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Beef Cannelloni

Fresh pasta tubes filled with a rich Bolognese ragu and smothered in creamy Bechamel sauce? We must be talking about Beef Cannelloni. Sometimes known as Manicotti, this traditional Italian recipe is a delicious crowd pleaser that the whole family are guaranteed to enjoy.

Whenever I’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed, there is only one way of cheering me up: Italian comfort food. Yep, I’m talking beef ragu, lots of carbs, cheese, tomatoes and plenty of red wine to wash it all down with.

There’s nothing quite like a big plate of delicious Beef Cannelloni come dinner time to make me feel like everything is right in the world.

This sort of recipe is weekend cooking at its best, perfect for feeding a crowd and tasty enough to tempt the fussy eater in your life. Did I mention it’s lip-smackingly good too?

Beef cannelloni pasta filled with rich beef ragu and topped with bechamel sauce on a plate

What is Beef Cannelloni?

Cannelloni are large pasta tubes (known as Manicotti in the U.S, more on that later). This is a pasta type enjoyed all over Italy, but here in Emilia-Romagna they are usually stuffed with the famous beef ragu alla Bolognese and topped with a creamy layer of bechamel sauce and cheese. Serious comfort food.

What’s the difference between Manicotti and Cannelloni?

In short, manicotti is simply the U.S name for cannelloni pasta tubes, however, there are a couple of differences. Manicotti tubes are sold dried and have grooves, while cannelloni are smooth.

Nobody is quite sure why the name got changed as it crossed the ocean, but Manicotti is the Italian word for ‘sleeves’ so it is a nice descriptive word for these pasta tubes. Manicotti tubes are fairly much unheard of here in Italy, though there is a dish of rolled crepes that shares the name.

Cannelloni in Italy are typically made from rolled fresh pasta sheets rather than dry pasta – a bonus as they are waaaay easier to fill, with no piping bag necessary.

mushrooms, prosciutto garlic

Ingredients

It might look like a lot of ingredients in the list, but these are mostly store cupboard essentials.

To make my Beef Cannelloni recipe you’ll need the following main ingredients:

  • Carrots, celery and onion: Finely diced, these ingredients for the soffritto, or base of the Bolognese sauce.
  • Mushrooms, prosciutto and bay leaves: To add body and flavour to the sauce.
  • Ground Beef, pork, or a mixture of both: In Italy, it is traditional to use a mixture of beef and pork for the best flavour, but either will work perfectly in this recipe.
  • Red wine, tomatoes and oregano: To round out all those delicious Italian flavours.
  • Flour, milk and butter: These three simple ingredients combine to make the creamy bechamel sauce.
  • Parmesan and cheddar cheese: For extra cheesy deliciousness. I like to use a mixture with cheddar (not traditional, obviously) but you could swap it out for grated mozzarella instead.
  • Fresh pasta sheets: I use cut-up fresh lasagne sheets, and you can easily make your own homemade pasta using my simple recipe over here.

How to make Beef Cannelloni

My Beef Cannelloni recipe has four main stages:

  1. MAKE THE RAGU: First, make the ragu by frying the vegetables and flavourings along with the meat. Add the milk, wine and tomatoes, then simmer until rich and thick.
  2. MAKE THE BECHAMEL: Cook the butter and flour together until bubbling and golden. Whisk in the milk and simmer until thickened. Stir through the cheeses and season.
  3. ASSEMBLE: Spread the fresh pasta sheets with bechamel and meat sauce, then roll and pack into a baking dish. Top with extra ragu and white sauce.
  4. BAKE: Bake in the oven until bubbling, golden and delicious!
Filling Canneloni Tubes

What to serve with Cannelloni / Manicotti?

In Italy, pasta is usually the primi or first course and served without any sides. Personally I eat a big, flavoursome meal like this as my main dish and serve it with a crisp green salad.

WINE MATCH: If you’re a red wine drinker I’d recommend a Primitivo/Zinfandel. If you’re a white wine drinker, try an Italian Pinot Grigio.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Can I use store-bought cannelloni shells to make this recipe?

Of course! They usually need precooking – check the package for instructions. Store-bought cannelloni shells need to be filled using a piping bag. Mix around ⅓ of the bechamel with half of the meat sauce, transfer to a piping bag and pipe into the tubes. Proceed as per the recipe.

Can I freeze Beef Cannelloni?

Yes, beef cannelloni freezes beautifully. I divide mine up into individual portions before freezing so that it is easier to reheat. This sort of meal is often served on the weekend in Italy as it takes a little while to prepare, so it’s great for cooking in advance.

Can I use homemade pasta to make Beef Cannelloni?

Yes! It will be delicious! Check out my recipe for Fresh Homemade Pasta over here. I’d say you need around 3 eggs worth of pasta for this recipe.

Beef cannelloni on a plate with fresh basil and olive oil
Beef cannelloni on a plate with fresh basil and olive oil
Beef cannelloni pasta filled with rich beef ragu and topped with bechamel sauce on a plate

Beef Cannelloni (Manicotti)

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Fresh pasta tubes filled with a rich Bolognese ragu and smothered in creamy Bechamel sauce? We must be talking about Beef Cannelloni. Sometimes known as Manicotti, this traditional Italian recipe is a delicious crowd pleaser that the whole family are guaranteed to enjoy.

Ingredients

FOR THE BOLOGNESE SAUCE:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 2 stems of celery, finely diced
  • 1 large red onion, finely diced
  • 200g (7 oz.) button mushrooms, diced
  • 2 rashers bacon or prosciutto, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, diced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 500g (1 lb.) minced or ground beef
  • 1 tsp beef bouillon powder
  • 250ml (1 cup) full cream milk
  • 250ml (1 cup) full-bodied red wine
  • 400g (14 oz.) can of whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • sea salt and black pepper

FOR THE BÉCHAMEL SAUCE:

  • 2 heaped Tbsp butter
  • 2 heaped Tbsp plain or all-purpose flour
  • 500ml (2 cups) milk
  • 100g grated cheddar cheese
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

for the cannelloni tubes:

  • 6 large or 12 small sheets of fresh lasagne

Instructions

  1. PREPARE: Heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas mark 6. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. SAUTÉ THE VEGETABLES: Add the carrots, celery and red onion to the pan and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms, bacon or prosciutto, tomato paste and garlic to the pan and cook a further 2-3 minutes.
  3. BROWN THE BEEF: Add the beef and stock powder to the pan and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes until the beef has begun to brown.
  4. ADD THE LIQUIDS: Pour the milk and red wine into the pan. Use a pair of clean scissors to chop the tomatoes in the can and add them to the pan, stirring well to combine.
  5. ADD THE SEASONINGS: Stir the oregano, sugar, bay leaf and a few grinds of black pepper into the beef mixture, then simmer for 20 minutes until thick and glossy. Stir occasionally to prevent the beef from catching on the bottom of the pan. Add extra salt to taste, then set aside.
  6. MAKE THE BÉCHAMEL: When the beef sauce has nearly finished cooking, prepare the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, stir in the flour and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  7. ADD THE MILK: Pour the milk into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer until the sauce bubbles and thickens, then remove from the heat. Stir in the cheeses, a sprinkle of freshly ground nutmeg, sea salt and some black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  8. ROLL THE CANNELLONI: Spread two or three large spoonfuls of the meat mixture over the bottom of a 20x30cm (8x12 in.) baking dish. If using large lasagne sheets, divide them in half. Spread each lasagne sheet with 1 tablespoon of bechamel sauce, add approx. 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at one end, and then roll into a tube. Place in the prepared baking dish with the seam side down. Repeat until all pasta sheets have been used.
  9. ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Loosen the meat sauce with a little stock, wine or water and spread it evenly over the top of the pasta. Thin the remaining cheese sauce with a splash of milk and spread evenly over the top of the sauce. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Notes

Don't be put off be the long list of ingredients, they are mostly store cupboard staples!

If you are a garlic lover, go right ahead and add as much garlic as you like.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 2-3 Cannelloni
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 714Total Fat: 47gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 158mgSodium: 1877mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 4gSugar: 12gProtein: 39g

Nutrition is calculated automatically and may not always be accurate.

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Jay Wadams
Jay Wadams

Jay Wadams is a cookbook author and food photographer. Jay is the author of two cookbooks: 'Tasty' (2017) and 'Simply Summer' (2019). Based in Italy 🇮🇹 Germany 🇩🇪 and Australia 🇦🇺.

Articles: 280

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