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Cannelloni is a traditional Italian dish that is similar to – and sometimes confused with – the more widely known manicotti. Cannelloni is a pasta sheet wrapped around a savory filling, while manicotti use a tube-shaped pasta. Sometimes – as I did here – the cannelloni shell is made in a way that is similar to a crepe. Since this type of wrapper is much thinner than pasta, it gives the dish a very delicate and refined feel.

The first tie I had cannelloni was in Belgium. I remember it being a delicious pasta filled with cheese and drowning in a meaty sauce. It seems weird now, but these appeared on almost every menu that I saw there. I had forgotten all about them until recently, but when I googled it I couldn’t seem to find a link between cannelloni and Belgium. I juts thought that was kind of odd.

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Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve made Italian food and I was in the mood or some sort of homemade pasta, so I whipped this up for dinner. It looks elegant, but it really is an easy weeknight meal – the shells cook up very quickly, and the crepe style doesn’t require as much work as rolling pasta sheets.

The shells are a simple mix of egg, flour, and water that is cooked in a small frying pan. Each shells take about 1 minute to cook, and if you make a big batch of them ahead of time they keep well in the freezer.

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To keep things simple for this weeknight meal, I used jarred sauce. Casa Visco is made locally, and its really good. I diced some of my favorite local chicken sausages (Bilinski ) and added it to the sauce, which I let simmer and thicken while I made the shells. In order to add some more vegetables and another layer o flavor, I added some spinach to the ricotta filling. Served with a glass of red wine and a piece of garlic bread, this was a wonderful dinner that made an ordinary weeknight seem special.

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Spinach Cannelloni with Chicken Sausage

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • dash salt
  • 1 jar prepared pasta sauce (I used casa visco tomato and basil)
  • 5 links chicken sausage, diced (I used Bilinski sundried tomato)
  • crushed red pepper to taste
  • 16 ounces low fat ricotta
  • 2 cups spinach

Sautee sausage in a large pan over high heat until it begins to brown. Add sauce and red pepper. Reduce heat and let simmer.

Meanwhile, combine egg, flour, water, and salt until it forms a thin batter (I found that a food processor makes this step very easy). Set a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is warm, spoon in 3 Tbs of batter. Immediately twirl the pan around so that the batter spreads into a very thin circle. Cook until top looks dry – about 30 seconds Carefully flip, and cook another 10 seconds on the other side. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter (this should make about 10 shells).

Once all of the shells have been cooked, add spinach to the empty pan and heat until it wilts. Combine wilted spinach and ricotta in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

To assemble, spread half of the sauce/sausage mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Spoon 2 Tbs of filling into each shell, then roll the shell around the filling. Place filled shells in the pan. Pour remaining sauce over the top. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Yields 5 servings.

Approx 420 calories, 18 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 23.6 grams protein (will vary based on specific brans of sauce and sausage that you use)