What is Cannelloni?

(And How to Keep it Straight Between Cannellini and Cannoli)

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Georgia Glynn Smith / Getty Images

Cannelloni (pronounced "can-uh-LOW-nee") is a type of pasta shaped like a short, wide tube. Traditionally, cannelloni is made by wrapping sheets of fresh pasta into cylinders. But you can buy dried cannelloni at the store.

Dried cannelloni are more difficult to fill than the fresh kind, because with fresh cannelloni you can simply place your fillings on the sheets and then roll them into tubes. With dried cannelloni you have to sort of thread your fillings into the tube.

But it's not brain surgery.

Alternately, guess what? You can make cannelloni by boiling sheets of fresh lasagna pasta and then rolling them into tubes. Seal the edges of the tubes with egg wash. Note that this won't work with sheets of dried pasta that you cook and then roll into tubes, because the egg wash won't form a seal with cooked pasta.

Note that there's another large tubular pasta called manicotti, which is more or less the same as cannelloni, only it has ridged sides instead of smooth ones.

Classic Recipe: Cannelloni with Spinach and Ricotta

This classic dish is traditionally made with fresh pasta: flour and egg yolks are mixed together and then pressed into a dough. The rested dough is then flattened and rolled in a pasta machine into thin sheets which are cut into squares. So far, so good.

Meanwhile, cooked spinach is combined with ricotta cheese, egg and béchamel (a simple white sauce that happens to be one of the five mother sauces of the culinary arts), along with garlic, onions, salt and pepper.

Other cheeses might also be added, such as Romano and/or Parmesan.

Finally, the spinach filling is spooned onto the pasta squares, and the squares are rolled into tubes and sealed with a little bit of water or egg wash. The filled tubes are arranged in a baking dish with a layer of basic red sauce underneath, and then topped with more béchamel and baked.

It's good stuff.

Cannelloni Vs. Cannellini Vs. Cannoli

If you're like many people, you'll find it confusing that the word cannelloni sounds so much like the word cannellini ("can-uh-LEE-nee"), which is a type of white bean that's very popular in southern Italian cooking and is similar to navy beans or great northern beans.

Moreover, there's an Italian specialty called a cannoli ("can-OH-lee"), which is a tube of fried pastry dough stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese, which adds to the confusion not merely because it also sounds the same but because it's also another form of cheese-filled dough-tube.

One time at a party, I said something about "cannelloni beans" and the person I was talking to looked at me like I had seven heads. So I came up with this system to keep them straight: Cannelloni has an "O" in it, which is like the tube in the pasta. Cannellini rhymes with "beany." And cannoli has the word "no" in it, as in "no, this is not a type of pasta or a type of bean." Foolproof.