What Is Cannelloni Pasta?

Cooking and Recipes

Cannelloni/manicotti with a cheese filling and tomato sauce

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The Italian tube-shaped pasta called cannelloni, which is also known as manicotti in the United States, is essentially a sheet of pasta (or a crespella, the Italian equivalent of a crepe) rolled into a tube. Cannelloni, Italian for "large reeds," was invented sometime during the early 1900s. It is typically stuffed, topped with a sauce, and baked.

Any stuffing used in ravioli or any other stuffed pasta will work in cannelloni. However, since cannelloni is considerably larger than ravioli or tortellini, coarser ingredients such as chopped porcini mushrooms or small shrimp can be added to the filling and will provide pleasing texture variations.

Fast Facts

Category: Tubular pasta

Meaning: "Little reeds"

Cook Time: 7 to 10 minutes

Main Ingredient: Durum wheat flour

Substitutes: Large shells and lasagna sheets

What Is Cannelloni?

Cannelloni—not to be confused with the Italian tubular dessert cannoli—is a type of lasagna noodle; the term "manicotti" can refer to the same pasta or the baked dish. Dried cannelloni and manicotti tubes are sold both plain and ribbed. Cannelloni can be made at home by preparing pasta dough, rolling it out thinly (about the thickness of a dime), and cutting it into 3-inch by 4-inch rectangles. This can also be done using a pasta maker. The sheets of dough are then boiled, rolled around a filling, and baked with a sauce. Cannelloni can also be made with savory crespelle, the Italian equivalent of crepes. Simply roll them up around the filling as you would the sheets of fresh pasta dough.

As is the case with most other kinds of pasta preparations, there is a tremendous amount of variation when it comes to the fillings and sauces. Common fillings include beef and ricotta-based recipes, and sauces are often tomato or cream-based. Cannelloni has become a classic banquet dish, figuring prominently at weddings, cenoni (New Year's Eve and Christmas dinners), and family reunions. Manicotti shells are similar in price to other types of pasta.

How to Cook Cannelloni

To cook fresh pasta, boil the sheets a few at a time in lightly salted water, removing them while they're still al dente (about one to two minutes, and no more than three minutes) and place them on a moistened, clean kitchen towel. Don't cook them for too long since they will continue to cook in the oven. Once all of the pasta has been boiled, fill them by placing a few tablespoons of filling along the long edge of each and rolling them up into tubes, then put them in the baking dish, seam-side down, and cover them with sauce.

You can buy dried, commercially prepared cannelloni or manicotti shells. Cook them according to the directions on the package, stuff them, and put them in the baking dish. As these are pre-rolled and can be a bit difficult to fill, sometimes using a pastry/decorating bag with a large nozzle is the easiest and least messy method. 

Ensure that the sauce that's poured over the cannelloni once you have arranged them in the baking dish is somewhat more liquidy than what you would normally use for serving on pasta, as it will thicken during baking.

Varieties

Dried, durum wheat cannelloni is the most common variety found in stores. Gluten-free and whole-wheat cannelloni or manicotti can sometimes be found in specialty and health food stores. Follow the instructions on the box for accurate cook time. Fresh cannelloni can be found at some Italian grocers and specialty shops with an extensive fresh pasta section. It can also be made at home, and a variety of fresh and dry cannelloni pasta is available for purchase online.

Raw cannelloni in a white dish
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Cooking cannelloni
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Cropped Hands Preparing Food
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Cannelloni pasta with filling of ground beef, tomatoes, baked with bechamel tomato sauce and mozzarella. Classical Italian cuisine, white tablecloth with embroidery, rustic style, top view, copy space
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cannelloni with minced beef and tomato sauce
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Substitutes

Large pasta shells provide a decent stand-in for cannelloni and can be stuffed and baked in a similar fashion. You will need more shells than manicotti sheets since the shells are smaller and will hold less filling. Cut sheets of cooked lasagna can also be wrapped around a filling, topped with sauce, and baked, with a similar effect to cannelloni.

Cannelloni Recipes

Hearty meat and cheesy fillings are common for cannelloni dishes. Vegetables like wilted spinach, chopped, cooked mushrooms, and more can be added. Some recipes call for cream sauces to be poured over the top, while others call for simple tomato sauces. For a vegan version, try a savory tofu filling. Popular dishes include cannelloni alla besciamella, spinach and ricotta cannelloni, and vegan tofu manicotti.