemade ricotta ravioli for Saturday’s dinner,” my Seattle friend told me before she boarded her plane. And so started a day of shopping and eating in North Beach with friends.

Those are my shadows on the dining room wall. I’m holding a tray of ricotta & mozzarella ravioli while tallying how many ravioli each of the 7 friends at my table would eat.

These are big ravioli. Most chose 2 or 3.

Early Saturday morning we headed down the hill to North Beach to buy what we needed for dinner. Santo let us use Cavalli Cafe on Stockton Street as our staging area.

As we sipped our coffees Santo packed up cannoli ingredients for us to assemble after dinner. We didn’t want the shells to get soggy if they were filled too soon before we devoured them.

We left the fruits and vegetables from Union Produce with Santo and headed to Molinari deli for the antipasti fixings. We dropped the bags back at Cavalli and crossed the street to Little City Meat Market for 3 types of sausage to roast and serve with the ravioli.

Italian wines from Coit Liquors and Acme bread from Little Vine and we were ready to head back to my place. My friends insisted that we had too many bags to carry up the hill. We hailed a cab. How civilized, a ride right to my front door.

Back in my kitchen, we got the San Marzano basil sauce going and left it to simmer. Then 3 of us made the pasta dough and ran it through my hand-cranked pasta machine until we had long, wide pasta sheets.

As the sheets dried we whipped up the simple creamy ricotta and mozzarella filling. My friends jumped in and made one sheet of ravioli under my careful supervision. We ended up with 27 large ravioli.

Watch my fresh ravioli with San Marzano sauce video episode and make some yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Antipasti Platter
Antipasti Platter

Here’s the antipasti platter that started off our meal. It’s a good example of what you can put together for your next holiday party.

Starting with the top middle dish:

Marinated mixed olives and black oil-cured olives; sharp provolone & a young pecorino with pistachios; marinated giant Corona beans; homemade pickled eggplant; gorgonzola dolce; taralli; steamed green beans with lemon & olive oil. In the center dish: prosciutto di San Daniele, mortadella and coppa picante.

Use my pickled eggplant recipe to make some to have handy in your fridge.

My green bean salad recipe is quick and easy. Add something fresh and delicious to your antipasti platter too.

Remember those cannoli fixings Santo packed up for us?

Three and a half hours after the meal started and 6 bottles of wine later, I just passed the shells, filling, chocolate chips and orange peel syrup around the table for each my guests to make their own cannolo. They didn’t mind doing it themselves. Santo’s cannoli are fantastic and the crispy shells shattered with each creamy bite.

Champagne grapes and roasted chestnuts ended our meal. A wonderful evening with friends at my table.

Treasure your times together around the table this holiday season.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna Ready in an Hour

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
Ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.

I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night.  My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.

I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.

I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.

Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.

I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage  browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.

First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.

How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.

The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.

Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna with Tomato-Basil Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 1 box oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna sheets
  • 2 pounds ricotta, drained
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano, plus more to sprinkle on top of the lasagna
  • ¼ cup fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound Italian mild sausage out of the casing
  • 2 28-ounce cans imported San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in small cubes
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them with you hand. Discard any basil in the can and any skin or tough stems.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until it takes on a light tan color.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and sea salt to taste. Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer.
  5. Add the basil, reduce to low heat and stir the sauce occasionally for about 30 minutes. The sauce will thicken a bit as it simmers.
  6. As the sauce simmers put a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the sausage and brown. Break up any clumps as you cook the sausage.
  7. Drain off the oil in the pan and set the sausage aside.
  8. In a large bowl beat the eggs then add the ricotta, most of the shredded mozzarella, pecorino, parsley and black pepper. (Set aside a ¼ cup of the shredded mozzarella to spread on top of the lasagna.)
  9. Beat well with a fork or whisk.
  10. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish spread a cup of sauce evenly over the bottom.
  11. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter.
  12. Lay down a single layer of lasagna sheets to cover the bottom of the dish.
  13. Add half the ricotta filling and spread it evenly over the lasagna sheets.
  14. Add another single layer of lasagna sheets on top of the ricotta filling. Spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  15. Add the browned sausage in an even layer over the lasagna sheets.
  16. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  17. Spread the remaining ricotta filling evenly over the sheets.
  18. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  19. Sprinkle with the reserved shredded mozzarella and some grated pecorino.
  20. Dot with butter.
  21. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to lightly brown the cheese on top of the lasagna,
  22. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting the lasagna. (I usually make 3 cuts the length of the lasagna and then 4 cuts across the width to form 3 x 3 inch pieces.)
  23. Put any remaining sauce in a sauce bowl should your guests want to add more to their lasagna.
  24. (The lasagna is even better the next day.)