Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
The first time I made spinach and ricotta cannelloni was over 10 years ago. I found the recipe on the inside of a ricotta tub lid I’d just purchased. I still have the lid to this day and have photocopied it several times for friends. Am hoping this version of the recipe will be easier to share and more visually appealing than a photocopied lid!
When I first served this dish one cold, wintry, night, admittedly, I was quite expecting the children to turn their noses up in disgust when they cut into their cheesy coated tubes, revealing their bright green contents. Happily, this wasn’t the case at all. In fact they loved it. All four of them loved it. Which is saying something. Pleasing all four kids in one meal time is no easy feat, so you can appreciate my feeling of smugness when all four plates were wiped clean.
This recipe has become a firm family favourite and it’s a great way of getting spinach and other hidden veg into your kids.
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
My kids are not very adventurous when it comes to vegetables at the best of times, so over the years I’ve had to come up with various imaginative ways of disguising them. I have found the easiest way is to just hide the vegetables by means of pureeing down to a sauce, or as in this case, pureeing and slathering in a thick, creamy, cheese sauce.
Chop up the onion as finely as you can and sauté for 3-4 minutes until they are a pale translucent colour. Then add the finely chopped garlic and fry for a further minute.
Squeeze as much moisture out of the spinach as possible and add to the pan with the onions and garlic and cook for a further minute. Mix well.
With a stick blender, blend the contents of the pan until you have a nice smooth paste, or if you prefer a chunkier texture, you may just miss out this stage altogether. I prefer a fine blend so the kids don’t see the chunks of onion and start picking them out. I also find a fine blend makes it easier to fill the tubes as you will see in the next step.
Once blended add the ricotta cheese, a tablespoon of grated nutmeg, season with salt & freshly ground black pepper and mix well.
The Spinach & Ricotta Filing:
For many years I struggled with the filing stage and would get myself into such a green mess when trying to spoon the filling into the pasta tubes as the recipe suggested. Unless you have decided to leave your filing a lot thicker and chunkier, don’t use a spoon. Instead, place a medium sized food bag or ziplock into a bowl or jug as shown below. Fill the bag with the spinach and ricotta filling, tie a knot at the top, and when you are ready to pipe just snip a small corner off one end and away you pipe.
The bag in this picture below was not ideal, it was too thin and floppy. Use a firmer bag if you can, it will enable you a firmer grip with which to squeeze. Also be careful of the bag splitting and your filling worming it’s way out in all directions other than where you want it. Fill your tubes by cutting one edge off the filled bag and holding the tube in one hand and the bag in the other squeeze enough mixture to fill the tube.
This recipe is quite time consuming, so if you are short on time you can leave the filling of the cannelloni up to two to three days later. Just keep the bag in the fridge until you’re ready to complete the dish. Or make double, and freeze one portion in a zip lock.
Now to start the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in your pan and when melted add the flour. Cook the butter and flour mixture for at least 1 minute. The paste you end up with is called a roux. Stir the milk into the roux until it’s fully combined. Warming the milk slightly before adding to the roux helps speed up the whole process. Your sauce will start out very thick like you see in the end picture below, don’t worry if it looks thick and gloopy, just keep adding the warmed milk little by little, no more than 100 ml at a time. Should you develop any lumps and find it’s all getting out of control take the pan off the heat and stir vigorously until you achieve a smooth sauce again, then put back on the heat.
Once your sauce is the consistency of single cream (smooth textured and hopefully, lump free) take off of the heat and add half of your grated parmesan and mix well.
The Tomato Sauce:
I recommend Jamie’s 7 vegetable tomato sauce recipe. Cook a large batch of this and freeze in ice-cube trays for numerous sneaky ways of getting veggies into your kids without them realising. I’ve been using this tomato sauce recipe for the past 7 years, and use if for pizza, pasta and for lining my spinach and cannelloni baking dish of course. If you don’t use a tomato sauce I’d advise you grease the bottom of the pan to avoid sticking.
Once all the cannelloni tubes are filled, spoon a layer of the baking dish with a few tablespoons of tomato sauce, placed into a baking dish (don’t pack them in too tightly), then pour the bechamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining grated parmesan.
At this stage you can freeze your dish for a later date or simply put in the oven for tonight’s dinner. I doubled this recipe and got two large dishes plus one small dish of cannelloni, one for the kids dinner as a main course, one for the freezer and the smaller dish we will have tonight as a side with lamb chops.
We are not vegetarians but I find this spinach and ricotta cannelloni works well as a main course, accompanied by a simple mixed leaf salad. A great recipe if you are trying to follow the “Meat Free Monday” initiative. Otherwise, if you’re feeling rather more indulgent it goes remarkably well with juicy, grilled, lamb chops!
Should you try this recipe, let me know what you think!
P.S. Don’t forget you can pin this recipe to Pinterest by clicking the image below!
Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni
- 50 g Butter
- 1 large Onion finely chopped
- 1-2 cloves of garlic crushed or thinly sliced
- 250 g frozen chopped spinach defrosted
- 250 g tub ricotta
- 1 tablespoon level freshly grated nutmeg
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 10-12 cannelloni tubes
- 35 g plain flour
- 550 ml milk
- 125 g freshly grated parmesan
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
- Extra mozzarella and parmesan cheese for topping
Melt half the butter in a pan and fry the onion for 3-4 minutes.
Add the finely chopped garlic and cook for a 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
Add the drained spinach and cook for a further minute.
Remove from the heat and using a stick blender, blend to a fine paste.
Stir in the ricotta, nutmeg and season to taste and mix well.
Add the ricotta and spinach filling to a plastic bag, tie a knot and snip one corner and now gently squeeze the mixture from the bag and fill as many cannelloni tubes as you can.
Arrange the tubes onto a lightly buttered oven-proof dish, or add a layer of tomato sauce (see tip)
Melt the remaining butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and cook for at least one minute stirring continuously.
Add the milk a little at a time, keep stirring and cook for 2-3 mins until thickened and smooth.
Stir in half the parmesan and season to taste.
Pour the sauce over the cannelloni and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and mozzarella (if using)
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C, 350F, Gas mark 4 for 35 mins.
Sprinkle over the parsley and serve immediately.
1. If you have some ready-made tomato sauce to hand you can add a thin layer to the bottom of the baking dish and place the cannelloni tubes on top. I recommend making a batch of [Jamie’s 7 veg tomato sauce and freezing in ice-cube trays, which can be used as a pasta sauce, pizza topping, and as the bottom tomato sauce layer for this dish.
2. Serve with a crisp green salad and garlic bread.