Italian Heaven

I am not Italian.  I wish I was.  I eat and drink like I should be.  I love Italian food, Italian wine, and the boot shaped land mass that is Italy herself.  My husband proposed to me by cutting out pages of a book on Venice and laying my engagement ring flat inside.  (I had no idea – I thought he was giving me a BOOK!)  Thus, we drew Italian themes into our wedding and travelled to Italy for our honeymoon.  What can I say?  I am a wanna-be Italian!  So, when my mother-in-law made this cannelloni for a special occasion recently, my wanna-be Italian self practically died and went to heaven.  First of all, it’s pasta based (need I say more?).  It has spinach (green equals healthy!) and the crowning glory of this dish is that it includes a red sauce AND a white sauce.  Oh, the joy!  It requires time and love on your part to put together but, my friend, it is well, WELL worth the effort.


  • 1 box Manicotti shells
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • 4 Tbsp parmesan cheese
  • Italian Seasoning


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup garlic, finely chopped (I like to use my zester and used about 3-4 cloves)
  • 1 – 10oz pkg chopped frozen spinach, thawed & squeezed dry
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 5 Tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 lb ground beef, pork or chicken

Besciamella (White Sauce):

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Filling:  Heat olive oil, onions and garlic over moderate heat until soft but not brown.  Stir in spinach and cook for 3-4 minutes.  When moisture is all cooked away and spinach sticks lightly to pan, transfer to large bowl.  Melt butter in pan and brown meat, breaking up any big chunks.  Add meat to spinach mixture; add cheese, eggs, cream and oregano.  Stir gently to mix.

Besciamella:  Melt the butter in heavy sauce pain on stove.  Add flour, then slowly add milk, cream, salt and pepper.  Cook like a white sauce, stirring constantly until thick.  Let cool a little.

Boil one box Manicotti tubes for 5-6 minutes.  Drain and lay on aluminum foil to keep separate and prevent sticking.  Pour one cup of tomato sauce in bottom of 9 x 13 pan and sprinkle with Italian Seasoning. Stuff each tube with filling and lay in baking dish.  Top with Besciamella sauce and remaining tomato sauce and 4 Tbsp parmesan.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

You could make these ahead of time and refrigerate.  Just be careful of the whole cold glass dish from refrigerator to hot oven and vice versa.  You may want to use a metal baking dish if making ahead.

May you enjoy this dish as much as I do, with loved ones, wine, and a salad!


4 thoughts on “Italian Heaven

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