Stuffing cannelloni is not hard. Stuff them without cooking them in water. Lay them on a baking dish, smother with sauce, bake and let the pasta cook in the sauce. That’s how I cooked my spinach and cream cheese stuffed cannelloni with meat sauce.
But why not cook the cannelloni in water before stuffing? Two reasons:
First. Cooked cannelloni is slippery and that makes it harder to stuff.
Second. Cooked cannelloni with soak up only so much of the sauce. But let the tubes cook in the sauce and they will absorb more flavors and color.
Frankly, this is how I cook lasagna these days too. No more boiling the pasta before assembling the dish like I did when I posted my old lasagna with meat sauce recipe. I really ought to update that one.
So, let me show you how I made my cannelloni dish.
First, I blanched two large handful of spinach. I drained the spinach, rinsed the leaves in cold water then squeezed out as much liquid as I could. I wrote a step-by-step guide on how to do that long ago, and you can just check out squeezing excess water from spinach.
The squeezed spinach was chopped and mixed with softened cream cheese.
I spooned the spinach-cream cheese mixture into a piping bag and piped it into the uncooked cannelloni. Note that you don’t need to use a decorating tip. Just cut off the pointy end of the piping bag. And if you don’t have a piping bag, take a resealable bag, spoon in the stuffing then snip off one corner. It’s like a Girl Scout piping bag.
It would be lovely to have photos of the actual piping but I have only two hands. My left hand held the cannelloni, my right hand held the piping bag so there was no hand left to turn the lens this way and that to focus, and press the button of the camera. So, the last two photos should suffice.
Next, I took a baking tray and spread tomato sauce to cover the entire bottom. That’s so the cannelloni wouldn’t stick to the pan during baking. Plus, the liquid in the sauce would create additional steam in which the pasta would cook.
I arranged the stuffed cannelloni over the sauce in a single layer. Not too tightly to give the pasta room to expand.
I took my tomato meat sauce (leftover from Alex’s lasagna a few nights earlier) and spread it generously over the cannelloni.
The baking dish was wrapped tightly in a sheet of aluminum foil. That’s really the trick in baking uncooked pasta. The steam is not allowed to evaporate so that the pasta can have enough moisture in which to cook.
After 50 minutes in a 325F oven, the cannelloni was done but I wanted to add one last thing before serving the dish. More cheese. Shredded pepper Jack cheese was sprinkled on top and back into the oven went the cannelloni. This time, at 400F for 10 minutes.
The cheese melted and left a lovely contrast across the length of baked pasta dish.
I opted to let the cannelloni rest for ten minutes before serving. You know, to allow the juices to stabilize so that it wouldn’t fall in a soupy mess when the tubes of pasta were lifted with a spatula.
A little chopped parsley to give it a bright appearance and fresh flavor and the cannelloni was ready to serve.
That didn’t look hard, did it? And that’s not a lot of work for such a delicious dish. If baking stuffed cannelloni is not something doable on a weeknight, do it on the weekend when the whole family can sit down to a meal.
Spinach and Cream Cheese Stuffed Cannelloni With Meat Sauce
- 2 large handfuls fresh spinach blanched, rinsed, squeezed and chopped
- 250 grams cream cheese at room temperature
- 6 to 9 tubes cannelloni
- 1 cup tomato sauce (I used homemade)
- 2 cups tomato meat sauce (it's my secret pasta sauce)
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used pepper Jack but mozzarella will be lovely too)
- chopped parsley to garnish
Preheat the oven to 325F.
In a bowl, mix together the chopped spinach and cream cheese until smooth.
Spoon the spinach-cream cheese mixture into a piping bag and pipe into the uncooked cannelloni. Make sure that they are filled from end to end.
Spread the tomato sauce on the entire bottom of a baking dish.
Arrange the stuffed cannelloni in a single layer on top of the sauce making sure they are not packed together too tightly. They need a little room to expand.
Spread the tomato meat sauce over the cannelloni.
Cover the baking dish tightly with foil.
Bake the spinach and cream cheese stuffed cannelloni with meat sauce at 325F for about 50 minutes.
Take the baking dish out of the oven.
Turn up the oven temperature to 400F.
Peel off the foil covering the baking dish and discard.
Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top of the tomato meat sauce.
Return the cannelloni into the oven and bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Let the cannelloni rest for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.