Potato and Parmesan Cannelloni

Potato and Parmesan Cannelloni
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Mmm, mmm! Cannelloni!

Since we had scratched pizza last Thursday — it was about time to bake bread again, so we just saved off about a pound to make up a pizza for a quick and easy meal — we had some pizza sauce left over. We really think of this as more of an all-purpose red sauce; sure, it’s not quite right, but it’ll do for the most part. So, we were left with the question of what to do with the leftover red sauce.

Most times, we just cook up some sort of pasta, perhaps linguine, after rolling and cutting a batch of pasta dough, but, after awhile, that gets boring. This time, we thought we’d try something new. But what?

Ultimately, we decided to modify a recipe for Potato and Pecorino Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce that we found in Pasta, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli. The book itself has numerous great-sounding modern Italian recipes with wonderful photos of some of the finished dishes. It’s a fun book to look through for ideas, as with today’s post.

Oh, and for a random lesson in Italian, cannelloni is plural; the singular is cannellone.

Makes 24 cannelloni

Potato and Parmesan Cannelloni

Potato and Parmesan Cannelloni


  • 1 batch basic pasta dough
  • 1 medium onion, julienned
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound red potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely cubed mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Tbs dried chervil or parsley
  • 2 cups tomato-based sauce

Abbreviated Instructions

In a small skillet of medium-low heat, fry onions in oil until very tender 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Peel, quarter, and simmer potatoes in salted water until the can be pierced easily with a fork, about 30 minutes. Drain.

Mash together potatoes and onions, then stir in with cheeses and chervil.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a baking dish.

Spread 1 cup sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Roll out very thin pasta sheets about 3-4 inches wide and cut to 12-inch lengths. Place filling down the center and roll pasta and filling into a log, wetting the edge of the pasta sheet with water to seal. Cut into 4-inch logs and place on sauce in baking dish.

Continue rolling and placing cannelloni, making a second layer of sauce and cannelloni, if necessary. Top with remaining sauce, and garnish with more Parmesan cheese.

Bake, covered, 40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly, then uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until browned.

Serve, garnished with more Parmesan cheese.


Ingredient discussion:

This is one place where using fresh pasta dough will shine. If you roll it very thin, there’s no reason to boil it up before baking; it will just cook in the red sauce. This is a great time and trouble saver when it comes to making lasagna, too. We think it more than offsets any effort used in making and rolling out the pasta. Plus, fresh pasta tastes far better.

We all know by now that Parmesan cheese is never packaged in green shaker cans.

And, finally, chervil? Well, we had chervil (similar to parsley) on hand, mainly because we’ll be making something using it in the future, but you could use parsley, basil, oregano, or even a mix, and it would taste good.

Procedure in detail:

There are really two parts to this recipe: make the cannelloni filling, then make the cannelloni. We’ll cover each in turn.

Slice the onion into small, very thin strips so they’ll really cook down.

Cook onions. Place a small skillet over medium-low heat, add the oil and onions and let them fry, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Don’t try to rush this, as you might end up burning the onions, which is not what you want. Instead, you want to cook these onions slowly to bring out the sweet taste. So be patient. Once onions are cooked, remove from heat and set aside.

boiling potatoes
We use salted water for boiling the potatoes so they’ll absorb some of the salt and bring out the potato flavor. You can omit it, but the potatoes won’t taste the same.

Cook potatoes. Peel and quarter the potatoes and place them in a medium saucepan of salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.

mashing potatoes and onion
Perhaps surprisingly, nothing beats a hand masher for potatoes. Mixers and the like can break up the cellular structure, releasing the starches; you’ll end up with gummy potatoes.

Mash potatoes and onion. Pour the onions and any oil into the potatoes and mash them together. Don’t worry about removing all the lumps. You want texture, not baby food!

cheese na chervil
We just kind of estimated the amount of Parmesan cheese. The mozzarella was cut into tiny cubes to make sure that it would be evenly distributed.

Mix cheeses and herbs. In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese and the herbs. We like to mix them together first, because we know that the cheese will start to melt once we add the potatoes; this premixing will help ensure that we get an even distribution of the herbs.

cannelloni filling
The filling tasted good enough to eat on its own. We almost gave up on the cannelloni and had mashed potatoes, instead.

Mix in potatoes. Now, add the mashed potatoes to the cheese mixture and stir with a fork. Using a fork will help keep the filling light, and won’t mash the potatoes into a glue-like substance. Once mixed in, you’re finished with the filling. Set aside.

About a cup of sauce will make a nice bed for the cannelloni.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a medium baking dish. In retrospect, we would have used one that would make a single layer, so think about using something about 9- by 13-inches. After buttering, place a layer of a cup of sauce on the bottom.

Roll pasta. This is so much easier using a pasta roller — look for them at garage sales or thrift stores; they show up often and they are inexpensive. Ours was around $5; we love it and think it’s the best $5 we’ve spent. Anyway, roll out your pasta dough as thin as you can get it, to form a sheet 3 to 4 inches wide and perhaps 30 inches long. Trim off the ends, and cut out 2 12-inch long sections. Return the scraps of dough for re-rolling. Dust one side with flour and place the sheets flour side down.

making cannelloni
It seems as though this should be harder than it is. Instead, it’s just make a line of filling, roll up, and slice.
Beautiful! Bellissimo! What more can we say?

Fill, roll, and cut. Take forkfuls or spoonfuls of filling and form it into a log down the center of each sheet. Carefully roll the pasta around the filling. Use a finger dipped in water to dampen the edge of the sheet and seal up the log. Finally, slice the log into three 4-inch sections. Place each section on the bed of tomato sauce. Repeat with the remaining filling, making a second layer of sauce and cannelloni, if necessary.

cannelloni in sauce
Top with the remaining sauce and then a sprinkle of cheese.

Top with sauce and cheese. Spread remaining sauce on top of the cannelloni and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

With the sauce in the pan, the thin pasta will cook during the baking. No need to preboil!

Bake. Cover and slide into the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Remove cover and bake an additional 10 minutes so the cheese can brown.

Cannelloni seems much more difficult to make than it is.

Serve immediately. Carefully remove cannelloni using a spatula, plate, and garnish with more Parmesan cheese, if desired. We desired.

We’ve wanted to try making cannelloni since we saw how easy they are. For some reason, we thought that they would involve a lot more work, perhaps making the tubes first, then piping them full of filling, or, well, we just didn’t know what it entailed. But, after making these, it turns out they’re easy; pasta dough is strong enough that it will stretch over the filling without tearing, making the sealing easy. We’ll give these four stars for two reasons. First, we think that the tomato sauce might be a mistake with a mild filling like potato. We really think that these would be better with a cream or cheese sauce, perhaps even a mushroom cream sauce. The tomato sauce is a bit too flavorful and doesn’t let the scratched pasta shine. Second, the potatoes could have used just a bit more of something. Just what, exactly, we’re not sure. Perhaps a stronger cheese along with the Parmesan, maybe Gorgonzola. Or perhaps a bit more in the way of spices; chervil is somewhat bland. So, again, four stars.

Worth the trouble?

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