When it comes to delicious Italian meals, baked cannelloni can’t be beat. There are as many recipes for this dish as there are Italian nonnas. This cannelloni recipe features pasta stuffed with a ricotta filling that’s cheesy and delicious.
Originally published December 2021; this post has been updated.
Cannelloni, much like lasagna, is a meal that takes a bit of preparation. But that preparation will net a delicious home cooked meal full of Italian flavor.
First, though, what IS cannelloni?
Cannelloni vs Manicotti
Cannelloni is a tube-shaped pasta that can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. Manicotti? Also a tube-shaped pasta. The difference is that cannelloni pasta is generally smooth and thin walled, while manicotti is slightly thicker and ribbed.
Ingredients for Baked Cannelloni
Cannelloni — Look for these in the pasta aisle of the grocery store. If you can’t find cannelloni pasta tubes, manicotti is a fine substitution. You could also substitute large pasta shells for this recipe.
Pork sausage — You can use a mild or spicy Italian sausage for this, as you like. If you start with links, you’ll need to remove the ground meat from the casings. If you have access to Italian sausage in bulk (or make your own, like this), you can skip this step.
Cheeses — Ricotta cheese is available in the dairy department, and gives this baked cannelloni it’s creaminess, as part of the stuffing. Top the cannelloni with mozzarella cheese before baking, and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan. It’s a trifecta of cheesy goodness!
Tomatoes — The recipe calls for whole canned tomatoes (look for San Marzano tomatoes for a true Italian flavor), but if stewed tomatoes are all that’s available, that’s fine. Drain the tomatoes before adding them to the filling.
Spinach — Use fresh spinach leaves if you can. Frozen spinach works, but be sure to drain it and squeeze it dry
Seasonings — The seasoning for this dish is simple, since the Italian sausage has such flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste, garlic in the filling, and thyme as a garnish.
Making This Baked Cannelloni
Don’t let the fact that there are several stages to making this recipe turn you away. The steps are easy!
Drop the cannelloni into boiling water. Be sure to stir them around to prevent sticking. Cook them only until they reach al dente stage. They’ll be difficult to fill otherwise.
For the filling, cook and crumble the sausage in a frying pan, then combine with the ricotta cheese, tomatoes, and spinach.
If you have one, a piping bag is an easy way to fill the cannelloni. If not, use a small spoon to push the sausage mixture into each cannelloni shell, then place filled pasta into a baking dish that is liberally greased with butter or olive oil.
Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top of the cannelloni and bake. Serve with Parmesan cheese.
How to Serve
Dish this delicious baked cannelloni onto plates and serve with a green salad for a complete meal. Glass of red wine and cheesy garlic bread optional. Plenty of people also enjoy garlic bread with their pasta. Don’t forget the sorbet for dessert!
Can I make this dish ahead?
This is the perfect meal for making ahead of time. Prepare the entire pan, then cover and refrigerate. Let it rest on the counter while the oven preheats before baking. You can also freeze the entire pan, making it the perfect meal to take to someone who needs a fast meal during busy times.
I can’t find cannelloni – what can I use?
Manicotti shells will also work. And in a pinch, fresh lasagna sheets can be used! Top each with a couple of spoonfuls of the meat mixture and roll them up. Add sauce and cheese and bake as directed.
Can I use frozen spinach?
Of course! However, this recipe calls for just 2 ounces of fresh spinach – which, once cooked down, really isn’t much at all. So you won’t want to use an entire 10 oz frozen chopped spinach block. If you can find a bag of frozen chopped spinach, that will work best as you can add some in to your filling by “looks.”
If you’re looking for more ways to connect with family in the kitchen, why not try your hand at freshly made pasta?
- 8-10 cannelloni pasta shells
- 1 pound Italian pork sausage
- 3 ounces ricotta cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 14-oz can whole tomatoes, drained
- 2 ounces fresh spinach leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Thyme optional for decoration
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse in cool water.
- Remove casings from sausage and cook in a large skillet over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until browned, breaking up into small pieces with a wooden spoon as you cook. Remove from heat and drain.
- Add garlic, onion, tomatoes, spinach, and oregano; cook for 10 minutes more, smashing tomatoes as the sauce cooks.
- Transfer meat mixture to large bowl along with ricotta cheese and seasoning. Stir to combine.
- Stuff cannelloni tubes with filling, placing filled cannelloni into a well oiled baking dish.
- Top with shredded cheese.
- Bake at 375F in the oven for 25 minutes
- Garnish with thyme and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.
- If you have one, a piping bag is an easy way to fill the cannelloni. No cannelloni tubes? Manicotti shells work, or roll up the meat filling in fresh pasta sheets.
- You can substitute diced canned tomatoes for the whole tomatoes if you want to. You could also use tomato sauce.
- For a beef cannelloni recipe, substitute ground beef for the sausage. Or try a chicken sausage instead of the pork sausage.