All About Cheesy Stuffed Pasta: Manicotti, Cannelloni

All About Cheesy Stuffed Pasta: Manicotti, Cannelloni

Named cannelloni in Italy, this tasty stuffed pasta dish is known in America as manicotti. The word cannellone literally means “a big pipe” and manicotto loosely translates as “a big sleeve.” This pasta dish has followed millions of Italian immigrants around the world—to North and South America and even Australia—to the point that it’s probably more popular nowadays in Brooklyn than in Naples. Called cannelloni in Italy, this stuffed pasta dish is known in America as manicotti. The word cannellone literally means “a big pipe,” and manicotto loosely translates as“a big sleeve.” Squares or rectangles of pasta are filled, then rolled to form cylinders about 5- to 6-inches long, then layered on a buttered baking dish, topped with sauce and put in the oven. Traditionally, in Italy, cannelloni is a Sunday lunch or holiday dish. Though it isn’t regional, cannelloni is usually associated with the Campania region and Sicily. In the old days, when women spent more time in the kitchen, cannelloni were prepared from scratch, using fresh, homemade egg pasta, stuffed with a filling and topped with ragù, tomato sauce, and/or Béchamel. Nowadays, you can obtain excellent results using DeLallo Manicotti, Lasagna noodles or other large forms of dry pasta, such as Shells. Dry pasta needs to be cooked first, very briefly, in water and then, when cooled over a towel, filled. Top your manicotti with sauce, sprinkling freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano before baking in a casserole dish or pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 375˚F, or until a crust starts to form on the top. Fillings Ideas What is great about pasta is the enormous range of ingredients you can use: cheeses, ground meats, cured meats and vegetables. If you are using DeLallo Manicotti, a pastry bag might be of help to fill the “sleeves.” If you choose to use DeLallo Lasagna, place your fillings towards the edge of the pasta closest to you; then roll it gently, without pressing too hard.

  • Ricotta e Spinaci (spinach):This is the most popular filling and it’s vegetarian. For four persons, you’ll need a pound of fresh spinach—steamed or quickly boiled, then cooled in ice water; tightly squeeze the spinach and finely chop. Add one pound of fresh ricotta, two egg yolks, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients well.

As a Variation: Try chard instead of spinach. Recommended Sauces: Tomato Basil, Béchamel, or ragù.

  • Fresh vegetables: This is a delicate filling. You’ll need one large eggplant, one pepper, a few mushrooms, one zucchini, six ounces of fresh tomatoes, one leek, four ounces of already boiled or steamed asparagus tips and a few basil leaves. Cut the eggplant first in slices and then in small pieces. Finely chop the onion. Cut all ingredients into pieces that are equal in size so that they cook evenly. If you’re an expert with a food processor, just give a quick shot or two to chop the vegetables to save time—just don’t chop too finely. Leave the asparagus tips whole.

Heat up olive oil and begin by sautéing the onions, then add the rest of the ingredients; add pepper and salt, and cook until the veggies are tender. After allowing the mixture to cool, fill your pasta, adding the chopped basil and two asparagus tips inside each manicotti. Variation:  You can insert small pieces of a good melting cheese, such as Fontina, smoked provola or mozzarella into the filling. Sauce: Use only Béchamel for this dish. Pour some on the bottom of the pan and over the manicotti—be generous with both the Béchamel and Parmigiano. Serve hot.

  • Carne (Meat): These cannelloni (or manicotti) have meat-based filling. Usually, lean ground beef, veal, lamb, pork or a mixture of any of these meats is used. Briefly sauté the meat with chopped carrots, celery, onions and a bit of white wine. After a few minutes, when the mixture has cooled down, combine an egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano and, if you like, some chopped country ham. Then fill your pasta as described above.

Variations: Add some sautéed greens or steamed vegetables like chard, leeks or cabbage. Mushrooms are also a great addition to this meaty filling, as well any good melting cheese. Recommended sauces: Béchamel; or Béchamel with Gorgonzola, Taleggio or other cheese mixed in at the end. Another option is to alternate lines (or squiggles) of Béchamel and tomato sauce to create a visually interesting topping.

  • Cannelloni di Pesce (Fish): Rarely found in restaurants in Italy, but when well done, they are very delicate and exquisite. You can choose from a great variety of fresh fish to make your filling: ask your fishmonger to prepare fillets of red snapper, sea bass, or monk fish, for example. Sauté your fish with just a little bit of scallion—or garlic, which you will discard—and a bit of parsley. Deglaze the pan with white wine and use that liquid for your velouté, which will be your sauce (see below). In the same pan that you sauté the fish, add chopped prawns or shrimp. If you want to include mussels in your filling, you’ll need to steam them first—saving the water that comes out when you open them for your sauce. Add some breadcrumbs and ricotta or Parmigiano as a binder for the fish mixture, and then fill your pasta.

Pour some veloutè sauce on the bottom of the baking pan or dish and on top of the manicotti, adding more sauce, breadcrumbs and Parmigiano. Sauce: Veloutè is actually a soup but is often used as a sauce. In this dish, it’s a light sauce made with butter, flour, a little milk and any fish broth you have saved from cooking your fish. A great fish broth can be obtained from gently boiling a fish head and bones along with a scallion and a bit of celery, carrots, bay leaves and parsley. Variation: Alternatively, use tomato sauce but if it’s not a quickly cooked, fresh tomato sauce, it will overwhelm the delicate fish taste. A good clam sauce made with some fresh tomatoes can also be a great variation.