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.
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.
As a Variation: Try chard instead of spinach.
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.
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.
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.
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