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A cousin to lasagna, Cannelloni

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Those of you who have followed my column for a while now know of my love of Italian food. For many of us, it's a cuisine that provides comfort, both on the physical and mental levels. It's always a pleasure to go into someone's home when you know they're preparing Italian food, as it is going into an Italian restaurant.

I have a special dish to share with you and that's for "Cannelloni", which is sort of a cousin to lasagna. However, I'd like to stress that this isn't the easiest, nor the fastest recipe I've shared in my column! But, I can assure you that your work and effort that's channeled into its preparation is well worth every bit of energy! This is a beautiful dish that contains pasta tubes filled with a beef and spinach filling. It's covered with cream sauce, topped off with a homemade tomato sauce. It's then topped with Parmesan cheese and butter, then baked. It's absolutely wonderful and you'll get raves on it when you serve it!

A few notes to guide you in preparing it: you may not be familiar with Manicotti noodles. These are tube-shaped pasta forms that you can find in most any grocery store in the dry pasta section. About the only real challenge to this recipe is stuffing these cooked forms with the meat filling. I use a teaspoon and lightly pack each tube. Use care to not overfill as this could cause the pasta form to break. Also, by not overfilling, you'll be sure to have plenty of meat filling to fill the whole package of pasta.

The tomato sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, which will help if you have a limited schedule. Also, if you prefer a spicier dish, use bulk Italian sausage in place of the ground round steak. You'll also see by the recipe that it calls for a package of chopped spinach. Frozen spinach holds a lot of water, so I thaw it in the refrigerator first, then place it in a colander and press out the extra water. You'll want the spinach to be drained as well as possible when using it in the meat filling.

Once the dish is assembled, it can be covered and refrigerated until time to bake. I often make this the day before I plan to serve it and slide it into a slow oven, about 200 degrees, and let it bake for about four to five hours. Of course, you can always bake it at it's regular time of 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve it hot and be ready to have your cooking praised!

A wonderful dessert to go with this special dish is the "Amaretto Cheesecake", which I gave recently. If you'd like to get this recipe, just follow this link:

http://www.examiner.com/article/cheesecake-with-italian-flair

If you'd like to try a new and special Italian main dish, here's the very one I recommend!

CANNELLONI

Meat Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. ground round steak
  • 1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 5 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten

1 pkg. Manicotti noodles, cooked according to package directions and drained
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the beef and brown, draining any extra fat. Add spinach and cook until the moisture is nearly evaporated. Remove from heat and add seasonings. Let cool. Beat the eggs with the cream and add to the beef mixture and mix. Stuff the cooked noodles with this mixture.

Cream Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • white pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the milk, then the cream and cook over medium heat until thick. Add the seasonings and blend.

Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 2 cans (14 oz. each) tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan and saute the onion. Add the rest of the ingredients, mashing the tomatoes as they go in. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer 30-40 minutes over low heat.

Topping:

  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • butter

To assemble: Pour a small amount of the tomato sauce in a 9x13 inch casserole dish, spreading it to cover the bottom. Place the stuffed Manicotti on top, making one layer. Cover with the cream sauce, then the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until bubble. Yield: 8 servings.

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