This is a classic filled-and-baked pasta dish that is good at any time of year, and which makes great leftovers as well. You can even freeze any leftovers, which will keep for about three months if packaged well in a freezer-safe bag or container. To reheat frozen leftovers: let defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then heat in an oven as described below.
As with all Italian dishes, it's important to use high-quality ingredients for the best results. If at all possible, use larger, darker leaves of mature spinach rather than baby spinach or young spinach. It's much more flavorful and holds its texture better when cooked, rather than disintegrating into a somewhat slimy mess. Very high-quality ricotta is also essential. If you only have access to watery, chalky supermarket brands, try making your own ricotta! It's easier than you think.
Either sheets of fresh pasta or dried cannelloni tube pasta (cooked according to the package directions -- be sure not to overcook) can be used; both give great results.
The ratio of spinach to ricotta is much higher in this more authentically Italian version. Many U.S. adaptations contain mostly ricotta just barely flecked with spinach, while it should really be larger chunks of hearty spinach with some ricotta and egg holding it all together.
Optional variation: You can spoon a ladleful of a simple tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish after the ladleful of besciamella, and another over the top of the cannelloni before covering them with the rest of the besciamella.
- 1 pound mature spinach leaves
- 7 ounces fresh cow's milk ricotta
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 8 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (a Microplane grater works well for this), plus 4 tablespoons for sprinkling on top
- Fine sea salt
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 8 rectangles of fresh pasta (10 x 12 cm) or 8 tubes of dried cannelloni, cooked according to package directions
- 2 cups besciamella
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash spinach well, discard all stems, and cook over medium heat in a large pot (with only the water remaining on the leaves after washing) for about 10 minutes. Drain well in a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down on the cooked spinach with the bottom of a wooden spoon to squeeze out as much water as possible. Then chop the cooked spinach finely and transfer it to a medium bowl.
Stir in the ricotta, egg, 8 tablespoons grated parmesan, salt, and nutmeg. Mix well to combine.
If using fresh pasta sheets: cook the sheets for 1 minute in boiling salted water, drain and immediately submerge in cold water; let sit in the cold water for a few minutes, then remove and let dry on a clean kitchen towel or large wooden cutting board.
If using dried pasta tubes: cook according to package directions, drain and submerge in cold water. Drain well. Fill using a small spoon.
Evenly distribute the filling between the rectangles of fresh pasta (or tubes of pasta). If using sheets: place a spoonful of filling close to the short ends and roll up lengthwise to form 8 cannelloni.
Spoon one ladleful of the besciamella sauce over the bottom of a small greased baking dish and spread evenly over bottom. Transfer filled cannelloni to the baking dish in a single layer, cover them evenly with the remaining besciamella, then sprinkle with the remaining 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan and the butter, distributed evenly to dot the surface.
Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.