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Cannelloni & Manicotti

Cannelloni, which are also known as manicotti in the United States, are a relatively recent arrival on the gastronomic scene -- Artusi, who was careful to include elegant recipes suitable for important occasions, doesn't mention them in La Scienza In Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene, which he continued to update with new delicacies until 1911. Ada Boni instead gives several recipes in Il Talismano della Felicitá, which she published in 1929. So we can surmise that the happy invention occurred sometime in the late teens or early twenties.

It's surprising that it occurred so recently, because the concept -- rolling a sheet of pasta or a crespella (the Italian equivalent of a crepe) into a tube, stuffing it, pouring a sauce over it and baking it -- is remarkably simple. It can also produce extremely elegant results; thus cannelloni have become classic banquet dishes, of the kind that figure prominently at weddings, cenoni (New Year's Eve dinners and such) and family reunions.

This doesn't mean you should limit them to special occasions. They're quick to make, especially if you use commercially prepared pasta shells, and tasty too. As Stefano Milioni notes, any raviolo or other stuffed pasta filling will work. However, since cannelloni are considerably larger than ravioli or tortellini you can also include coarser elements such as chopped porcini or small shrimp in the filling that will provide pleasing texture variations. The one thing you do have to remember is to make sure that the sauce you pour over the cannelloni once you have arranged them in the baking dish is somewhat more liquid than what you would normally use for pasta, because it will thicken in the oven.

As is the case with most other kinds of pasta preparations there's a tremendous amount of variation in fillings and sauces. Here you also have several options with regards to the shells:

  • You can make them at home, by preparing pasta dough, rolling it out dime thin, and cutting it into 3 by 4-inch rectangles. Boil the sheets a few at a time in lightly salted water, removing them while they're still al dente, and place them on a moistened towel. When they are all cooked fill them by placing a few tablespoons of filling along the long edge of each and rolling them up into tubes, then put them in the baking dish and cover them with sauce.
  • You can buy commercially prepared cannelloni or manicotti shells. Cook them according to the directions on the package, stuff them, and put them in the baking dish.
  • You can make savory crespelle, the Italian equivalent of crepes, and roll them up around the filling as you would sheets of home made dough. Cannelloni made with crespelle (which are generally called crespelle in Italy) have a wonderfully elegant texture.

Basic Italian Recipes

Cannellone Recipes On-Site:

Buon Appetito!
Kyle Phillips

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