Cannelloni with Spinach, Raisins, and Pine Nuts


The new spanish tableTheir origins might be Italian, but today cannelloni are something of a Catalan national dish. The cannelloni-eating tradition there goes back to the eighteenth century, when many restaurants in an increasingly worldly and bourgeois Barcelona hired Italian chefs. Eschewing the tomato sauce and ricotta of the Italian version, classic Catalan canelons can be filled with anything from seafood or salt cod, to ground roast meat, to the wildly popular spinach. Though I’ve used a touch of jamón in this recipe to enrich the filling, vegetarians can omit it. The best option for noodles is fresh egg pasta squares, which are available at many specialty food stores.Otherwise, you can use no-boil lasagna noodles; they will have somewhat different dimensions, but there won’t be that much difference in the overall shape of the cannelloni.

  • Yield: 8 Servings as a first course, 4 as a main course


  • 2 packages (each 10 ounces) fresh spinach, or 2 medium-size bunches spinach, coarse stems discarded
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium-size garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 8 tablespoons golden or dark raisins
  • 3 ounces sliced serrano ham or prosciutto (optional), torn into slivers
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 medium-size pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 8 squares (about 6 by 6 inches) fresh egg pasta, or 8 no-boil lasagna noodles ( 7 by 4 inches), without curly edges
  • 1¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmagiano-Reggiano, or more to taste
How to Make It
  1. Rinse the spinach but do not drain it. Cook the spinach, covered, in a large saucepan over medium heat in the water clinging to its leaves until wilted, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Transfer the spinach to a colander and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture by pressing small handfuls in your hands. Finely chop the spinach.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or wok over low heat. Add the garlic, pine nuts, raisins, and ham, if using, and cook until the pine nuts and garlic are light golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chopped spinach and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to distribute all the ingredients evenly. Season the spinach with salt and pepper to taste, transfer it to a bowl, and set aside.
  3. Melt the butter with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy, medium-size saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, for about 2 minutes. Add the milk in a steady stream, whisking, and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set about ½ cup of the spinach mixture aside. To finish the filling, stir ⅔ cup of the sauce into the remaining spinach; set the rest of the sauce aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 12- by 9-inch gratin dish or a shallow ceramic baking dish.
  5. Bring 5 to 6 quarts salted water to a boil over high heat. Place a large bowl of ice water next to the pot. Working in two batches, boil the sheets of pasta, stirring to separate them, until al dente, about 2 minutes for fresh pasta and about 6 minutes for no-boil lasagna noodles. Using tongs, transfer the noodles to the ice water to stop the cooking. Lift the noodles from the water, shaking off the excess, and lay them flat on dry linen kitchen towels. Repeat with the remaining pasta, bringing the water back to a rolling boil before adding the second batch. Pat the pasta dry with paper towels before filling it.
  6. Place about ¼ cup of the spinach filling close to one end of a noodle (a long end, if you’re using lasagna noodles), shaping it into a compact log. Starting with a long end, roll up the noodle, then cut it in half crosswise. Place the filled noodles seam side down in the prepared gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles and filling. The filled noodles should fit in the dish snugly and in a single layer.
  7. Stir the reserved ½ cup of spinach (and any of the filling that you might have leftover) into the reserved sauce and spread evenly over the cannelloni. Sprinkle the cheese evenly on top. Bake the cannelloni until they are hot and the top is browned and bubbly, about 25 minutes. If you’d like the top to be more browned, pass the dish under the broiler for a few minutes. Let the cannelloni cool for a few minutes, then serve them straight from the baking dish.

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