cannelloni with sausage ragu and tomato sauce recipe

Cannelloni is one of the most underrated pastas around – these recipes prove it

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Cooked all the viral pasta dishes TikTok has to offer? Give these classic Italian cannelloni recipes a try.

Some pasta dishes enjoy viral moments in the sun (we’re looking at you, TikTok’s feta and tomato penne). Others, like lasagne and spaghetti bolognese, are firmly part of our comfort food repertoire. But there’s one type of pasta that rarely pops up on Instagram – and you probably don’t cook with it on a regular basis at home, either. We’re talking about cannelloni.

Unlike other shapes, you’ll never see cannelloni simply boiled and topped with jarred sauce for an emergency weeknight dinner. Originally created in Sorrento over 100 years ago by Neapolitan chef Nicola Federico, cannelloni’s name refers to the pasta’s unique tubular shape – meaning ‘large reeds’ – and has been a staple of Italian cooking ever since.

Traditionally, the large tubes are oven baked, after being stuffed with cheese, meat or vegetables, and slathered with rich (never watery) tomato sauce and/or a creamy béchamel. But cannelloni is eminently adaptable. Once you’ve got the knack of constructing the dish, you can mix and match your fillings – hopping from ricotta and spinach to a meat ragu with ease. 

Below, you’ll find three cannelloni recipes that are perfect for leisurely Sunday lunches or post-lockdown celebratory dinners. The classic cannelloni with béchamel sauce comes courtesy of the ultimate Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon Classic (tip: if you want to make it vegetarian, simply leave out the meat or replace with vegetables of your choice).

Big Mamma – the group behind Circolo Popolare, Gloria and much-hyped new Italian restaurant Ave Mario – has offered up the recipe for its ‘Big Big Cannelloni’, featuring ricotta, mushrooms, guanciale and squash. These recipes both contain instructions for crafting cannelloni sheets from scratch; you can flatten out your DIY pasta dough with a rolling pin, but you may want to invest in a machine such as the Marcato Atlas 150 pasta-maker (£70, Selfridges) to help you along.

However, you don’t have to make your own pasta to construct a delicious cannelloni dish. As chef Theo Randall explains in his recipe for cannelloni with sausage ragu and tomato sauce, he actively prefers the shop-bought tubes – but he does rely on a piping bag to fill them with sauce. Try Lakeland’s Professional Piping Set (£14.99) if you want to do the same. Buon appetito!

  • Cannelloni with béchamel sauce

    Cannelloni with béchamel sauce recipe
    Best cannelloni recipes: The Silver Spoon Kitchen's cannelloni with béchamel sauce

    The Silver Spoon Kitchen team say: “These delicious baked rolls of pasta can be filled with any combination of ingredients. Every Italian region, and almost every family, has their own version of cannelloni.

    “Once you have mastered the basic recipe, experiment with any filling that you like. For example, try a mixture of ricotta and spinach, or a meat ragù as an alternative. Cover the filled cannelloni with béchamel sauce before baking, or pour over a simple tomato sauce instead.

    “For an aromatic béchamel, add sage leaves and a small peeled shallot to the milk, then discard before adding the milk to the butter and flour.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 25g/2 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing
    • 300g spinach
    • 200g roasted veal, chopped
    • 1 slice cured ham, chopped
    • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten

    For the fresh egg pasta:

    • 300g plain flour, preferably Italian type “00”
    • 3 eggs
    • ½ tsp olive oil

    For the béchamel sauce:

    • 50g butter
    • 25g plain flour
    • 500ml milk
    • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Method

    Make the fresh egg pasta. Sift the flour into a large bowl or into a mound on a pastry board, make a well in the centre, and break the eggs into it. Beat them with a fork, then add the oil and ½ tsp of water.

    Work in the flour, starting with the inner surfaces of the well.

    When the eggs and flour start to form a soft dough, work the mixture with your hands to make a ball. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

    Wrap in clingfilm and rest for 30 minutes.

    Make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste.

    Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in all the milk, making sure the sauce is smooth between each addition.

    Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium–high heat, stirring continuously until it starts to boil.

    Season with salt, lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently over low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and not run off.

    Remove the pan from the heat. Taste, add more salt, if necessary, and season with pepper and/or nutmeg.

    Béchamel sauce should not taste floury. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If too runny, boil for a little longer.

    For a richer béchamel sauce, replace half the milk with the same amount of double cream; for a lighter béchamel sauce, use half milk and half water.

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter.

    Cook the spinach for 5 minutes in just the water clinging to the leaves after washing. Drain well and pass through a vegetable mill, then combine with the veal, ham, parmesan and egg and season to taste.

    Roll out the pasta dough into a thin sheet. To roll by machine, cut the rested dough into four. Press each piece into an oblong about 10 x 5cm. With the rollers at the widest setting, feed the pasta into the machine.

    Repeat, gradually reducing the space between the rollers, until the pasta is the required thinness.

    You can also roll out the pasta dough using a rolling pin. Place a ball of dough on a lightly floured work counter and roll it out, turning the circle of dough 45 degrees after each rolling until you have a thin, uniform disc.

    Cut the pasta dough into large rectangles.

    Cook the rectangles, a few at a time, in a large pot of salted, boiling water for 6–7 minutes. Drain on a damp dish towel.

    Put some of the spinach mixture and a little béchamel sauce on each rectangle and roll up from one long side.

    Arrange the cannelloni in a single layer in the prepared dish, pour the remaining béchamel sauce over them and dot with the butter.

    Bake for 20 minutes, then let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

    Adapted from The Silver Spoon Classic by The Silver Spoon Kitchen (£39.95, Phaidon) out now

  • Cannelloni with sausage ragu and tomato sauce

    cannelloni with sausage ragu and tomato sauce recipe
    Best cannelloni recipes: Theo Randall’s cannelloni with sausage ragu and tomato sauce

    Theo Randall says: “Cannelloni can be hard to find unless you go to a good Italian deli. You can make your own using fresh pasta, but I love the texture of the dried tubes, especially when they have gone a bit crispy on the outside.

    “Italian sausage meat is beautifully seasoned and tends to have some cured meat as well as herbs and dried chilli in it. As a result, any sauce made with it becomes really tasty and is far more interesting than it would be if you used just minced beef or pork.

    “You’ll need a piping bag to fill the cannelloni; and, no matter how hungry you are, don’t skip the step of leaving the dish to cool for a few minutes before you serve – the pasta needs that time to absorb the excess juices and all the flavours.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 400g Italian sausages, skins removed and meat chopped
    • 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
    • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
    • 4 sage leaves, finely chopped
    • 100ml red wine
    • 400g ricotta
    • 150g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve
    • 1 organic egg
    • 100g fresh or dried breadcrumbs
    • 1 x 250g pack of dried cannelloni
    • 200g mozzarella, cut into small pieces
    • sea salt and finely ground black pepper

    For the tomato sauce:

    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
    • 4 basil leaves
    • 600g tomato passata

    Method

    First, make the filling for the cannelloni. Heat a large non-stick frying pan on a medium heat. Add the sausage meat and cook for 10 minutes, until the fat has rendered and the meat is coloured.

    Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.

    Add the shallot or onion, celery and sage to the fat left in the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until soft, then add the red wine. Cook for 2 minutes, until reduced by half, then return the sausage meat to the pan and cook slowly, on a mediun heat, for 10 minutes or until the mixture is reduced and syrupy.

    Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, then add the ricotta, half the parmesan and the egg and breadcrumbs. Mix well and check the seasoning, then set aside.

    To make the tomato sauce, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan set over a medium heat. Add the garlic and basil leaves and cook for 1 minute, until the garlic has softened but not coloured.

    Add the passata, half cover the pan with a lid and cook for 10 minutes – you want the sauce to still be a bit wet as this is what will cook the pasta.

    Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

    Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas Mark 4.

    To fill the cannelloni, spoon the filling into a large piping bag. Cut a hole 2cm in diameter at the end of the bag, then take a cannelloni tube and, positioning the end of the piping bag just inside the tube, pipe it full of filling.

    Keep filling until you’ve used up all the tubes (you may have some filling left over).

    Grease an ovenproof dish or skillet with the remaining oil. Add spoonfuls of the tomato sauce to the base, so that you cover it with about 1cm depth altogether.

    Top with a single layer of all the filled cannelloni tubes, then pour over the remaining sauce.

    Dot with the mozzarella and sprinkle over the remaining parmesan.

    Cover tightly with foil, bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes, until the tubes are cooked, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden.

    Leave to cool for a few minutes, then serve on warmed plates, sprinkled with extra parmesan and black pepper.

    From The Italian Deli Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes Celebrating The Best Of Italian Ingredients by Theo Randall (£26, Quadrille), out now

  • Cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, mushrooms, guanciale and squash (Big Big Cannelloni)

    cannelloni recipe with ricotta, mushrooms, guanciale and squash
    Best cannelloni recipes: Big Mamma's cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, mushrooms, guanciale and squash

    The Big Mamma team say: “It’s not usual to down a huge cannelloni per person, but at Big Mamma we don’t do things by halves!”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    For the pasta dough:

    • 65g plain flour
    • 55g durum wheat flour
    • 3 egg yolks

    For the filling:

    • 1kg ricotta cheese
    • 1 tsp olive oil
    • 70g grated parmesan cheese
    • 1 tbsp fine salt
    • 2 tsp pepper
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 4 slices of guanciale or bacon, cut into 1cm cubes
    • ½ squash, cut into 1cm cubes
    • 200g oyster mushrooms, wiped clean and stalks trimmed
    • 1 egg yolk, beaten (optional)
    • 2 small dill sprigs, to garnish
    • salt and pepper

    For the béchamel sauce:

    • 70g/5 tbsp butter
    • 70g plain flour
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
    • 1 litre milk

    Method

    Make the pasta dough. On a clean work surface, make a mound with the plain and durum wheat flours and create a well in the centre.

    Put the egg yolks into the well and gradually mix the flour into the centre to combine with the egg yolks. Gradually add the flour from around the sides until all the flour is mixed and you have a smooth ball of dough.

    Make the filling. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour this mixture into a piping bag and set aside in the refrigerator.

    Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat and fry the guanciale for 5 minutes until crisp. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside in a bowl.

    Wipe clean the frying pan, heat another 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a high heat and sauté the squash for 10 minutes – it should still have some bite.

    Season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside in a bowl.

    Wipe clean the frying pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over a high heat and sauté the mushrooms for 7 minutes.

    Season lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside in a bowl.

    Prepare the béchamel sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat for 2–3 minutes. Add the flour and mix with a whisk until you have a thick paste.

    Add the pepper, salt and nutmeg, then pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

    Remove from the heat and set aside.

    Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3½. If your oven is not a steam oven, place a bowl of water inside.

    On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pasta dough to 1–2mm thick.

    Cut the rolled-out dough into four even rectangles, each 25cm long by 10cm wide.

    With the longest edge of each rectangle facing you, pipe the filling in a thick band along the lower half of the dough, leaving a 2cm border at the top edge.

    Brush the top edge with beaten egg yolk or water. Roll up the cannelloni from bottom to top, then seal the dough by pressing with your fingers.

    Place the cannelloni on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and bake in the preheated oven for 6 minutes.

    Remove from the oven. Pour the béchamel sauce over the cannelloni. Increase the oven temperature to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and bake for 3 minutes.

    Place the cannelloni in the centre of a long serving plate. Scatter the guanciale, squash and mushrooms and sprinkle with dill and pepper.

    Tip

    You can make the pasta dough ahead of time and store it in the freezer, but remember to add 4 teaspoons of water.

    Adapted from Big Mamma Cucina Popolare: Contemporary Italian Recipes by Big Mamma (£27.95, Phaidon), out now

Photography: © Lizzie Mayson; Phaidon

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