Beef Cannelloni stuffed with a juicy spinach and beef filling, topped with plenty of tomato cannelloni sauce and melty cheese. It’s cosy comfort food that’s mouthwateringly delicious and 100% freezer friendly. Make this recipe using cannelloni OR manicotti!
I think most people think of spinach & ricotta when they think of cannelloni. And while that’s still a firm favourite, this version with a juicy spinach and beef filling makes more of an appearance in my world nowadays.
I actually make it more for friends than myself – because it’s a sensational freezer friendly standby and a safe bet (ie one of those meals that both kids and grown ups will love!)
This beef cannelloni recipe can be used for either cannelloni or manicotti.
What’s cannelloni? And what’s the difference between cannelloni and manicotti??
Cannelloni is a tube shaped dry pasta that’s stuffed with filling, covered with sauce and cheese than baked. The cannelloni tubes are uncooked when they are stuffed – they cook (soften) while baking.
Manicotti is the Italian-American version of cannelloni. The same concept – pasta in tube form to be stuffed, but they’re usually a bit larger and typically has ridges on it rather than a smooth surface.
This Beef Cannelloni recipe can be used for either cannelloni OR manicotti. In Australia, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen manicotti in Italian grocery stores. But cannelloni is far more popular – sold at all the large grocery stores (Woolies, Coles, Harris).
What you need
The 3 parts to Beef Cannelloni are:
- The Cannelloni Sauce – key to any good cannelloni! Make loads and make it thinner than you think it should be – the uncooked cannelloni tube will suck up a lot of the liquid as it bakes (it needs to, in order to cook the cannelloni pasta);
- The spinach and beef filling – I like to make it extra tasty by using beef cube for seasoning (aka bouillon cube / stock cube – or use powder form) instead of plain old flavoured salt. And extra juicy by adding a bit of the Cannelloni Sauce!
- The cannelloni tubes (above) or manicotti tubes – these are sold uncooked in tube form, to be stuffed with filling then cooked.
How to make Beef Cannelloni
There’s nothing tricky about the making part other than stuffing the cannelloni tubes which is inevitably a bit of a messy / fiddly affair.
But years of cannelloni stuffing have taught me one thing – the fastest and easiest way to stuff cannelloni tubes is using a piping bag. All those times I just couldn’t be bothered to use a piping bag, then I’d regret it 3 tubes in…..
Seriously. Use a piping bag. Or ziplock bag. Anything you can use for piping. You’ll thank me later!
That moment when you pull this bubbling beauty out of the oven….. no telling what it actually is, but you know it’s something delicious!!!
Seriously, cannelloni is as impossible to photograph as lasagna. There’s just no way to make a plate of this saucy cheesy juiciness look elegant. And that’s ok – it’s a delicious mess, and I totally own that!!!
What to serve with Beef Cannelloni
Cannelloni is essentially just another type of pasta. I put it in the same bucket as lasagna. Which means – for a full blown Italian feast, I serve it with:
- Garlic Bread – or even more indulgent, with Cheesy Garlic Bread (or go over-the-top with Crack Bread);
- Garden Salad with Italian Dressing (hit of crisp fresh salad essential!)
- Tiramisu to finish with an Espresso Martini on the side
For a quick midweek meal, I just make a quick salad on the side, like a Rocket Parmesan Salad with Balsamic Dressing. Probably my most made side salad because it’s literally a 2 minute effortless-no-chop salad! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Spinach Beef Cannelloni (Manicotti)
Recipe video above. You will love how flavourful the juicy beef filling and sauce is! Too many recipes disappoint by using plain canned tomato – the sauce needs flavour! It will seem like there’s a lot of sauce (and there is) and that it’s too thin (and it is!) BUT you need it because the cannelloni sucks up a lot when it’s cooking!!! Serves 4 very hungry people, 5 normal people.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves (, minced)
- 1/2 onion (, finely chopped)
- 1 carrot (, small, finely chopped (optional))
- 1 celery rib (, finely chopped (optional))
- 800g / 28oz crushed tomato (, canned)
- 2 cups (500ml) chicken stock / broth (, low sodium (or vegetable))
- 1/2 tsp EACH thyme, oregano, salt, pepper
- 1/4 tsp chilli flakes (, optional)
Spinach Beef Filling:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 onion (, finely chopped)
- 500g / 1lb beef mince (, lean)
- 250g / 8oz frozen spinach, chopped (, thawed, excess liquid squeezed out (Note 1))
- 1 beef bouillon cube (, crumbled (Note 2))
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 21 – 24 cannelloni tubes (220g/7oz) (OR 10 Manicotti tubes (Note 3))
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese (, freshly grated (or other melting cheese))
- Chopped parsley (, garnish (optional))
- Heat oil in a large saucepan or pot over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, cook 2 minutes. Add carrot and celery, cook 5 minutes.
- Add remaining Sauce ingredients then stir. Bring to simmer, lower heat to medium, cover with lid and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Use a stick blender to blitz until smooth (or cool slightly and use blender or food processor). Set aside.
Spinach Beef Filling:
- Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onion and garlic, cook 2 minutes.
- Add beef and cook, breaking it up as you go, until it all changes from red to brown.
- Stir in spinach, then add crumbled beef cube, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and 1 cup of Cannelloni Sauce. Stir, cook 2 minutes.
- Remove and cool slightly.
Assembly and Baking:
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
Transfer Beef Filling into a piping bag with a wide nozzle. Stand cannelloni tubes upright in a container, then pipe filling in. (Or do this step with teaspoon/finger/dinner knife!).
Spread about 1 1/4 cups Sauce in a 23x33cm / 9×13″ dish. Lay the cannelloni on top, then pour over remaining Sauce.
- Sprinkle with cheese, loosely cover with foil.
Bake 25 minutes, remove foil then bake a further 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly with some golden spots.
- Remove from oven, sprinkle with parsley if using then serve!
1. Spinach – I use frozen for convenience. Feel free to use fresh – you’ll need 200g/7oz fresh spinach (about 6 – 8 cups) roughly chopped. Then plunge briefly into pot of boiling water until it wilts (weight will increase due to water), then use per recipe.
2. Beef bouillon cube – also known as beef stock cube, can also use 1 tsp beef stock powder / granulated beef bouillon. It’s used here to add extra flavour into filling – better than using plain salt!
- 1 standard packet is usually 250g and has 30 tubes, you will only use 21 – 24 tubes.
- Cannelloni is a tube shaped dry pasta 7cm / 3″ long, 2cm / 2/3″ wide. Stuff uncooked, will cook & soften in oven.
- Can also use manicotti – bigger version of cannelloni with ridges. Recipe will fill about 10 manicotti tubes.
- Can also roll filling up in fresh lasagna sheets – whatever size you want them to be!
4. Storage – keep cooked leftovers in the fridge for 4 days and reheat in microwave. Can also freeze cooked leftovers – thaw then reheat.
Freezing uncooked (best freezing method) – add an extra 1/2 cup of water in the sauce, then assemble per recipe. Do not bake. Cover, cool, freeze. To bake, thaw then cook per recipe.
5. Nutrition per serving
Life of Dozer
Dozer in his Sunday Best at a Melbourne Cup lunch we attended yesterday, the race that stops a nation!!! The chokehold grip was necessary – it was the only way I was going to get a photo of him. Look how unhappy he is!!! 😂
PS Didn’t last for long, he shed the top hat 2 seconds after this photo was taken and his tux mysteriously went missing not long after so he was streaking around naked.
PPS His top hat cost even more than my $2 discount store fascinator! 😂