Spinach and meat cannelloni

how to make cannelloini Italian pasta recipe

In a realm of culinary fantasy, where the Pasta Kingdom sprawls in all its delicious glory, Cannelloni is the King and Lasagna is the Queen. Cannelloni and lasagna, when prepared with care and respect for the ingredients, are made of the stuff of dreams.

Brueghel Land of Cockaigne
Peter Bruegel, Land of Cockaigne

In Italy, the term cannelloni refers to are to thin pasta sheets rolls, filled with a mixture of vegetables and ricotta or meat which might be enriched with vegetable, spices, and cheese. The rolls are then baked covered (not drowned!) with a tomato sauce, ragù, béchamel, or combination of red sauce and béchamel.

Cannelloni are different from manicotti, an Italian-American recipe which you will probably never encounter in Italy.

Just like lasagna, making proper cannelloni is a labor of love, resulting in a sublime dish for which you will be revered by family and friends. Cannelloni are ideal for a dinner party or holiday lunch: each piece just lifts out of the baking dish in a perfectly sized portion.

The success of this dish is based on high-quality ingredients, a restrained amount of sauce, a relatively light but wonderfully savory filling.



  • gr 250 g (approx 8.5 oz) fresh lasagna sheets (mine are 22×18 cm -7×5 inches)

For the cannelloni filling

  • 300 gr (10 oz) prime quality ground red meat. I use a 50/50 mixture of pork and beef.
  • Soffritto: 1 onion, 1 celery rib, 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz)  sliced ham, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb.) fresh spinach, blanched, dried and chopped
  • 30 gr (2 tablespoons) finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano plus two tablespoons for sprinkling.
  • 250 gr mozzarella or mild cow’s-milk cheese, sliced

For the tomato sauce

  • 600-700 ml lt (3 cups) basic tomato sauce flavored with a handful of basil leaves (double the recipe here)

For the béchamel

(recipe here)

  • 250 ml (1 cup) full fat milk
    30 g (1 oz) butter
    30 g (1 oz) corn starch



I suggest preparing first all the components of the recipe and prepare them on your worktop to speed up the assemblage of the dish. Tomato sauce and filling can be prepared one day ahead, covered tightly and refrigerate. Don’t reheat before using.

  1. Prepare tomato sauce and béchamel
  2. Blanch spinach, chop
  3. Slice ham, cheese, and dice the soffritto vegetables
  4. Prepare the filling
  5. Soak the pasta sheets to make them pliable
  6. Assemble the cannelloni (see the full process here)
  7. Bake

To make the filling

In a shallow heavy-bottomed pan, sauté onion, carrot, and celery with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. This is called a soffritto. When the vegetables are translucent, increase the heat, add the ground meat and sauté quickly until just starting to brown. Deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg and black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse ham, spinach and grated Parmigiano until finely ground. Add the cooked ground meat together with 2-3 tablespoon of tomato sauce. Pulse chop briefly to incorporate. If you use frozen spinach, make sure to squeeze them well to remove the excess moisture. If the filling is too moist, the cannelloni will fall apart during cooking.

To assemble the cannelloni:

Soak the pasta sheets: boiling 4–6 cups of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour in a shallow bowl, which must be larger than your lasagna sheets. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at a time in the hot water until just soft, approx. 10 sec, strain, then place in one single layer on your worktop. If using pasta sheets of similar size to mine, cut each sheet in two.

how to use fresh lasagna sheets

Arrange about 2 tablespoons filling in a line along the diagonal of a pasta rectangle,how to make Italian cannelloni pasta

top with the mozzarella and roll tightly along the diagonal to enclose the filling.how to roll Italian cannelloni

Cover the bottom of an oven pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place the cannelloni over the sauce layer and drizzle with additional tomato sauce. Drizzle with béchamel and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.

Preheat oven to 200 °C (392 °F).

Italian spinach cannelloni recipe

Bake in the middle of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.
Cannelloni freeze very well uncooked. Just make sure to thaw them completely at room temperature before baking.

Once baked, let the cannelloni stand 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 24 cannelloni. Serves 4-6.

cannelloni pasta filled with meat and spinach


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  1. Ciao Letizia,
    This dish sounds like a true classic! I love the schedule. It sure does help the cook. When it comes to Italian cooking, I really don’t need a schedule, but because I’m still new to German cuisine, I must always plan ahead. Thanks for sharing this recipe! I will definitely be trying it. 🙂

  2. Funny thing is the past two weeks I have been thinking of making cannelloni, but haven’t had the time. Now I’m really drooling and don’t know how much longer I can last without a taste. This weekend must be the elected weekend.
    Lovely presentation !

  3. When I was 10 years old I visited Italy with my parents…the story is still told…but I ate these Cannelloni every time we went to a restaurant (which was almost every night for 2 months). I was in love and can never forget the pure magnificence of their taste. Now I am Gluten Intolerant and have not yet mastered homemade gluten free pasta…once I do- this is what I will make.
    Thank you for sharing this spectacular dish with us!

    • Dear Susan
      thank you for your lovely comment. I have also always loved this dish, my mum used to make it every big holiday. I think it is possible to make a gluten free version of it, please give a look to my recipe for gluten free ravioli. You could use the same pasta dough recipe and cut it into square. You will however need to blanch the pasta sheets very briefly, 20 or 30 sec.
      All the very best

    • Hi Walter
      did you use my recipe? Did you buy the pasta sheets? If the pasta was fresh and cracked most likely means that you have use too little liquid to make the dough, but I’d need to know more details to be sure

      • I made the pasta with 2 lbs. flour, 10 eggs. They curled and cracked when I was trying to dry them flat. Thanks for your help. Walter

  4. Did you add any water? What flour did you use? Semolina? All purpose? I use 00 Italian flour which is equivalent to pastry flour. It’s the easiest to handle and gives the best results.

    • All pupose flour, only eggs and flour. The fettucinne dried and tasted great. I broke up the curled sheets and added it to soup, also good. Where is your recipe?

  5. my recipe is here
    I am convinced that the problem is in the quality of the flour. If the dough is too sticky the pasta does not dry well. Your dough has to be soft enough to go through the pasta machine (I am assuming you use one) but still quite firm. Sometime it’s just that bleached flour has been so “mistreated” that no matter what you do the dough will react strangely to any manipulation. Try changing the flour and see what happens.

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