The authentic Italian dish cannelloni (more commonly called "manicotti" in the U.S.) is made up of tube-shaped pasta filled with either meat or vegetables and topped with a creamy white béchamel sauce (or besciamella as it is known in Italian). The dish is simple enough to make at home and ideal for a hearty meal the whole family will love. A mixture of prosciutto, ground beef, tomatoes, onion, bread, and cheese is simmered until well blended and then stuffed into either store-bought or homemade pasta.
- 1 pound cannelloni shells
- For the Filling:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- 1/2 small onion (peeled and minced)
- 2 ounces prosciutto (minced)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 pound plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup day-old bread, crust removed (crumbled)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg (lightly beaten)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling top
- 2 cups besciamella sauce
Cook the dried pasta tubes according to the directions for al dente. Remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon and lay the pieces on a damp kitchen cloth, taking care not to let them touch so they don't stick to each other. Set aside.
In a medium pot, melt the butter and saute the onion and the prosciutto until the onion is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the beef and the bay leaf and cook, stirring, until the meat has browned, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the flour and the tomatoes and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.
When the filling has finished simmering, remove it from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Soak the bread in the milk for about 10 minutes until the bread is softened, then squeeze to drain off the excess liquid (the bread should be wet but not dripping). In a bowl, combine the soaked bread, egg, and grated cheese, and then combine with the meat mixture, stirring until everything is uniform.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter a large enough baking pan to hold all of the cannelloni snugly.
You are now ready to fill the cannelloni. Use a spoon to stuff each tube with some of the meat filling. Place the filled cannelloni closely together in the prepared pan.
Pour the besciamella over the cannelloni, sprinkle with a little more grated Parmigiano and dot it with a little more butter. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve hot.
Using Homemade Pasta
If you prefer, you can make your own cannelloni shells. Begin by making the pasta dough using 3 1/3 cups flour and 4 eggs. Roll out the dough and cut it into 3 by 4-inch rectangles. Cook a few pieces at a time in abundant, lightly salted water.
To assemble, lay flat the cooked pasta pieces and spoon some of the filling along the long edge of the first pasta sheet. Roll it up to form a cylinder, and repeat the procedure until pasta and filling are all used up.